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Up Next for Fairy-Tale Lovers -- Sentencing

The pair plead guilty to bank robbery, with one agreeing to testify against the other. Last year, they maintained their undying love.

June 20, 2004|Jacques Billeaud and Pauline Arrillaga | Associated Press Writers

PHOENIX — Two star-crossed lovers whose courtship included bank robbery have pleaded guilty, with one agreeing to testify against the other.

Craig Pritchert accepted a plea bargain last week, admitting he had staged heists in Oregon, Colorado and Arizona.

His girlfriend, Nova Guthrie, drove the getaway car for two of the three robberies. Guthrie pleaded guilty in May, agreeing to testify against the man of her dreams. With his plea deal, that will no longer be necessary.

Last September, as both sat in jail awaiting trial, Guthrie told a reporter: "I've never known a more kind or a more gentle man, or anyone who loved me better."

Pritchert was as captivated as she. "We had what most people strive for but can't even touch," he said. "It was ... the fairy tale. The only question now is the happily ever after."

The pair drew comparisons to Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow for allegations that they robbed a half-dozen banks in the West from 1997 to 1999.

Authorities said Pritchert and Guthrie used the money to travel the world. They were caught in August in South Africa, where they had lived since 2000 under the assumed names of Dane and Andy Brown.

Asked in court if he had committed the robberies, Pritchert said, "Yes, your honor, I did."

He could face up to 80 years in prison and $1 million in fines, but attorneys agreed his sentence would range between 20 and 22 1/2 years. Sentencing is set for Aug. 23.

Under the deal, Pritchert would be protected from prosecutions in other bank robberies, according to court records.

They both pleaded guilty to heists in Bend, Ore., and Durango, Colo. They got away with $120,000 in the 1999 Oregon robbery and $64,000 in the 1997 Colorado holdup.

Pritchert, 43, admitted acting alone in sticking up a Scottsdale bank in 1997. He left the bank with $32,000.

As for the money that the duo stole from banks, prosecutor Michael Kemp said: "Evidently, they spent it."

Patricia Gitre, Pritchert's attorney, said she believed the plea deal was fair.

During their robberies, the couple split duties. A disguised Pritchert carried a handgun into banks, restrained employees with duct tape and plastic ties, and walked out with bags of money. Guthrie drove the getaway car, authorities said.

Guthrie, 30, will be sentenced July 14 for the robberies in Oregon and Colorado and another in Aztec, N.M. She could face up to 20 years in prison and three years' probation, but sentencing guidelines call for between 9 and 11 years.

Pritchert, a former Arizona State University baseball player, had served five years in federal prison for robbing a Nevada bank in 1990. He was released from prison in June 1996.

After the solo robbery in Scottsdale, Pritchert tried to create a diversion by torching a car, then made off in another vehicle. The burned car belonged to Pritchert's father, authorities said.

A bank employee managed to hide a tracking device in the stolen money, allowing police to find the car in a parking garage near a shopping mall. Pritchert had left his wallet and identification in the car.

Authorities said he fled to New Mexico, where he met Guthrie.

Investigators' first big break came shortly after the 1999 Bend heist -- when Guthrie, persuaded by relatives, turned herself in. But authorities released her and she reunited with Pritchert, whom she'd told her brother she couldn't live without.

After their arrest, they said their goodbyes in a U.S. marshal's van. As for any future contact, "that would be up to Nova," Pritchert said in September. "I hope so."

Guthrie responded: "It's just a matter of time."

"I've got something that every woman would want," she said then. "You don't walk away from that."

Arrillaga interviewed the robbers last year. Billeaud covered the court proceedings.

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