Jail escapee appears in court, ordered held without bond

Chicago Tribune reporter Jason Meisner on the recent arrest of Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber who escaped from federal jail in December. (Posted on: Jan. 4, 2013.)

Kenneth Conley's formal return to federal custody this morning at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse was a far cry from the brazen way he left.

The second half of a daring escape duo who used bedsheets to scale down the fa├žade of a downtown jail last month was pushed into a federal courtroom in a wheelchair, his legs extended and his feet swollen and shoeless. Shoulder bones pushed through his thin white T-shirt and one pinky was secured in a splint.

A short time later, U.S. District Judge Sheila Finnegan ordered Conley be held in custody without bail and set his preliminary hearing for Jan. 17.
Conley spoke only briefly to tell Finnegan he understood the charges against him.

"Yes, your honor," said Conley, who was wan and appeared thinner than in his booking photo.

Conley, a convicted bank robber, was on the lam 18 days before being arrested Friday afternoon in Palos Hills after police there received a call of a suspicious person. Police said Conley had attempted a disguise, wearing a an overcoat, beret and using a cane he didn't need.

Conley fought briefly with police, slugging one officer before he was tackled, authorities said. He was treated at a hospital before being transferred back to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the jail he busted out of Dec. 18 with his cellmate and fellow convicted bank robber, Joseph "Jose" Banks. Banks was caught two days after the escape.

Conley's attorney, Gary Ravitz, asked Finnegan for permission to use his cell phone camera to document Conley's left foot, which he said was swollen.

Ravitz, who represents Conley on the underlying bank robbery charge, said he did not know the extent of his client's injuries and that he otherwise appeared calm.

"He seemed to be in relatively good spirits, given the situation," Ravitz said.

Conley, 38, allegedly escaped from the jail, located at 71 W. Van Buren Street, while awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty on Oct. 29, 2012, to a 2011 bank robbery of $4,000 in Homewood.

Deputy U.S. Marshals and FBI agents returned to Palos Hills Friday morning to canvass for Conley because of unconfirmed sightings there and his long-standing connections to the area. A 911 call from maintenance workers at a building where Conley is believed to have been sleeping in the basement came in around 3:30 p.m.

The maximum penalty for Conley's escape is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for bank robbery is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to court records, Conley has a long criminal history. He has been convicted in Cook County of offenses ranging from retail theft to weapons violations and was sentenced to eight years in prison for an armed robbery in 1996. He also was sentenced to six years in prison in San Diego County for petty theft with a prior conviction, according to California records.

asweeney@tribune.com, jmeisner@tribune.com, sschmadeke@tribune.com

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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