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Crime & Courts

Jury finds Chicago man guilty of armed robbery

Eric Bernard, 31, of Chicago, was found guilty of armed robbery Thursday and is due for sentencing in March.
Eric Bernard, 31, of Chicago, was found guilty of armed robbery Thursday and is due for sentencing in March.

SYCAMORE – After more than four hours of deliberation Thursday, jurors found Eric Bernard guilty of armed robbery in the 2009 holdup of Associated Bank in DeKalb.

Bernard, 31, of Chicago, will have a sentencing hearing March 20. Prosecutors said Thursday that based on his criminal history, which includes prior felony convictions, he is eligible for an extended term and could face 21 to 75 years in prison.

"The defendant and his companion went into the bank, both armed with guns, both took money related to Associated Bank," Assistant State's Attorney Duke Harris told jurors in his closing argument Thursday.

The three-day trial resulted in the second conviction in the robbery, in which $6,000 was stolen at gunpoint. Jurors also agreed that Bernard had used a gun during the robbery.

Michael King, 30, formerly of Chicago, was found guilty of armed robbery and sentenced to 23 years in prison by DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert in 2011.

The third person charged in connection with the robbery, Jasmen Cunningham, 26, of Chicago, was a key witness for the prosecution. In her testimony, Cunningham said she drove Bernard and King to the bank the day before the robbery and also the day of the robbery "to look for an escape route."

Cunningham said she had lied under oath at King's trial when she denied knowing anything about the robbery. She and Bernard have a child together; armed robbery charges are still pending against Cunningham.

Harris told jurors that if Cunningham had provided the only evidence in the case, they should find Bernard not guilty. But experts also found Bernard's DNA on a discarded wig that looked just like one that surveillance footage and witness testimony stated one of the suspects wore during the robbery. Found along with the wig was a gun.

"It's all the other evidence in this case which makes Cunningham, an admitted liar, believable," Harris said.

About an hour into their deliberation, jurors asked to review the bank surveillance video. The video shows two armed men wearing sunglasses and one of them wearing a wig with fake dreadlocks. They are shown walking into the bank, and later running out with a bag of money.

Bernard's defense called its witnesses Thursday. Associated Bank employee Brian Fleming said he thought he was going to die Nov. 11, 2009, when two gunmen came into the DeKalb bank and stole more than $6,000.

Fleming said he thought he recognized one of the robbers, but that person was found not to be a suspect. Still, Fleming said he could not identify Bernard as one of the suspects who robbed the bank.

"When you go through something like this, you never want to relive it," Fleming said. "It's hard to talk about it."

Another defense witness was Bernard's sister, Antoinette Harvey, who testified that Bernard was at her house in Calumet City the whole day of the robbery for a barbecue.

Under cross-examination by Harris, Harvey acknowledged that she never told police about Bernard's alibi. Harvey said it was because police never asked.

DeKalb police Lt. Bob Redel, a rebuttal witness for the state, testified that he called Harvey on April 29, 2010, but never got the chance to tell Harvey that Bernard was a suspect in an armed robbery investigation.

"We never got to that point because she hung up the phone," Redel said.

Bernard's defense also called a witness to dispute the accuracy of testing that found that DNA on a discarded wig used in the robbery came from Bernard.

Karl Reich, a forensic scientist at an independent lab in Lombard, said that because the DNA evidence was tested by a machine past due for calibration, the results could have been wrong.

"When you do forensics, if the instrument is not properly calibrated, results will be inaccurate or false," Reich said.

Witnesses for the prosecution said numerous tests were done to ensure the testing was accurate.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Dan Transier said none of the witnesses at the bank could identify Bernard as a suspect because the robbers wore disguises. That, along with what Transier called inaccurate DNA findings, was enough to find a verdict of not guilty, he argued.

"When you have unreliable evidence, you have a reasonable doubt," Transier said.

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