CAIRO, IL (KFVS) - The man who admitted to killing two women during the May 2014 attempted robbery of the First National Bank in Cairo, Illinois was sentenced in court on Thursday, May 25.
James Watts, 32, of Cairo, Ill., was sentenced to life without parole for two counts of murder and 10 years for attempted bank robbery. Both to run concurrently. In addition, he was ordered to pay the United States fines and special assessments totaling $1,200.
Watts pleaded guilty in March to charges of attempted armed bank robbery resulting in death and being a convicted felon in possession of a gun.
Two others were charged in a superseding indictment regarding that attempted robbery on March 13, 2017.
The seven-count superseding indictment was returned against James Nathaniel Watts, 32, of Cairo, Ill.; Otha D. Watkins III, 33, of Cairo, Ill.; and Sharita S. Tipler, 30, of Ullin, Ill.
Watkins was charged with aiding and abetting Watts in the attempted armed bank robbery that resulted in a death; knowingly and willfully making a materially false statement to an FBI agent; being a convicted felon who knowingly had a pistol; and conspiring with Watts and others to commit robbery.
Tipler was charged with disposing of a gun.
The superseding indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Benton, Illinois.
As part of a plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney agreed to take the death penalty off the table.
Officials say Watkins and Watts agreed to rob the McDonald's while in Cairo, Ill. early in the morning. They agreed that Watkins would wait in the car while Watts committed the robbery.
Watts allegedly entered the restaurant with a firearm, robbed the eatery and stole an employee's vehicle which he abandoned on the way to Cairo, Ill.
Watkins allegedly picked Watts up from where they left the stolen vehicle and they drove together to Cairo where they split the money stolen during the robbery.
Sometime between May 15-17, 2017, in Alexander County, Tipler is accused of knowingly giving a Ruger 9mm to Watkins, knowing that Watkins was a convicted felon.
Tipler made an initial appearance on March 13 at the Benton, Ill. courthouse. During a bond hearing on March 14, Judge Donald Wilkerson ruled that Tipler could be released from jail on bond because she did not have a significant criminal history and significant medical issues.
The judge reprimanded Tipler in court and encouraged her to stay out of trouble.
Family members said Sharita Tipler is seven months pregnant.
The judge released Tipler on a personal recognizance bond, meaning she does not have to put up any money. In addition, Judge Wilkerson left her with a few conditions:
- Reside at her grandmother's property in Ullin
- Location monitoring
- Curfew directed by probation officer
- Restrictive travel (only in southern Illinois and eastern Missouri)
- Avoid contact with people that deal with the case, i.e. witnesses
- Report any tickets
- Mental health treatment (if determined necessary)
Tipler is due back to court on October 11 for her final pre-trial.
Debra Bussell, the aunt of Tipler, said her niece is not a criminal.
"I think the judge did wonderful. Because Sharita's not a bad person...and she is a loving person," Bussell said. "She would give anything to help anybody..and for them to make like she is a criminal...she's not that."
Watkins was in custody in connection to another crime. He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him during his initial appearance on March 21. He appeared in shackles and handcuffs for the brief hearing. He didn't say much, but answered, "Yes your honor" when the judge asked him about waiving his detention hearing, which he voluntarily waived his right that detention hearing.
The judge did appoint him attorneys during this initial hearing. He previously pleaded guilty to robbing a Cape Girardeau McDonald's in October 2014. Family and friends came to support him during his hearing.
Watkins' pretrial is set for October 11 in Benton and his trial is planned for October 23, also in Benton.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys James M. Cutchin, George A. Norwood and Jeffrey A. Zick.
The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Illinois State Police and numerous other law enforcement agencies.