Cairo man to receive life sentence for double murder during attempted bank robbery

Donald S. Boyce, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, reported March 16 that James Nathaniel Watts, 32, of Cairo, had pleaded guilty to a federal superseding indictment regarding the May 2014 attempted robbery of the First National Bank in Cairo.

Boyce reported in a news release that evidence discussed in court established that on May 15, 2014, at approximately 4:45 p.m., Watts approached three employees 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 forced the three employees into the bank’s break room, where he killed Anita Grace and Nita Smith and attempted to kill Kaeley Price. 

Nita Smith died at the bank. Anita Grace died from injuries inflicted by defendant shortly after being transported to the hospital. 

The defendant believed he had also killed Kaeley Price. While critically injured, Price survived and was able to call 911 after defendant had 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 that spans the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky.

Boyce stated that with respect to Count 1, Watts faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. 

That count charges that on May 15, 2014, in Alexander County, Watts by force, violence and intimidation, did attempt to take from the person and presence of another, money belonging to and in the care, custody, control, management and possession of the First National Bank in Cairo, the deposits of which were then insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; and in committing such offense, Watts assaulted and put in jeopardy the life of another person by the use of a dangerous weapon or weapons, that is a knife and a gun; and further, in committing such offense, Watts killed Anita Grace and Nita Smith; all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 2113(a), 2113(d), and 2113(e).

Count 2 charges that on May 15, 2014, in Alexander County, Watts, having previously been convicted by a court of a felony punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, did knowingly possess, in and affecting commerce, a firearm, that is a Colt, Model MK IV Series 80 Mustang, .380 auto caliber semi-automatic pistol, bearing serial number MU29470, all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(g)(l) and 924(a)(2). 

With respect to Count 2, Watts faces up to an additional 10 years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and 3 years of supervised release to follow any term of incarceration imposed.

The court scheduled Watts’ sentencing hearing for May 25 at the United States District Courthouse in Benton. Watts will remain in the custody of the United States marshal until that time.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jim Cutchin and George Norwood, and CCS trial attorney Jeffrey Zick.

The investigation in the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Illinois State Police and numerous other law enforcement agencies in Illinois and Missouri.

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158

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