Man gets 37 years for fatally stabbing River North bank employee

A man with a long history of mental illness and violent attacks has been sentenced to 37 years in prison for stabbing a Chase bank employee to death during a random attack in downtown Chicago one year ago.

Jawaun Westbrooks, 36, pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for the sentence from Judge Charles Burns. His parole date is scheduled for August 26, 2058.

Prosecutors said 24-year-old Jessica Vilaythong was helping a customer in her cubicle at the bank, 600 North Dearborn, when Westbrooks walked in around 11:12 a.m. on September 1, 2021.

Jessica Vilaythong, the Chase bank branch, and Jawaun Westbrooks | Asian Funeral Services LLC; Google: CPD

When Vilaythong got up to assist Westbrooks, he turned around, walked toward her quickly, pulled a knife from his waist, and stabbed her once in the left side of her neck, according to prosecutors.

He fled from the bank and headed into the River North neighborhood while customers tried to save Vilaythong.

Bank surveillance images were distributed to CPD officers, and cops assigned to the department’s Office of News Affairs spotted Westbrooks in the Loop a few hours after the attack. He had rearranged some of his clothing, but he had a hunting knife strapped to his ankle and still had a Disney princess t-shirt that the attacker wore when police arrested him inside a Walgreens at 2 North State.

Vilaythong’s aunt, Phuong Le, spoke with NBC Chicago last year about her niece.

“She was a great, great child in my family, so smart,” Le told the station. “She really active, she really lovely—help to the people.”

“She had dreams to help the Vietnamese people and to do other things, but the evil of society robbed her dream,” she said. “I really wish our family is the last family to get a loss… I don’t want any other family to have a loss like us—it’s so terrible.”

Westbrooks has an extensive criminal history, including multiple violent attacks in the downtown area, that courts have linked to severe psychiatric problems.

On July 8, 2014, he struck two women in their heads with a hammer as they walked past him in the 400 block of North Lower Lake Shore Drive near Navy Pier. The women were both hospitalized with head injuries from the attack. During a bench trial, a judge found him not guilty of attempted murder and not guilty of aggravated battery by reason of insanity. Westbrooks was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 2014 that Westbrooks had the word “kill” tattooed on his left hand. His mother also spoke to the paper:

“I’ve been trying to find help for him, but it seemed like no one is willing to help,” she said, recalling the last time that she called police she was told officers couldn’t do anything .

“I’m sorry that that happened to them,” she said of the two victims from the Tuesday night attack. “But that’s what I’m trying to say, if the hospital would not let them out…if they made (him) take their medication, this world would probably be a safer place.”

Westbrooks was on parole for a 2012 attempted robbery in Streeterville when he attacked the women. In that case, he asked a woman for her phone in the 200 block of East Chicago and then knocked her to the ground when she ignored him. The woman struck her head on the pavement and looked up to see Westbrooks smile and walk away. He pleaded guilty in exchange for a two-year sentence.

At the time of the attempted robbery, he was on probation for the aggravated battery of two police officers at 10 East Chicago. In that case, he punched one cop directly in the face and pushed another. He initially received probation but was re-sentenced to serve two years concurrent with the attempted robbery case.

In 2009, he was charged with punching an officer in the eye and spitting in the face of another cop in the 400 block of East Ohio. A judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity and involuntarily committed him in 2011.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com