Prisoners of Love

Romance for these ex-fugitives hits hard times -- behind bars

Lynette Barnett is back in prison. But instead of being a guard, now she's an inmate. Working at Crossroads Correctional Institute in Cameron, Missouri, last year, Lynette fell in love with convicted murderer Terry Banks.

Her marriage was coming apart, she was lonely, and she and Terry had a lot in common. She smuggled him out of the high-security prison in broad daylight with one of her old uniforms and a fake ID. On a foggy morning, the FBI arrested them in a raid on a trailer park in Victoria County, southwest of Houston, where they were living with friends of Terry's father (see "Run to Ground," by Wendy Grossman, March 9).

For the last year Lynette has been in jail in Bethany, Missouri, awaiting her trial. (Ironically, the night she fled south with Terry, her cover story was that she was going to her grandmother's house in Bethany.)

Since she was the only prisoner who could cook, Lynette was made a trustee and fixed dinner for all the inmates. One of the anecdotes floating around among police officers is about the night when Lynette fixed sandwiches. The sheriff stormed in and said that he'd ordered steaks.

He was joking, but Lynette didn't catch on.

"I'm sorry," she said. "You wanted steaks for all the inmates?"

"She's dumb as a rock," says Kurt Lipanovitch, a special agent for the FBI.

Lynette stretched out her time until trial by firing her lawyers and hiring new ones. Special Prosecutor Mike Arnold offered her a plea of four years in prison. In October, Circuit Judge Stephen Griffin of Clinton County rejected that agreement and gave her the maximum five-year sentence. He just didn't think it was long enough, his secretary says.

"Considering the time she already has credit for in the county, it probably won't be too long before she's paroled out," says Lieutenant Don Fritz of the Cameron Police Department. "I'm guessing 120 days."

Terry Banks wasn't charged until after Lynette was sentenced. (Prosecutors were going to use him to testify against her. If he refused, sources close to the case say, they were going to nail him to the wall.) He pleaded guilty in September.

"It's pretty hard to beat the case," Fritz says. "It's pretty obvious what happened. We had a videotape and correspondence back and forth." What isn't so obvious is whether the pair's professed love -- which ignited the escape plans -- still burns within them. Officers say there's no way of knowing if the romance lives on, but the two aren't likely to be seeing each other again anytime soon.

Terry already has a sentence of life without parole, so adding another 15 years on top of forever isn't going to make much difference to him.

Terry, you should've run the rest of the way to Mexico, man.

 
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