Lead prosecutor Sharon Fairley conceded the judge faced a dilemma: Sending Unbehaun to prison could be seen as more reward than punishment to him, but setting him free would risk him committing another serious crime.
Unbehaun’s unusual case also raised broader societal questions, she said in one filing.
“Did the system fail Mr. Unbehaun? Or was his inability to stay out of jail the result of his own free will?” she asked. “We may never know. But what we do know, clearly, is Mr. Unbehaun lacks the desire to lead a law-abiding life outside of prison walls.”
The Chicago-born Unbehaun first went to prison at 23 for transporting a stolen car. His record includes more than half a dozen convictions, including — ironically — escaping from prison.
Media accounts from 1970 describe how he kidnapped a 19-year-old girl and left her bound to an Ohio motel bed as fled in her car. For that, he was sentenced to 25 years. His most recent decade-long prison term, for bank robbery, ended in 2011.
Unbehaun pleaded guilty in September to the 2013 bank robbery in the Chicago suburb of Niles. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of about seven years; the defense asked for three.
Unbehaun’s third wife died while he was behind bars. Following his 2011 release, his sister and her husband bought Unbehaun, a childless widower, a trailer home in rural Rock Hill, S.C., the couple said Wednesday. Bored and alone, Unbehaun spent his days watching television or drawing and painting.
“He was living like a hermit,” McLeese said. “The analogy he drew was that it was like living in solitary confinement.”
McLeese told the court Thursday the onset of mild dementia may have contributed to his client’s decision to rob his way back into prison. And he said the last judge who sentenced him had failed to ensure he had adequate mental health treatment.
Coleman said Unbehaun would also serve three years of closely monitored probation and that mental health services should be readily available to him.
As the hearing ended, Unbehaun requested he been sent to FCI Greenville prison in southern Illinois, walking her through the various benefits of the facility, including good work programs.
Coleman agreed to recommend that prison. She then shook her head.
“It’s sad,” she said, “to have a defendant who knows the facilities and knows which ones to go to.”