COLFAX – A former Whitman County sheriff’s deputy pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of second-degree child rape for encounters he had with a 13-year-old Malden girl.
Howard Banks, who worked for seven years as a guard in the very jail where he is now an inmate, may face a standard sentence of about 10 years in prison. But because his crimes are a class A felony, he could face a maximum sentence of life.
As he entered the court Friday morning, Banks grinned and waved at his family and neighbors, a dozen of whom had filled the benches on one side of the courtroom.
His grin faded when he took a seat before the judge and admitted to having intercourse with the victim twice between February and July of this year. According to sheriff’s reports, the victim told officers Banks had sex with her at his home at least three times, once in the presence of his wife. She also told investigators she thought Banks may have had contact with other girls.
As an officer, Banks seemed respectable and trustworthy, said the victim’s family earlier this summer, explaining that was one reason they allowed their daughter to spend time at his home.
Banks’ wife, Jacqueline Banks, is being investigated by the Pullman Police Department for her role in the crimes. She sat through the hearing Friday, crying as Banks made his plea. Waving away requests for comment, she left soon afterward.
The case started early this summer when the victim and her family came forward with the claims of rape. Shortly after, Banks resigned from his job at the jail.
In July, deputies hunted for Banks for several days before finally catching up to him. He had avoided them by camping out and had apparently taken pills, possibly in an attempt to harm himself, say court records.
To reach a plea agreement in the case, the prosecution dropped a third charge of rape involving the same victim. The victim’s family wanted to avoid a trial and the trauma of a public vetting of the crimes, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Carol Laverne. The prosecution also agreed not to charge Banks with any other crimes it might be aware of in connection with this case.
In her statement to the court, Laverne asked that Banks be relocated to another jail, saying that his incarceration in Whitman County is difficult for his former co-workers. Because Banks knows the jail and has had prior contact with some of the current inmates, he has been kept in isolation. That too is a problem for the jail, which could use the limited isolation space for other inmates, said Laverne.
The judge said he’d leave the decision to move Banks to the sheriff.
The victim and her family were in court for the plea. The past few months have been difficult for all of them, especially the young girl, they said. They declined to comment, saying they wanted to talk with their attorney first.
Banks will remain in jail without bail until his sentencing, which is set for Oct. 29.