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Robber who was homesick to be sentenced

Preferring Prison


CHICAGO (AP) -- Walter Unbehaun has spent nearly all of his adult life behind bars, so it's not surprising that he faces sentencing Thursday for yet another crime, a bank robbery last year. His reason for robbing the bank is surprising, though: He was homesick for prison.

The 74-year-old high-school dropout and part-time bathtub repairman probably isn't the first long-term convict to find he prefers being barked at by guards to life on the outside, which has its own demands. But living alone and feeling unhappy, Unbehaun decided to change his situation by committing a crime in order to get caught.

On Feb. 9 of last year, he entered a Chicago-area bank with a cane but no disguise, displayed a revolver in his waistband to a teller and told her softly over and over, "I don't want to hurt you." With $4,178 in loot, he then drove to a nearby motel and waited for police to arrive.

Confronted by authorities in the motel parking lot, the bald, portly Unbehaun dropped his cane, raised his hands and startled police by his apparent joy at getting nabbed, according to detailed court filings by both his attorney and the lead prosecutor in his case.

"Unbehaun stated he wanted to do something that would guarantee that he would spend the rest of his life in prison," an FBI affidavit said. "He knew robbing a bank with a loaded gun would accomplish that." One officer observed, "(He) was happy to be going home to prison."

The judge in Chicago who will sentence Unbehaun faces a dilemma, prosecutor Sharon Fairly pointed out in one filing: Sending Unbehaun to prison would be more of a reward than a punishment for him, but setting him free would risk him trying to commit another crime.

"Did the system fail Mr. Unbehaun? Or was his inability to stay out of jail the result of his own free will?" Fairly asked. "We may never know. But what we do know, clearly, is Mr. Unbehaun lacks the desire to lead a law-abiding life outside of prison walls."

Even if his age and infirmity might seem to invite leniency, that "is arguably offset by his lengthy and violent criminal history," Fairly said.

She didn't point out that keeping Unbehaun in prison would cost taxpayers. On the other hand, setting him free could send the wrong message to other would-be bank robbers.

Unbehaun first went to prison at age 23 for transporting a stolen car, and his criminal record includes more than half a dozen convictions for everything from home invasion to - ironically - escaping from prison.

Media accounts from 1970 describe how Unbehaun kidnapped a 19-year-old girl and left her bound to an Ohio motel bed as fled the state in her car. For that, he was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 25 years. His most recent decade-long prison term, which was for a bank robbery, ended in 2011.

Unbehaun pleaded guilty in September to the 2013 bank robbery in the Chicago suburb of Niles and faces a maximum 30-year prison term. Prosecutors asked for a sentence of about seven years.

In his presentencing filing, defense attorney Richard McLeese called on the judge to show Unbehaun mercy.

"An individual driven to commit bank robbery so that he can return to prison is, we submit, less culpable than someone who acts simply out of greed," McLeese said. A three year sentence, he argued, would be appropriate.

In a brief letter filed to the judge last week, Unbehaun didn't withdraw his wish to go to prison. But he did write, "I wasn't thinking straight" and "I don't want to die behind bars."

Unbehaun was divorced twice and his third wife died. But it's not as if no one extended the childless widower a helping hand. Following his 2011 release, his sister and her husband bought Unbehuan a trailer home in Rock Hill, S.C., the couple said Wednesday.

Bored and lonely, Unbehaun spent his days watching television or drawing, and in a court filing he compared his life at the trailer park to living in a prison isolation "hole."

"We tried to help him and do as much as we could, but it didn't work out," Unbehaun's sister, Darlene Kellner, said in a phone interview from South Carolina. "It is a sad story."

At pre-trial hearings, Unbehaun sat in a wheelchair wearing orange jail garb, appearing attentive and at ease.

McLeese said mild dementia may have contributed to his client's decision to rob his way back into prison.

"No matter," he said. "It is difficult to imagine a more desolate set of circumstances than one in which the only possible alternative an individual would envision was life behind bars."


Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at HTTPS://TWITTER.COM/MTARM


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lflz28 April 17 2014 at 6:38 PM

I guess very few understand what the reality behind the justice system is BIG POLITICS and BIG MONEY with a good life for all those that join the band wagon. From the state governor, all the way down to Correctional officers, Make more laws to Keep the courtrooms & prisons full and the federal dollars flowing..Cha-Ching.....Ca-Ching

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1 reply
walt.hafer lflz28 April 17 2014 at 8:43 PM

Follow the Money.

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Makeitbygrace April 17 2014 at 12:38 PM

It is like it's own little society in prison. Lifer's run almost everything and Most do not know anything but prison life. They get all kinds of privileges and actually have like a "Prison Family.."
So many will just do, what is called, the revolving door. Sad indeed.. There is everything and anything you could desire in prison. I learned my lesson quick, as it is a very sad, almost sick, yes very sick place. Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.... Free is for me!!! Ty God.. :)

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1 reply
ezbusinessleads Makeitbygrace April 17 2014 at 1:23 PM

your right

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hmcgeet April 17 2014 at 12:35 PM

Stop making the prisons into vacation spots. Take away the tvs, etc. and make them back iinto prisons like they used to be.

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3 replies
walt.hafer April 17 2014 at 8:24 PM

Shawshank, James Whitmore enough said.

Sometimes the public has to pay the price.

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photocountry April 17 2014 at 2:30 PM

This is not uncommon!

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genegene002 April 17 2014 at 12:29 PM

It kills me how they call jail and prisons a "Correctional Facility" They dot corret ANYTHING if anything the inmates get worse just to have to survive in the place. Then when they get out they are scared of NOTHING and are more deadly! Why cant the government see this? There would be no repeat offenders if this were infact the Department of corrections! The system is failing us all. and us innocent have to cope with walking the streets with these well known convicts! And when things get tough for them they go back in and live free again! Its BS!

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mkf0914 April 17 2014 at 12:26 PM

It's unfortunate almost unbelievable - but some people feel more comfortable being incarcerated than having to find a way to survive on the streets. They become "institutionalized" and in a majority of the cases suffer from mental illness. Incarcerated they lead a very structured life, their clothing, food, housing, medical care is all provided - no hassle with social service agencies - no having to deal with a whole host of governmental red-tape - it's one stop shopping. For one who has been incarcerated more than he has been free he is without a doubt one of those you could refer to as "institutionalized." It's most unfortunate, probably some form of halfway housing or supportive care living facility would be the best environment for this man - however, it may not be available where he lives - so being incarcerated is the only solution for now. He seeks what he feels is a "safe" living environment. However, most sane people would not agree - if you were in his place what would you consider your alternatives to be - someplace you knew to be safe - where all your needs were met - or some unknown homeless shelter - does not take an educated person to pick the correct one.

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juststeve35 April 17 2014 at 12:19 PM

Why not find the middle ground and simply sentence him to a low-security environment or even a halfway house?

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rhondaburke1 April 17 2014 at 12:17 PM

If the convicts have spent most of their lives in jail, then jail is their home. I think it is all they know how to cope with. Especially at his age. It is sad, but I would like to agree that a halfway house where bonds with other guys could be made, might be a better answer for this guy.

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dan_crabtree April 17 2014 at 8:54 PM

new prisons are simular to college campuses....computor privilidges abound as well a fullly staffed with all the latest equipment in the gym...air heat lights all on the state or federal gov...as well as free legal advice and appeal afer appeal...."whats not to like"....no more bangin that tin cup on bars..

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