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Elderly man said to be homesick for prison gets 3.5 years for bank robbery

CHICAGO--An ex-con who spent most of his adult life behind bars on Thursday got what he said he wanted for robbing a suburban Chicago bank. The 74-year-old gets to go back to the place he called home — prison.

Telling Walter Unbehaun he frightened a teller by showing her a revolver tucked in his pants during the 2013 heist, a federal judge imposed a 3 1/2 year prison sentence, citing the man's lengthy rap sheet that includes crimes from home invasion to kidnapping.

“This is not the first time you've inspired fear,” Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said, repeatedly scolding the high-school dropout and part-time bathtub repairman.

As he had on the day he robbed the bank, Unbehaun gripped a cane as he hobbled to the podium to make a brief statement. He didn't withdraw his wish to go to prison, though he said, “I don't want to die in prison.”

“My crime is bad, there ain't no doubt,” he said in a strong voice. “I just wanna be like everybody else.”

Boredom and loneliness, defense filings said, had partly led Unbehaun to conclude that a life on the inside was preferable to struggling to cope on the outside.

No family or friends of Unbehaun attended Thursday's hearing, and no letters of support were posted on his docket.

Listening to the proceedings, Unbehaun fidgeted and rubbed his forearms, both of which sported tattoos. He occasionally nodded as his lawyer spoke.

On Feb. 9 of last year, he walked into the bank with a cane but no disguise, displayed a loaded revolver in his waistband and told the teller, “I don't want to hurt you.” With US$4,178 in loot shoved in his pocket, he 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.

At his initial court appearance, he also bewildered his appointed lawyer.

“His first words were, 'I just want to go home,'” that same attorney, Richard McLeese, told the court Thursday.

For a minutes, McLeese recalled, he thought Unbehaun was saying he hoped to get bond. Then, it dawned on him what Unbehaun meant.

“It is, without a doubt, one of the saddest and most disturbing cases I've dealt with,” he said.

Lead prosecutor Sharon Fairley conceded the judge faced a dilemma: Sending Unbehaun to prison could be seen as more reward than punishment to him, but setting him free would risk him committing another serious crime.

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