Jail escapee suspected in sexual assault

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 5, 2001

MONTICELLO — An Lawrence County Jail inmate who escapedWednesday afternoon is a suspect in an alleged sexual assault thathappened before the escapee was apprehended late last night,authorities said.

Barron Banks, 24, of Sontag, was charged with burglary of adwelling, sexual battery and felony escape Thursday morning,Sheriff Joel Thames said. His initial hearing will be heldtoday.

“No later than this afternoon or tomorrow morning he will be ina van heading towards Rankin County,” Thames said. “I am gettinghim out of Lawrence County.”

Banks was convicted of burglary of a dwelling Dec. 5, 2000, andsentenced to 15 years in the custody of the Department ofCorrections.

The last 13 years of the sentence were suspended for five yearsof post release supervision. Banks had a prior conviction forrobbery handed down March 28, 1998, in Adams County.

Banks was working as part of a road crew on Nola Road Wednesdayafternoon, according to Thames.

The crew stopped beside the road to eat lunch. Afterwards herequested and received permission to enter the woods to relievehimself around 1:10 p.m.

Deputy Levester Sutton investigated when Banks did not returnafter a few minutes and discovered he had left the area. Henotified the sheriff’s office at 1:36 p.m. of the escape and lawenforcement officers raced to begin a search.

According to the victim, Thames said, Banks entered her homearound 1:20 p.m. The 41-year-old Nola Road resident was tied up andsexually battered before the assailant was startled intoleaving.

The victim’s mother had returned to the house and knocked on thedoor, the sheriff said. Banks took a kitchen knife when hefled.

Thames said Banks was apprehended around 9 p.m. after familymembers and neighbors saw him walking down a road. They convincedhim to turn himself in and turned him over to deputies searchingthe area.

Thames said Banks is facing a possible 15-year sentence for theescape charge alone. In addition, he said, the 13 years of thesuspended sentence for the Lawrence County burglary will likely bereinstated.

“I don’t think we’ll see Mr. Banks in Lawrence County for quitesome time,” Thames said.

The sheriff said Banks had been held at the Lawrence County Jailsince April 10, 2000, and was assigned to the road crew shortlyafterwards.

“Up until yesterday we haven’t had any problems with him and hehas had ample opportunities for escape,” Thames said. “I don’t whatgot into his mind. We certainly don’t put anyone out there who wasconvicted of a violent crime. Burglary of a dwelling is not aviolent crime.”

The escape will not affect the road crew program, Thames said.However, a policy has been changed that now requires an escort withroad crew inmates at all times.

Thames said he spoke to all of the jail inmates Thursday morningabout the escape and warned them against considering such actionsthemselves. He said he re-outlined the road crew program andreiterated that it was a privilege that could be taken away.