Testimony conflicts in bank robbery trial

URBANA — Two men who were involved in Champaign bank robberies last spring with a third man told different stories to a Champaign County jury Tuesday about that third man's involvement.

Ronald Wilkerson, 44, whose last known address was in the 1500 block of Honeysuckle Lane, Champaign, is charged with two counts of armed robbery for the May 8, 2012, holdup of the Central Illinois Credit Union, 2106 W. John St., C, and the May 21, 2012, holdup of the Marine Bank, 1001 S. Neil St., C.

But co-defendant Prentice Taylor, 57, said Wilkerson wasn't involved, while William Terry Jackson, 35, said he was.

All three men were arrested May 21, 2012, and have been in custody ever since.

Federal prosecutors elected last September to take Taylor and Jackson's cases but declined to prosecute Wilkerson, leaving his case in the hands of Assistant Champaign County State's Attorney Troy Lozar. Judge Tom Difanis is presiding.

Taylor was not charged with the Marine Bank robbery but was charged in federal court with the March 24, 2012, armed robbery of the McDonald's at 501 N. Mattis. Ave., C; the April 16, 2012, armed robbery of the Mobil Super Pantry, 1511 N. Prospect Ave., C; and the May 8, 2012, armed robbery of the Central Illinois Credit Union.

Jackson is charged with the holdups of the Mobil Super Pantry, the Central Illinois Credit Union and the Marine Bank.

Both Taylor and Jackson told the nine women and three men hearing Wilkerson's case that they had agreed to testify against him in hopes of getting a discount on whatever sentences they might receive in the federal system, where penalties can be higher depending on a person's criminal history. And both Taylor and Jackson have prior convictions.

Taylor's include armed robbery, public indecency, stalking, forgery and obstructing justice. Jackson's include armed robbery and aggravated battery.

Employees at both banks testified they were forced at gunpoint to lie on the floor while their banks were robbed.

The three employees at the Central Illinois Credit Union described one man holding a gun on a customer and a female teller while the second jumped over the counter and took money from the drawer. The robbers made off with just under $20,000.

The branch manager of the Marine Bank said one man came in, ordered employees to the floor at gunpoint and stole a little over $10,000.

None of the employees at either bank could identify the robbers. They described the robbers as having black paint on their faces.

Testifying first, the shackled Taylor got quickly to his point.

"I had the gun. I drove the truck and Terry Jackson and I did it," he said of the Central Illinois Credit Union holdup.

"So that's your story?" asked Lozar.

"Exactly," replied Taylor, who denied that Wilkerson participated.

Lozar then peppered Taylor with a series of questions designed to impeach him, using a prior statement Taylor gave to an FBI agent in which Taylor had implicated Wilkerson. However, on Tuesday, Taylor said he lied to the FBI agent.

"You're trying to confuse me but it's not happening," Taylor complained to Lozar. At one point, a juror even interrupted the testimony asking the judge to make Lozar go over a few of the statements with Taylor.

Taylor also testified that he separated from the other two men on May 21 before the Marine Bank holdup because he was nervous about police being on to them. He then went on to implicate a fourth man — who has not been charged — in the Marine Bank robbery.

Later, a heavily shackled Jackson testified that Wilkerson was indeed involved in both the Central Illinois Credit Union robbery and the Marine Bank robbery as the getaway car driver. He said Wilkerson did not go in either bank. Jackson also confirmed that Taylor had not taken part in the Marine Bank robbery and said there was never a fourth man involved.

Taylor and Jackson both testified that Wilkerson drove the three of them to Kankakee on the morning of May 21 to look for possible banks to rob but weren't comfortable with any of them so they returned to Champaign. Jackson said once back in Champaign, they considered holding up the Regions Bank, 111 S. State St., C, but weren't comfortable with that bank either, because there were too many people coming and going.

Jackson said although the holdup of the Central Illinois Credit Union was a "collective effort" by him, Taylor and Wilkerson, it was Wilkerson and Taylor who planned it.

Taylor admitted he was testifying against Wilkerson in hopes of getting a discounted prison sentence.

"I'm hoping to get a lot off my chest, clear my conscience. It would be nice to get a lighter sentence," said Jackson, who said "based on law books, research and stipulations," he was looking at "a lot" of time in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronda Coleman, who is prosecuting Taylor and Jackson, was present for Jackson's testimony, as was Jackson's federal public defender.

Taylor was supposed to have entered a guilty plea on Wednesday after completing his testimony against Wilkerson, but Coleman said based on his apparent about-face, she wasn't sure the plea would go through.

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