ST. LOUIS (AP) — A man accused of killing two Illinois bank workers and critically wounding a third during a botched robbery attempt — stabbing one of them more than 50 times — told officers he “made sure” they would die, investigators say in an unsealed court filing.
In an application for a search warrant, made public Tuesday and first reported by St. Louis’ KMOV-TV, investigators say James Watts slashed the throats of the three women during the May 15 attack at a First National Bank branch in Cairo, Watts’ hometown along the Ohio River in southern Illinois.
During a standoff leading to his arrest hours later, Watts was allowed to call his mother and told her, “I killed that woman,” FBI Special Agent Christopher Trifiletti wrote in the search-warrant application. Trifiletti did not specify which victim Watts was referring to, but one of the slain women was a witness in a 2009 forgery case in which Watts pleaded guilty.
Watts, a 30-year-old convict and registered sex offender, is charged with attempted armed bank robbery resulting in death and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The federal charges include special findings making the death penalty possible if he’s convicted, though prosecutors are weighing whether to seek that punishment.
Authorities allege that Watts, armed with a gun and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, confronted the three women as they emerged from the bank they had closed for the day, roughly two weeks after Watts’ release from prison.
According to Trifiletti, the suspect forced the women back inside but, because the bank was closed, was unable to get any money from the holdup. He ultimately herded them into an employee lounge, cut each woman’s throat “deeply” and stabbed one of them more than four dozen times, Trifiletti wrote.
Killed were 52-year-olds Anita Grace, of Olive Branch, Illinois, and Nita Jo Smith, of Wickliffe, Kentucky. A 23-year-old woman survived.
Surveillance video showed the suspect put the women’s purses into an SUV belonging to one of them and fled, and police found the victims a short time later in the bloody bank lounge.
Watts was arrested on an Ohio River train trestle hours later after he led police on a high-speed chase, FBI Special Agent I.A. Bratcher said.
Trifiletti wrote that after the standoff, Watts “asked law enforcement officers, ‘Are they dead?’ In an effort to calm him down, agents falsely told him that the employees were not dead. Watts responded, ‘Yes they are. I made sure of it.’”
Trifiletti’s application for the search warrant sought a court order allowing investigators to collect any blood or other genetic material from Watts’ hands or under his fingernails, noting that the victims “bled profusely, leading investigators to believe that blood may have been transferred to the attacker.” A federal judge signed off on the warrant, though no court filings as of Wednesday showed the outcome of that search.
Watts remains jailed without bond.
A message left Wednesday with one of his attorneys, John O’Gara, was not immediately returned.