James Nathaniel Watts, 32, of Cairo, Illinois, was sentenced today in United States District Court in Benton to life in prison without the possibility of release plus a 10 year consecutive term of imprisonment announced Donald S. Boyce, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois. Watts pled guilty in March of this year to a two count indictment charging him with an attempted robbery of the First National Bank in Cairo in May 2014 during which two bank employees were murdered by Watts and a third employee was grievously injured. Watts also pled guilty to being a felon in passion of a firearm in relation to the .380 caliber handgun he carried with him during the attempted robbery.
Evidence introduced in support of the guilty pleas and sentence established that on May 15, 2014, at approximately 4:45 p.m., Watts approached bank employees Anita Grace, Nita Smith, and Kaeley Price as they left the bank after closing. Watts covered his face with a folded white pillowcase and armed himself with a handgun and a hunting knife. Watts forced the three employees back into the bank at gunpoint. Once inside, he bound each of the employees’ hands with zip ties as he attempted to gain entry to the vault. The employees were unable to open the vault because it was equipped with a time lock that could not be opened until the next morning. Watts then then forced the three employees into the bank’s break room where he killed Ms. Grace and Ms. Smith and attempted to kill Ms. Price. Ms. Smith died at the bank. Ms. Grace died from injuries inflicted by Watts shortly after being transported to the hospital. While Watts believed he had also killed Ms. Price, she survived and, despite being critically injured, was able to call 911 after Watts fled the bank. Police captured Watts following a high-speed chase and manhunt. Authorities found him hiding in the structure of a railroad trestle bridge in Cairo that spans the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky. He was taken into custody after a two-hour standoff with federal, state, and local law enforcement officers.
The surviving victim and family members of the deceased victims were given the opportunity to address the Court and Watts before sentence was pronounced. In addition to the term of imprisonment, Watts was ordered to pay to the United States fines and special assessments totaling $1200.
Watts has been held without bond since his arrest in May 2014 and was again remanded to the custody of the United States Marshal after the sentencing hearing to await designation by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to one of its facilities.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Illinois State Police with the assistance of numerous other law enforcement agencies in Illinois and Missouri. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys George Norwood and James M. Cutchin, and Department of Justice Capital Case Section Trial Attorney Jeffrey Zick.