Brazen federal jail escapee meekly admits guilt in court
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter October 21, 2013 11:38AM
Updated: November 23, 2013 6:12AM
He spent less than two weeks on the run after his daring jailbreak from Chicago’s high-rise downtown federal lockup made national news.
But it took bank robber Kenneth Conley more than 10 months to admit in court what everyone already knew — that he’s guilty of escaping his 17th floor cell by using a rope cobbled together from bed sheets.
Conley, 39, spoke in a quiet voice Monday morning, wearing orange Bureau of Prison scrubs as he pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feinerman.
Conley’s meek and gaunt appearance was a far cry from his defiant behavior on the day of his capture in January, when he said, “It happened once — what makes you think it won’t happen again?” to an FBI agent.
By pleading guilty, Conley, of Tinley Park, faces up to an additional five years on top of the 20 year sentence he’s currently serving for a 2011 bank robbery in south suburban Homewood.
Along with cellmate Joseph “Jose” Banks, he sawed through a metal bar in his cell, widened his cell window, then rappelled down the side of the Metropolitan Correctional Center to freedom using bedsheets tied together and reinforced with dental floss on Dec. 18 last year.
He was eventually caught in Palos Hills on Jan. 4.
Escape charges were previously dropped against Banks, who was also soon caught, because he already faces up to 80 years for a string of bank robberies. Banks told the Sun-Times last month that he and Conley had used the singing, talking and arguing of other inmates, as well as the noise of an ongoing construction project, to disguise the racket their chiseling and cutting of the cell walls caused.
Conley is due to be sentenced for the escape on Feb. 6. Federal guidelines suggest a prison term of three to four years is appropriate, though the biggest question for Feinerman will be whether to impose a sentence that runs at the same time as Conley’s 20 year bank robbery prison term or is tacked on to the end of it.