A bank robber who turned himself in because he said he had a guilty conscience was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison.
During a spate of bank robberies throughout San Luis Obispo County this past spring and summer, two were committed by Steven Daniel Celaya, who robbed Chase Bank in San Luis Obispo on May 25 and Bank of America in Atascadero on June 7. While investigators didn’t have any suspects for those two robberies, Celaya voluntarily turned himself in June 11.
“They didn’t know who did it,” Celaya’s attorney, Matthew Guerrero, said.
During a jailhouse interview with The Tribune in August, Celaya said financial hardships and meth use motivated him to commit the crimes. But as the days passed, he began to fear that police SWAT teams would arrive, breaking the door down and drawing guns on his girlfriend, her family and friends.
“In my mind, there were guns in everyone’s faces,” he told The Tribune. “It’s gonna be all bad for everybody. … What if someone’s sitting on the couch with a remote on their lap, and they think it’s a gun? What if there’s a mechanical malfunction? Someone could get shot.”
Fearing his actions would cause someone harm, Celaya turned himself in at the San Luis Obispo Police Department, then proceeded to detail everything to investigators.
Neither Celaya nor the robbery victims spoke during his brief Superior Court sentencing hearing. Celaya could have faced up to five years for each robbery, Guererro said, but there were several mitigating factors, including the fact that he voluntarily turned himself in and only used a note demanding money.
Also, he had no prior criminal record.
“It was an aberration. … It wasn’t like him,” Guerrero said. “And nobody was hurt. There were no weapons.”
Because each robbery conviction counts as a “strike” felony, Celaya will have to serve at least 85 percent of his term.
Celaya said he began having regrets as he was robbing the second bank.
“I remember I almost wanted to push the bag of money back when she gave it to me,” he said. “I was so nervous. … I was thinking, what the (expletive) are you doing?’ ”
Guerrero said it’s not likely Celaya will repeat his mistakes.
“It’s really too bad he went down this path,” he said.