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Bank Robber Who Escaped Federal Jail Gets 20 Years For Heist

Kenneth Conley escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, along with his cellmate, on Dec. 18, 2012. (Credit: FBI)

Kenneth Conley escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, along with his cellmate, on Dec. 18, 2012. (Credit: FBI)

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CHICAGO (STMW) – When Kenneth Conley was nearly caught two weeks after a daring jail break last winter, he allegedly told the FBI, “It happened once — what makes you think it won’t happen again?”

Now, he’ll have plenty of time to try.

Conley, 38, was sentenced to 20 years behind bars Wednesday for a 2011 bank robbery in south suburban Homewood.

The hefty sentence was the maximum he could have received, and Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan told him his December 18 escape from the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center was a key reason why.

Conley showed an “utter lack of respect from the law when he attempted to escape,” the judge said, describing him as “a career criminal” who might have faced an even longer sentence if the law had allowed it.

Though Conley was being sentenced for the bank robbery, the escape that captured the public’s imagination last Christmas was at the center of Wednesday’s hearing in federal court.

FBI Special Agent Timothy Bacha testified how Conley and his cell mate, Joseph Banks, tied together bed sheets and reinforced them with dental floss before lowering themselves on their home-made rope down 17 stories to freedom through a window they’d broken and widened with tools.

He said that after Conley was caught in Palos Hills on Jan. 4, Conley threatened him “I oughta to choke you out — you ain’t s—.”

Conley then allegedly vowed to escape again.

The former Chicago Heights strip club employee smirked as Bacha gave that testimony — and at several other moments during the sentencing hearing when Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kness called him “dangerous.” But he adopted a sober expression as his sentenced was announced.

His lawyer, Gary Ravitz, had asked for a sentence of no more than 13 years, saying Conley was an alcoholic who used a BB gun, not a real pistol when he stuck up an MB Financial Bank in Homewood.

Ravitz accused the government of “piling on,” saying Conley still faces escape charges in a separate case and shouldn’t be punished twice for the same offence.

But Der-Yeghiayan told Conley that the law was clear in allowing him to consider the escape as an aggravating factor. Conley’s stick-up “caused serious emotional distress” to the bank teller he threatened to kill, the judge added.

It remains unclear if prosecutors will push ahead with the separate escape case against Conley in the wake of his sentence Wednesday.

Escape charges against Banks were dropped in January. But he already faces up to 80 years behind bars for a string of bank robberies, making the five year maximum sentence for escape irrelevant in his case.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)