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Man homesick for prison gets 3½ years

Published: Friday, April 18, 2014 11:27 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) — An ex-con who spent most of his adult life behind bars on Thursday got what he said he wanted for robbing a suburban Chicago bank. The 74-year-old gets to go back to the place he called home — prison.

Telling Walter Unbehaun he frightened a teller by showing her a revolver tucked in his waistband during the 2013 heist, a federal judge imposed a 31⁄2 -year prison sentence, citing a rap sheet that includes crimes from home invasion to kidnapping.

“This is not the first time you’ve inspired fear,” Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said, scolding the high-school dropout and part-time bathtub repairman.

As he had on the day he robbed the bank, Unbehaun gripped a cane as he hobbled to a podium to make a brief statement. He didn’t withdraw his wish to go to prison, though he said, “I don’t want to die in prison.”

“My crime is bad, there ain’t no doubt,” he said calmly. “I just wanna be like everybody else.”

Boredom and loneliness, defense filings said, had partly led Unbehaun to conclude that a life on the inside was preferable to life outside.

Last year, he walked into the bank with a cane but no disguise, displayed the loaded gun and told the teller, “I don’t want to hurt you.” With $4,178 in loot, he drove to a nearby motel and waited for police to arrive.

When they did, the bald, portly Unbehaun dropped his cane, raised his hands and startled police by his apparent joy at getting nabbed.

At his initial court appearance, he also confounded his lawyer.

“His first words were, ‘I just want to go home,” that same attorney, Richard McLeese, told the court Thursday.

For a few minutes, McLeese had thought Unbehaun was saying he hoped to get bond. Then he realized Unbehaun was asking to go to prison. It was as if, McLeese said, a patient had asked his doctor to help him have a stroke.

“It is, without a doubt, one of the saddest and most disturbing cases I’ve dealt with,” he said.

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