CAIRO, IL (KFVS) - A man accused of killing two women and critically injuring another at a Cairo bank appeared in federal court in Benton, Illinois on Tuesday, June 10.
A grand jury indicted James Watts, 29, on attempted armed bank robbery resulting in death and felon in possession of a firearm. It was Watts' first appearance and arraignment on the June 3 grand jury indictment. He pleaded not guilty to both counts.
Watts is accused of killing two women and critically injuring another on May 15 at First National Bank in Cairo.
Anita J. Grace, 52, of Olive Branch, Ill., and Nita J. Smith, 52, of Wickliffe, Ky. were killed after they were stabbed.
Eight members of Nita Smith's family were in court during the arraignment, including her brother and sister. We talked to them shortly after. They say the death penalty is the only punishment they see fit if he is found guilty. They tell us they plan on being in court every day during the trial.
Outside Benton's federal court building, tears flowed from members of Smiths' family, including her older sister Carol Kachadorian.
"I'm hoping for the death penalty for this man," Kachodorian said.
Since her death, the family said they've poured through pictures of Smith and shared memories of her during their grief.
"James Watts took something precious from us and we are going to be here to support Nita Jo and Anita Grace's memory to the very end," said her cousin Morrisa Clanahan.
In court, Smith's family sat just feet from Watts and they plan to be there again until justice is served.
"We are going to be here and we want justice done and if that means the death penalty, then so be it," Clanahan said.
"I want justice for my sister, and I am going to be here everyday for the trial," Kachadorian said.
Watts is not charged with murder or robbery at this time. Those crimes remain under investigation.
He remains in custody in Marion, Ill. He will be in court for a final pre-trial conference on July 24 at 9:30 a.m. in Benton, Ill. A jury trial is set for August 4 at 9 a.m. in Benton.
The indictment returned by the grand jury also contained special findings rendering Watts eligible for the death penalty if he is convicted by a jury of the attempted robbery resulting in death offense.
If convicted of the firearm offense, Watts faces up to an additional 10 years' imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release to follow any term of incarceration imposed.
Watts was in federal court in Benton, Illinois on May 16. A public defender was appointed to him.
According to the Williamson County Sheriff's Department, federal investigators brought in James Watts to be held in the Williamson County Jail.
United States Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton Southern District of Illinois said 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, he 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. that night, police arrested Watts and found the pistol in the front pocket of the hooded sweatshirt he was wearing.