Tipster helps FBI put escaped bank robber back in jail
By FRANK MAIN AND STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporters December 21, 2012 9:40AM
Joseph "Jose" Banks escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center at 71 W. Van Buren St. Last week, Banks told U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, “You’ll hear from me!” after he was found guilty of bank robbery. | FBI photo
Updated: January 23, 2013 6:07AM
At the close of Joseph Jose Banks trial on bank robbery charges, a federal prosecutor told jurors that Banks may have escaped after his heists but “today he can’t escape justice.”
The jury took just two hours on Dec. 13 to convict Banks of robbing two banks and attempting to rob two others while wearing thrift-store disguises.
Then Banks tried to prove prosecutor Sheri Mecklenburg wrong. He and another convicted bank robber, Kenneth Conley, staged a daring escape from the federal jail in downtown Chicago early in the morning Tuesday.
But Mecklenburg was right in the end: Banks was captured late Thursday on the North Side — and he was back in court Friday to face justice.
Someone seeking a $50,000 FBI reward called with a tip that Banks was in an area where his mother used to live, according to a law enforcement source.
Authorities were continuing to hunt for Conley on Friday.
Banks, 37, quietly gave “yes” and “no” answers when he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney I. Schenkier, but didn’t make any statements.
Banks, who was caught late Thursday night in the 2300 block of North Bosworth, faces up to five years in prison if he’s convicted on escape charges.
During his court appearance Friday, Banks was dressed in an orange jumpsuit and was secured in shackles reinforced with a padlock. His restrained hands were in front of him.
Defense attorney Beau Brindley said his client is a “mild-mannered” person and added that the media coverage suggesting that he was dangerous because of statements he made to another judge last week was “misleading.”
FBI spokeswoman Joan Hyde said the bureau has received numerous tips from the public, but said she could not disclose what led agents to the location of the arrest.
Late Thursday, Banks was freely roaming the streets in apparel suited for the summer instead of a snowy December evening, witnesses said.
Hezekiah Harper-Bey, who lives next door to the two-story red brick apartment where Banks was caught, said he saw Banks on a cellphone outside with a white T-shirt and blue gym shorts before FBI agents and other officials swarmed the block.
Harper-Bey said he was watching TV when he heard a loud bang.
“I came to the window. I saw the FBI pointing guns at the bank robber,” Harper-Bey said Friday morning.
Harper-Bey said he saw Banks run down a path between two buildings. Banks then darted into a first-floor apartment.
Minutes later, FBI officials emerged with what appeared to be a yellow shoe box and a handcuffed Banks, Harper-Bey said.
“He wasn’t shouting. He was walking calm, like ‘I got caught,’” Harper-Bey said of the defeated bank robber.
Harper-Bey said he knows Banks’ cousin who lives in the neighborhood, but said the apartment where Banks ran into was not his relative’s.
Had Harper-Bey known Banks was an escaped convict, he said he would have called authorities.
“If I would have seen him, I would have turned him in. I need that money,” Harper-Bey said, referring to the reward money.
Dennisha Franklin, 24, was coming home from work Thursday night when she saw a half dozen FBI agents surrounding the building on Bosworth with their guns drawn, pointing to the ground.
Fearing for her safety, Franklin said she ran into her building.
The bang some neighbors heard, Franklin said, may have been when the FBI agents kicked in the door, which had two dents near the doorknob Friday.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on,” Franklin said. “I was scared to even come out of my door. Thank God my kids were asleep.”
Banks represented himself during his trial and when he was convicted he vowed: “You’ll hear from me!” He also yelled “they didn’t prove nothing!” and said he would be “seeking retribution,” according to news accounts of the trial.
The statements prompted the U.S. Marshals Service to provide extra protection to the trial judge, Rebecca Pallmeyer, as well as Mecklenburg and other prosecutors on the case.
But Brindley, who was hired Friday by Banks’ family to represent him in the escape case, said his client isn’t dangerous and the statements his client made in court were taken out of context.
Brindley said the statements referred to affidavits his client was planning to file in court in his post-conviction appeal.
On Thursday, a union official said a staffing shortage in the federal jail in downtown Chicago contributed to a series of security snafus that made this week’s daring escape possible. Banks and Conley crawled out a hole in the wall of their 17th-floor cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center and slid down a rope made of bedsheets early Tuesday.
The breakout was caught on surveillance video, but a guard assigned to monitor the cameras didn’t see it because he was counting prisoners on another floor, the official said. FBI agents later recovered a private surveillance video of Banks and Conley jumping into a cab near the jail at about 2:40 a.m. Tuesday. But jail officers didn’t notice they had escaped until 7 a.m. that morning. The escapees stopped briefly at Conley mother’s house in Tinley Park before they vanished, authorities said.