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Chicago man gets 55 years for bank robbery

Published: Thursday, March 20, 2014 5:53 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, March 22, 2014 12:41 a.m. CDT
Eric Bernard, 31, of Chicago, was sentenced Thursday to 55 years in prison in connection with the 2009 robbery of Associated Bank in DeKalb.
Jasmen Cunningham, 26, is charged in connection with the November 2009 robbery of Associated Bank in DeKalb.

SYCAMORE – A 31-year-old Chicago man will spend more than two decades in prison for the 51 seconds he and his cousin spent robbing a DeKalb bank in 2009.

Eric Bernard was sentenced Thursday to 55 years in prison for robbing Associated Bank with Michael King, 30, formerly of Chicago. When given credit for good behavior and time served while the case was pending, Bernard is likely to serve about 24 years in prison. Bernard also was ordered to repay the bank the $6,000 he stole.

DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert ruled a long sentence was necessary to protect society from Bernard's criminal habits. He has been convicted of 13 felonies since 2001, including three armed robberies and a home invasion.

"This history indicates one thing to me quite loudly, and that is that Mr. Bernard is a criminal," Stuckert said.

Stuckert sentenced King to 23 years in prison in 2011, but King's prior criminal history mainly contains drug offenses, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records.

An armed robbery charge remains pending against Bernard's one-time girlfriend, Jasmen Cunningham, 26, who was a Northern Illinois University student when she drove the two men to the area near the bank the day before and the day of the robbery. Cunningham, the mother of one of Bernard's three children, testified against him during his trial last month. Her case is next due in court April 24.

Because of his criminal history and because he carried an assault rifle during the robbery, Bernard faced between 21 and 75 years in prison. First Assistant State's Attorney Duke Harris suggested the maximum sentence, while defense attorney Daniel Transier suggested the minimum.

Harris emphasized Bernard's criminal history, as well as the times in court he made comments about the types of vehicles Stuckert and he drove, which Harris said was an attempt to intimidate and threaten them.

Harris reminded Stuckert about the woman who was cashing checks from her recent wedding when Bernard pointed what looked like an Uzi submachine gun at her. She and other residents have the right to run errands without fear, Harris said.

"There's nothing to suggest this was motivated by anything other than greed," Harris argued.

But Transier emphasized Bernard's violent upbringing; when he was about 8, Bernard saw his father shoot his mother in the head, and a few days later, another man fatally shot his father in Mississippi. After that, he went to live with an aunt and grandmother in Chicago.

"Mr. Bernard needs rehabilitation, and a sentence of 75 years is not rehabilitative, it's retributive," Transier said.

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