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Cairo to memorialize 2 slain in botched bank heist

Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 11:30 a.m. CDT

CAIRO — A southern Illinois city where two bank workers were killed during a botched May robbery is planning to memorialize the victims.

Two pink granite benches to be placed in Cairo's Halliday Park will be etched with the names of slain Anita Joe Grace of Olive Branch and Nita Jo Smith of Wickliffe, Kentucky, the (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan reported Thursday. The attack's survivor, also a bank employee, will be honored with a tree and marker.

"So many people wanted to do something to honor them and their families," Monica Smith, the city's librarian, said of the remembrance project being headed by the Cairo Public Library's board. "We brainstormed ideas and decided on Halliday Park because it is near the bank and in a very public spot."

Authorities say Grace and Smith — both 52 — and the third bank worker where confronted May 15 by a gunman as the women emerged from Cairo's First National Bank after closing it for the day, then were forced back inside. Police found the victims in a break room, court documents say.

Police later that day arrested 30-year-old James Watts, who is charged in federal court with attempted armed bank robbery resulting in death.

The charges include special findings that make the death penalty possible if he's convicted, though court records show that as of Thursday prosecutors have not indicated whether they will seek that punishment. Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, though U.S. prosecutors still can seek that punishment under the federal system under certain circumstances.

Watts, also accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm, has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed without bond. His next court appearance has been scheduled for Sept. 10.

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