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Armed robbery trial starts for Chicago man

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

SYCAMORE – Jessica Olson was cashing checks she had received as wedding gifts at Associated Bank on Nov. 11, 2009, in DeKalb when two armed men walked in and demanded money.

One of the men, armed with what looked like an Uzi submachine gun, pointed the gun at her and bank teller Lisa Rainey as he threw a bag on the table, Olson said.

Olson decided to take off her wedding ring so it wouldn’t be stolen.

“I whipped it off my finger and put it in my pocket because I had just gotten it,” Olson said.

Prosecutors said one of those armed men was Eric Bernard, 31, of Chicago, whose trial on armed robbery charges began Tuesday at the DeKalb County Courthouse. If convicted of armed robbery, he could face six to 30 years in prison.

On the first day of the trial, prosecutors called five witnesses to testify for the jury: two Associated Bank employees, a witness and a man who recovered what police say was evidence from the robbery.

None of the witnesses who testified Tuesday could identify Bernard as one of the robbers because the gunmen used sunglasses to hide their eyes, and one was wearing a wig with fake dreadlocks, witnesses testified.

Prosecutors have said DNA found on the wig with dreadlocks belongs to Bernard.

Surveillance video from that day shows two people dressed in dark clothing walking into the bank with guns and running out with a bag of money. The men were inside the bank for less than a minute, said Duke Harris, Assistant State’s Attorney.

Police said Bernard is among three suspects: Michael King, 30, of Chicago, who was found guilty and sentenced to 23 years in prison by DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert in 2011, and Jasmen Cunningham, 26, of the 7500 block of South Blackstone Avenue in Chicago, who is due in court today.

Police said Bernard and King were the gunmen; Cunningham is accused of driving them around the area to help them check out the neighborhood.

Daniel O’Koniewski, Associated Bank branch manager at the time of the robbery, said he was in his office when a man with a handgun approached him and told him to leave his office.

O’Koniewski said he put his arms up and watched as Rainey, his co-worker, took money from a drawer at the drive-thru window and put in the suspects’ bag.

Rainey said no one else was working behind the teller desk with her when the robbery took place. She described both men as having medium builds, and said the man who was wearing the wig with dreadlocks also had makeup on his face.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Dan Transier said that no one witnessed what the robbery suspects did before or after the robbery, and that issues with the accuracy of the investigators’ DNA testing would be enough to establish a reasonable doubt. Transier said he plans to call a DNA expert to testify in Bernard’s defense.

Another prosecution witness, Wallace “Roger” Myers, testified he was working at his garage Nov. 11, 2009, when he saw what appeared to be garbage near his home on North Fifth Street. When he picked up the bag, he found some clothing and a gun, which accidentally fired, Myers said. He also found a white T-shirt near the bag.

Myers took the items to his garage and called police. On cross examination by Transier, Myers said he did not remember if he had left the items unattended while he called police.

Michael Stewart, a DeKalb police detective, said police also found a black knit hat which matched one of the suspects’ hats on the road. Stewart also said the gun shown in court as evidence looked “substantially similar” to the one used in the robbery.

A DNA expert is expected to testify for the state when the trial continues today.

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