Communications officer discusses Watts' time at Menard Correctional Center

RAW: Flowers left a Cairo bank
Two people were killed. A third person is in critical condition. (Source: Mollie Lair, Heartland News)
Two people were killed. A third person is in critical condition. (Source: Mollie Lair, Heartland News)
Nita Smith was one of two women killed in an armed robbery at First National Bank in Cairo. (Source: Milner & Orr Funeral Home)
Nita Smith was one of two women killed in an armed robbery at First National Bank in Cairo. (Source: Milner & Orr Funeral Home)
A family friend of one of the victims laid flowers at the doors of the First National Bank in Cairo on Friday morning.
A family friend of one of the victims laid flowers at the doors of the First National Bank in Cairo on Friday morning.
James Nathaniel Watts (Source: Cape Girardeau Police Department)
James Nathaniel Watts (Source: Cape Girardeau Police Department)

CAIRO, IL (KFVS) - The man suspected in connection with a deadly armed robbery in Cairo appeared in federal court.

James Nathaniel Watts appeared in federal court for a detention hearing on Tuesday afternoon in Benton, Illinois.

Watts waived his right to a preliminary hearing. The case will be be brought to a grand jury for review. He is being held without bond in Williamson County. No court date has been set.

He was in the medium security facility at Menard prison prior to his release on April 29. He was behind bars on three separate felony convictions, but none of them were as violent as what allegedly happened in Cairo on Thursday night.

According to officials at Menard Correctional Center, Watts was eligible for parole in December, but he didn't get out because the state decided he wouldn't have a suitable place to live. By April, Watts had served his entire sentence, he was not released early and was not on parole.

All of Watt's prison time was in medium security facilities, meaning he had good behavior while behind bars.

"Prisoners at any prison, if they commit certain violations, those are crimes," said Tom Shaer at Menard Correctional Center. "We prosecute them aggressively and they are sentenced for those crimes, that adds to their time behind bars. James Watts never did that while in the Illinois Department of Corrections."

Shaer said behaviors that could lead to additional time would include assaulting another inmate or assaulting staff.

He said once Watts was out of prison, the state no longer had any way to monitor his behavior because he was not out on parole, he was discharged.

Watts was arrested as a suspect in connection with an armed robbery at the First National Bank in Cairo that left two people dead, according to Illinois State Police.

Anita J. Grace, 52, of Olive Branch, Ill., and Nita J. Smith, 52, of Wickliffe, Ky. were killed after they were stabbed.

A 23-year-old employee was also stabbed. She was in critical condition. As of late Sunday afternoon, she was released from the hospital. Her identity has not been released.

Services for friends of Anita Grace will be from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20 at Crain Funeral Home in Tamms, Ill. The graveside service will follow at 12:30 p.m. at Olive Branch Cemetery with Rev. Earnest Brown officiating. A dinner to follow the service will be at Alexander Freewill Baptist Church.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Olive Branch Cemetery Association. They say Grace took over as treasurer of the Olive Branch Cemetery Association in 2013, and had been working hard to raise money for that. That's why they're asking that memorial donations be made to that group.

Funeral services for Nita Smith will be at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21 at the First Baptist Church of Wickliffe with Rev. Lynn Releford officiating. Burial will follow in Wickliffe City Cemetery. Visitation will be held after 4 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20 at the Milner &Orr Funeral Home of Wickliffe and after 9 a.m. on Wednesday at the church.

James Nathaniel Watts, 29, was charged with felon in possession of a firearm. He was in federal court in Benton, Illinois on Friday. A public defender was appointed to him. According to the Williamson County Sheriff's Department, federal investigators brought in James Watts overnight to be held in the Williamson County Jail.

According to the United States Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton Southern District of Illinois, Watts was arrested on a railroad train trestle in Cairo after a high speed chase with police. Watts was driving a 2014 Buick SUV that belonged to an employee of the First National Bank. According to the criminal complaint, Watts had a .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

According to Illinois State Police, a man wearing dark clothing and a hoodie entered the bank armed with a knife and a handgun just after 5 p.m. on Thursday.

According to the affidavit, a black male approached three female employees of the First National Bank in Cairo as they left the bank after closing. The man forced the three employees back into the bank in an attempt to rob it, according to the affidavit. Surveillance video shows the man with a firearm.

The man did not get any money. Surveillance video shows the man taking the purses of the three employees, putting them in one of the employee's vehicles and leaving the bank parking lot in that employee's vehicle. Two of the employees were killed and one was critically injured during that time.

Around 6:55 p.m., an officer spotted the employee's vehicle driven by a black male. When the officer began to follow it, the man led police on a chase reaching speeds more than 100 miles per hour. The chase ended near a railroad train trestle that spans the Ohio River near Cairo.

The man got out of the vehicle and ran to the trestle and tried to hide himself in the trestle.

Around 9 p.m., police arrested Watts and found the pistol in the front pocket of the hooded sweatshirt he was wearing.

Watts was convicted of two counts of forgery in Cape Girardeau County on May 15, 2005, according to the affidavit. Watts was sentenced to seven years in prison. On August 31, 2007, his probation was revoked and the seven year sentence was imposed.

Watts just got out of prison less than a month ago. He was released on April 29 from an Illinois correctional facility, according to Vinelink.

Watts has also been convicted of forgery in Illinois and served time for that conviction.

Watt is a registered sex offender in Illinois. According to the sex offender registry, at the time of the crime Watts was 22 and the victim 11 years old.

Folks in Cairo are shocked by the violence in their hometown.

"It's really a sad day here in Cairo," said Suzy Holland, a victim's friend. "I can't say enough. We need to memorialize these two women and pray very hard for the third one. We need to come together as this community and we need to pray really hard. They will get to the bottom of this. We have faith in our community."

"It's crazy because we (Cairo) already have a bad rap," said Tyrell Harris. "We're known for doing violence, I guess. That's what people claim. It was some scary stuff to hear."

"I thought it was a lie," said Raven Johnson. "I had to come see for myself. I thought it was a lie."

The bank is located in the middle of town. Police say the area on Washington Street will be blocked off while they continue their efforts.

A neighborhood watch program is being organized in Cairo, Illinois.

Danny Brown is organizing the watch program.

Contact Brown at 618-734-9625 if interested.

Multiple agencies were involved in responding and securing the scene including Illinois State Police Districts 13, 22, and Zone 7 Investigations, ISP Crime Scene Services, ISP SWAT, ISP Air Operations, ISP Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, Alexander County Sheriff's Department, Cape Girardeau Police Department, Cairo Police and Fire Departments, Metropolis Police and Fire Departments, Pulaski County Police, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Ballard County, KY Sheriff's Department, Kentucky State Police, and Missouri Highway Patrol. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also participated in the investigation.

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