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Cairo man arrested in fatal robbery

BY CARRIE DILLARD cdillard@paducahsun.com

James Nathaniel Watts, 29, of Cairo, Ill., was arrested Thursday night in connection with a robbery earlier that day at First National Bank in Cairo that left two employees dead and a third severely wounded.  

During the robbery, Anita J. Grace, 52, of Olive Branch, Ill., and Nita J. Smith, 52, of Wickliffe, Ky., suffered fatal stab wounds.  A third, unnamed female, 23, was also stabbed and remains in critical condition. All were employees of the bank.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Southern District of Illinois, Watts was arrested in Cairo after a high-speed chase with law enforcement. He was charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a felon. Other charges are pending.

The suspect was apprehended at approximately 9 p.m. near a railroad train trestle that spans the Ohio River near Cairo. He was driving a vehicle that belonged to an employee of the bank he is accused of robbing. 

According to an affidavit filed Friday in federal court in Benton, police responded to a call of a robbery in progress at approximately 5:15 p.m. Thursday and discovered three female victims badly wounded in the employee break room of the bank.

Investigation revealed that a suspect - described as a black male, wearing dark clothing and a hoodie - had approached the employees in the parking lot as the bank was closing and forced them back inside. He was armed with both a handgun and a knife.

Because the bank had closed, the suspect - later identified as Watts - may have been unsuccessful in obtaining any money from the bank.

Surveillance video showed the suspect taking the purses of the three employees, placing them inside a 2014 Buick SUV and fleeing the scene in that vehicle.

The SUV was later identified as belonging to one of the victims.

At approximately 6:55 p.m., the vehicle was observed by law enforcement on I-57.  An officer began to follow the vehicle, and the pursuit accelerated to speeds above 100 miles per hour.   

The subject abandoned the vehicle near the Canadian Northern Rail tracks and fled on foot.

Surrounded by authorities on top of a railroad trestle, Watts was taken into custody.

Upon his arrest, he was found with a Colt model MK, .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol. The gun was in the front pocket of the hooded sweatshirt he was wearing.

Illegal possession of a firearm by a felon is punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, or both, and up to three years of supervised release.

The case is assigned to Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Cutchin for prosecution.

In 2003, Watts was charged with four counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault in Alexander County.  In that case, he pleaded guilty to two counts and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Watts also pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm in Alexander County in 2006 and was sentenced to four years in prison. While serving his time, he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of forgery of a legal document and received an additional eight months.

Before being sentenced in Illinois, Watts was placed on five years probation in Cape Girardeau County, Mo., for two counts of forgery.  He later pleaded guilty in the same county to passing bad checks and was placed on two more years of probation.

Agencies involved in the preliminary investigation include Illinois State Police, Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, Alexander County Sheriff's Department, Cairo Police Department and Fire Department, Metropolis Police Department and Fire Department, Department of Natural Resources, Ballard County Sheriff's Department, Kentucky State Police and Missouri Highway Patrol.

Staff Writer Andrea Moore contributed to this article.

Contact Carrie Dillard, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8657.SNbS

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