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Man accused of bank robberies plans to defend himself at trial

Updated: January 7, 2013 7:20AM

The FBI dubbed him the “Secondhand Bandit” and accused him of being one of Chicago’s most prolific serial bank robbers.

But Joseph “Jose” Banks says he’ll deal with his federal court case first-hand.

Banks — suspected of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in more than 20 heists — has fired his attorneys and intends to defend himself at a jury trial due to begin Thursday.

The 37-year-old’s decision creates the possibility he could cross-examine the very bank tellers and customers he’s accused of sticking up in four bank robberies since 2004.

“I object to the entire trial,” Banks told Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer during jury selection Wednesday. “I don’t agree with this jurisdiction.”

Banks, who got his nickname because he allegedly wore thrift-store style disguises in a series of take-over heists on the North Side, is one of a small but growing number of defendants who claim to be “sovereign citizens” exempt from federal law.

Pallmeyer warned him that the discredited legal theory — also adopted by Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols — has never been successful, urging him to reappoint his former lawyers, Beau Brindley and Joshua Jones.

But Banks refused, lounging in his orange Bureau of Prisons jumpsuit as he told the judge, “Nah — I’m OK.” He then asserted himself in a series of petty acts of disobedience, such as dropping court papers for deputy U.S. Marshals to pick up, and repeated requests to leave the courtroom during his hearing.

The alleged bank robber wasn’t the only defendant claiming to be “sovereign” at the Dirksen Federal Building Wednesday. Titis Jackson — who invokes sovereign citizen arguments in his defense against an unrelated Medicare fraud — had to be Tasered in Judge John Darrah’s courtroom after he refused to be taken into custody, court staff said.

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