A collection of evidence gathered by the Havre Police Department has led to the arrest of Merrill A. Gray, a 33-year-old Havre man, for the robbery for the Magic Diamond casino in Oct. 19.
County Attorney Gina Dahl filed an affidavit on Wednesday asking for felony robbery and misdemeanor theft charges to be filed against Gray, who is being held in the Hill County Detention Center. The affidavit contains several details from the police investigation that implicate Gray in the robbery.
Years ago, Gray, who is currently a custodian at Montana State University-Northern, worked at Lucky Lil’s casino.Poloice said he told his ex-girl friend bout how easy it would be to rob the casino, given his knowledge of where the safe is and the number and position of security cameras.
Gray’s sister, who he lived with at the time of the robbery, is an assistant manager at the Magic Diamond. She told police that on the night of the robbery, when she went to bed around 10 p.m., Merrill was up, drinking wine and watching television.
His brother-in-law reported hearing someone he assumed was Gray leave the house between 11 p.m. and midnight.
Gray was seen on Magic Diamond security cameras entering the casino around midnight, wearing a black jacket, brown pants and glasses. He left the casino around 1:11 a.m.
At 1:30 a.m., according to security cameras, a man of a similar build entered the casino with a 12-inch serrated silver kitchen knife with a black handle, wearing a halloween mask, gloves, a black sweatshirt and socks pulled over his shoes.
An ex-girlfriend later told police that Gray had witnessed an incident where the girlfriend’s mother was planning on vandalizing a co-worker’s car, and was wearing socks over her shoes so police couldn’t identify shoe prints.
One of the employees working at the time told police he could see that the robber was wearing glasses under the mask.
At knifepoint, the masked man took an apron with money in it and demanded the employees open the safe, but the safe was shut with a time delay lock, police said.
It was at this point that the sole customer in the casino made a run for the parking lot, managing to get into his car, grab his cell phone and call 911 before the knife-wielding assailant got outside.
The customer then chased the suspect around the area in his pick-up. He lost him just before police arrived.
Havre Police Sgt. Andrew Poulos, while responding to the call at the casino, noticed a car driving west erratically on 2nd Street West. Seeing the car swerve around and go up on the curb, Poulos pulled the driver over.
Behind the wheel he saw Merrill Gray, who he recognized. Gray was wearing a black sweatshirt, zipped up completely. Poulos said he “was sweating, out of breath and he appeared nervous. Poulos also noticed a bag in the rear passengers seat.
Poulos had to get to the scene of the robbery to see what was happening and released Gray.
The next morning Gray showed up to work around 7:30 a.m. and was seen on security footage lugging a heavy black bag from his car into his work area. Gray’s supervisor told police that none of the custodial staff take tools home nor bring their own.
When he returned to his sister’s house after work, his sister’s husband, having heard about the robbery, asked if Gray had seen anything when he went out. Gray told him he was pulled over on his way there and never made it.
Police Officer Derek Mahlum asked Gray on Oct. 27 about the robbery. He denied any involvement and said he had been at the casino, but left 15 minutes before anything happened.
Two days later, on Oct. 29, someone living just around the corner from the casino reported finding a long silver kitchen knife with a black handle and an “E” symbol on the blade.
Mahlum asked Gray’s sister about knives in her house. She told police about a collection of black-handled silver-bladed kitchen knives she had with “E”s on the blade, and one was missing.
He went to look at the knives and reported seeing “a fresh circle of dust around the opening where the missing knife was stored, indicating it only recently had been removed from the butcher block.”
Mahlum again asked Gray about his involvement in the robbery on Nov. 4, and he again denied involvement.
It was on this day that Gray first appeared in the Hill County Detention Center population list, though no arrest is listed for Gray on that day’s police activity log.