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Cairo Bank 1

First National Bank in Cairo was the site of a bank robbery in May 2014.

BENTON — Otha Don Watkins III, the other man law enforcement say was involved in an attempted bank robbery in Cario during which two were killed in May 2014, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to the four charges he faces. 

Watkins, 35, of Cairo, appeared in federal court in Benton for a first appearance and arraignment hearing. During the brief hearing, Watkins entered a plea of not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting an armed bank robbery resulting in death; conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery; making a false statement; and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The indictment charging Watkins alleges he was with James Watts, 32, of Cairo, the day Watts fatally stabbed to death two employees of the Cairo First National Bank and seriously wounded a third despite Watkins previously telling an FBI agent he had last seen Watts days prior. 

Watkins, who is Watts' stepbrother, is alleged to have driven Watts to the bank, and communicated with Watts on a two-way radio while Watts attempted to rob the bank. When they were unable to open the bank vault because it was after hours and set on a timer not to open until the next morning, Watts killed Anita Grace, the branch president, and Nita Smith, an employee, and seriously injured a third employee, who survived and called 911, according to details of the case presented by prosecutors at Watts' change of plea hearing this past week. 

Watts pleaded guilty Thursday to the charges he faced: attempted bank robbery resulting in death and being a felon in possession of a weapon. Under the terms of his plea deal, Watts will receive a sentence of life in prison. Federal prosecutors have agreed not to request the death penalty at his sentencing hearing scheduled for May 25, as they previously indicated they planned to do if Watts was convicted by a jury. 

The superseding indictment charging Watkins was handed down around the time Watts' plea deal was finalized. The charges it leveled against Watts were the same as those he was charged with shortly after the violent attempted robbery on May 15, 2014. A third person, Sharita Tipler, was indicted on a charge of transferring a firearm to a prohibited person.

If convicted of the charge of aiding and abetting an armed robbery resulting in death, Watts could be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. The other charges carry sentences of up to five, 10 and 20 years, plus fines and mandatory supervised release. 

George Norwood, assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, said the government would request for Watts to remain detained should he decide to seek bond. On Thursday, the defense attorney representing Watkins said his client had signed a waiver forgoing his right to a detention hearing, means he agrees to remain in custody at this time without a request for bond. 

A pretrial date in Watkins' case was set for May 17, and a trial date for May 30. 

molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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Reporter

Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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