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Ex-con who robs bank to go to jail gets 3.5-year sentence

Surveillance phoshows suspect who robbed Niles bank Feb. 9. Federal prosecutors say Walter Unbehaun did it because he wanted return

Surveillance photo shows the suspect who robbed a Niles bank on Feb. 9. Federal prosecutors say Walter Unbehaun did it because he wanted to return to prison. / photo from FBI

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Updated: May 19, 2014 2:16PM

An aging ex-con who deliberately got caught robbing a bank so that he could go back to prison had his wish fulfilled Thursday by a judge.

Walter Unbehaun, 74, was sentenced to three and a half years by U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, who called his case “sad.”

Unbehaun spent most of his life behind bars but was so lonely living as a free man that he stuck up the BMO Harris Bank in Niles on Feb. 9., 2013, with the intention of being caught.

He told FBI agents he “wanted to go back to the only life he knew — prison life.” But in the year he’s spent back in custody since his arrest, Unbehaun had a change of heart.

“I don’t want to die in prison,” the emotional septuagenarian told the judge Thursday. “I just want to be like everyone else.”

Unbehaun, of Rock Hill, S.C., has convictions for violence going back to 1963.

He returned to the Chicago area, where he grew up, early last year, robbed the bank of $4,178 without disguising himself, then waited at a motel to be arrested because “I wanted to go back home” to prison, he said.

Prosecutors said Unbehaun’s willingness to rob a bank even though he walks with a cane and has had hip-replacement surgery makes him a public danger.

They urged a sentence of at least five years, though they acknowledged that “would seem to be rewarding him for precisely the behavior we seek to deter.”

Defense attorney Richard McLeese asked for a jail term of less than three years, citing Unbehaun’s age, low intelligence and dementia.

Coleman handed Unbehaun the three and a half year sentence, plus six months in a halfway house and three years of supervised release.

She estimated it would cost $50,000 a year to keep him locked up, adding that society faces a tough question as the prison population ages: “Do we make our prisons nursing homes?”


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