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Posted July 20, 2012 | comments 2 Comments

Whittlesey expected to plead guilty in bank heists

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Authorities expect James Louis Whittlesey to plead guilty Monday to committing several heists last year, including one in Winchester that involved the suspect shooting at police before evading capture.

Whittlesey, last known to have lived in Maryland, is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg for a change of plea hearing Monday morning.

Following Whittlesey's hearing representatives with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies plan to hold a press conference in Winchester to discuss Whittlesey's pleas.

Whittlesey, also known as William Joseph Downs, is charged with bank robbery by force or violence, committing a violent crime and unlawful possession of a firearm, all related to the Oct. 14 armed heist of the United Bank, 1041 Berryville Ave., Winchester.

Winchester police obtained warrants against Whittlesey charging the defendant with attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer and other offenses related to the bank robbery. The state charges are not part of the plea hearing.

Whittlesey eluded police and hid out in the area for hours before fleeing to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Canadian authorities found Whittlesey and deported him after months of delays in the immigration process.

Whittlesey is also charged with escape while a prisoner in the law enforcement custody. Authorities accuse Whittlesey of trying to escape from agents in Vermont where he was sent after his deportation from Canada.

Federal authorities also charged Whittlesey in U.S. District Court in Delaware with the Aug. 12 robbery of the M&T Bank, 4899 Limestone Road, in Wilmington. The case has been transferred to the court in Harrisonburg for the change of plea hearing. The indictment charges Whittlesey with bank robbery by force or violence and accuses the defendant of using a revolver while committing the heist.

Federal prosecutors will seek an enhanced punishment for Whittlesey of a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The notice filed with the court Friday indicates prosecutors can seek the harsher punishment if a defendant has been convicted previously of a violent federal felony.

In June 1978, Whittlesey, using the name Anthony Robert Knight, was convicted in Baltimore County, Md., of an armed robbery of a bank and use of a handgun in the commission of the felony, according to the notice. That August Whittlesey received a 10-year prison sentence for the robbery and five years for the gun charge, the notice states.

In March 1983 a judge in Duval County, Fla., found Whittlesey guilty of committing armed robbery for which he received a term of 126 years in prison. Whittlesey robbed a pharmacist at gunpoint on March 15, 1982, according to the notice.

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