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Alleged bank robber defends self, temporarily restrained to chair

Prolific bank robber Joseph “The SecondhBandit” Banks. | FBI provided photo

Prolific bank robber Joseph “The Secondhand Bandit” Banks. | FBI provided photo

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Updated: January 8, 2013 6:23AM

Jose Banks doesn’t want to hear how he allegedly built a career as one of Chicago’s most prolific bank robbers.

So a federal court judge is forcing him to listen.

Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer had the 37-year-old so-called “Secondhand Bandit” strapped to a chair when he tried to walk out of court Thursday afternoon — a move Banks said made him “feel like Hannibal Lecter.”

The embarrassing scenes came during the first day of Banks’ jury trial. Suspected of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in more than 20 violent bank robberies, he’s charged with just four. He has fired his attorneys and is defending himself.

Bemused jurors watched as the Evanston resident began his defense by arguing that he is a “Moorish national” who is not bound by federal law, repeatedly interrupting the trial to tell the judge, “I object to everything.”

“I’m not here to represent myself,” Banks said. “I’m just here as a captive.

“I’ve been brought here on trumped up charges based on the hearsay of a confidential informant.”

Jurors later watched security video footage of two robberies, heists at Citibanks in Lakeview in December 2007, and in Wrigleyville in July 2008. They heard testimony from terrified bank worker James Love, who said that he quit later on the day of the robbery because he “did not want to be in that position again,” and from Ernesto Guzman, a teller who was one of several witnesses to pick Banks out of a police lineup.

Evidence against Banks also includes DNA recovered from a fake beard and masks he allegedly used in the robberies and $40,000 in new, sequentially numbered bills recovered from a security deposit box held in his name, prosecutors say.

Banks hasn’t tried to cross-examine any of the witnesses against him.

But while a customer who interrupted the first heist testified Thursday, Banks interrupted, announcing “I so declare a mistrial!”

Banks said that the orange jail-issue jumpsuit he was wearing in court was prejudicing the jury against him, then jumped to his feet and tried to leave the court to return to lockup.

Pallmeyer pointed out that Banks had earlier refused an offer to wear street clothes, telling him he could not leave because he is representing himself.

She ordered deputy U.S. marshals to restrain him in a belted wheelchair until he promised to behave.

“They got Tasers — I ain’t going nowhere,” he said of the deputies, before apologizing.

The alleged bank robber claims to be a “sovereign” exempt from prosecution — a meaningless designation cited by a small but growing group of defendants in federal court, including a man who was Tasered by deputies in another case on Wednesday and third defendant who is refusing to sit in the courtroom during another trial this week.

Pallmeyer has repeatedly urged Banks to reappoint his former attorneys, who are in court, watching his attempts to obstruct the trial.

“It’s a really serious matter,” she told Banks, warning him that his outbursts were “only hurting yourself” in front of the jury.

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