Trial begins for jail escapee in bank robberies

CHICAGO He escaped from Cook County Jail and went on a crime spree, allegedly robbing banks in four states.

Prosecutors say bank surveillance video shows Rencher robbing a bank in the Loop the same day he escaped from jail.

Rencher was on the run for nearly four months before he turned himself in. Now, he's on trial under extreme security measures.

Rencher is charged with robbing five banks and twice using a gun to get his way. He told ABC7 in an exclusive interview shortly after he turned himself in that during his life on the lam he helped Hurricane Katrina victims and relaxed on the beaches of Mexico. But on Tuesday, there was evidence of the lengths law enforcement is going to making sure Rencher doesn't escape again.

Jurors can't see it, but behind a black curtain, Rencher is quite literally anchored to the floor by two 100 pound barbells. U.S. Marshals are clearly worried about a man who has proven himself volatile and made several escape attempts.

Cook County Corrections Officer Yolandes Collins was supervising Rencher's work detail back in June of 2005. Rencher was supposed to be serving bologna sandwiches to other jail inmates. Instead, he used easy access to a staff locker room and walked out of the jail wearing a guard's uniform.

"I tried it on, made sure it fit, didn't look awkward - shoes, boots, found a hat and glasses, just the perfect ensemble," Rencher said in 2006.

The prosecution revealed Tuesday it will use the jail-house interview with Rencher along with statements he made shortly after turning himself in.

"I felt like it was good time to turn myself in," Rencher said in 2006.

Rencher's attorney claims it's evidence of a psychological disorder. The defense asked Corrections Officer Collins, "Mr. Rencher was very much a loner, was he not?"

"Yes he was," the guard answered.

"Did you ever refer him to the psychiatric department?"

"No, I did not" she said.

Also on Tuesday, bank teller Susana Meza testified Rencher threatened her life when he robbed a First American Bank branch in the Loop the same day of his escape.

"He told me he wasn't a police officer; I was being robbed" Meza told jurors. "He said, 'Don't do anything stupid or I'll kill you.'"

Rencher sat quietly in court, a stark contrast to the day he allegedly hijacked an prison bus downtown, briefly taking his fellow inmates and a deputy marshal hostage.

Rencher is accused of robbing banks before and after his escape from the Cook County Jail. Regardless of how this trial turns out, he'll still have to answer to the escape charges, plus the original gun and drug cases that landed him in the county lockup in the first place.

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