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2 inmates escape from federal prison in Chicago

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CHICAGO (AP) — Two convicted bank robbers used a knotted rope or bed sheets to escape from a federal prison window high above downtown Chicago early Tuesday, a week after one of them made a courtroom vow of retribution.

The escape occurred sometime between 5 and 8:45 a.m., when the inmates were discovered missing, Chicago police Sgt. Mark Lazarro said. Hours later, what appeared to be a rope, knotted at 6-foot intervals, could be seen dangling into an alley from a window of the Metropolitan Correctional Center approximately 20 stories above the ground.

Jose Banks, 37, and Kenneth Conley, 38, were wearing prison-issue orange jumpsuits but now might be wearing white T-shirts, gray sweat pants and white gym shoes, Sgt. Lazarro said.

The FBI said in a statement that the men were last seen together in the Tinley Park area, about 25 miles southwest of Chicago, and that they should be considered armed and dangerous. Police SWAT teams stormed a Tinley Park home early in the afternoon, but it was not immediately clear what they found.

Banks is described as a black man, 5 feet 8 inches, weighing 160 pounds. Conley is described as white, 6 feet tall, weighing 185 pounds.

The men apparently descended from a thin window on the flat south side of the prison into the alley below. The specially designed cell windows are barely a half-foot wide.

Crowds of people gathered outside the building, where the ropes still blew in the breeze, shaking their heads in disbelief that someone could have escaped from a lockup in the heart of downtown Chicago, just a block or two from key federal court and office buildings.

The owners of several small shops across the street from the wall said they didn't see any police activity until around 8:30 a.m., when a dozen or more police cars and SWAT teams rushed into the area. Some police officers sprinted for a nearby subway entrance.

"It was clearly already too late. They were long gone," said Randy Cohen, owner of the Royal Jewelry and Loans store 10 or 20 yards from where the inmates scaled down the rope.

Homeland Security and U.S. Marshal's Service agents questioned him later in the morning and asked if security cameras on his building could have captured the escape or the men fleeing, Mr. Cohen said. He said he didn't think the cameras would have been pointed in the right direction.

Liquor store owner Baljit Singh has a clear view of the side of the prison where the men escaped. She said there was no indication anything was amiss when she arrived at work at 7 a.m.

Banks, known as the "Second-Hand Bandit" because he wore used clothes during his heists, was convicted last week of robbing two banks and attempting to rob two others. Authorities say he stole almost $600,000, but most of that is still missing.

Banks was convicted by a federal jury last week after a trial at which he had to be restrained because he threatened to walk out of the courtroom. He acted as his own attorney and verbally sparred with the judge.

After U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer convicted him, he said he would "be seeking retribution as well as damages," the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune reported.

When the judge asked how long he needed to submit a filing, Banks replied, "No motion will be filed, but you'll hear from me," the newspapers reported.

Conley pleaded guilty in October to robbing a Homewood Bank last year of nearly $4,000.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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