Woman pleads guilty for part in Zions Bank robbery

Stock image | St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A woman accused of aiding her boyfriend in a bank robbery last September that ended in a fatal officer-involved shooting pleaded guilty to amended charges Tuesday morning in 5th District Court in Washington County.

Elizabeth Jeanne Holt, 37, appeared with attorney Travis Christiansen before District Judge Eric Ludlow and pleaded guilty to two second-degree felony charges related to robbery and obstruction of justice. The charges stem from the Sept. 11, 2014, robbery of Zions Bank on River Road in St. George that ultimately resulted in the death of of 37-year-old robbery suspect Benjamin Jay Schroff.

Elizabeth Jeanne Holt, of Washington, Utah, booking photo posted Dec. 9, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s booking, St. George News
Elizabeth Jeanne Holt, of Washington, Utah, booking photo posted Dec. 9, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s booking, St. George News

The two felony charges were reduced from the four Holt originally faced, which included a first-degree felony for aggravated robbery and three second-degree felonies.

Ludlow scheduled a sentencing hearing for Oct. 6, as well as a pre-sentencing investigation which will recommend penalties for the judge to consider.

During the September bank robbery, Schroff entered the bank wearing a disguise and carrying a firearm, according to court records. He demanded money at gunpoint and then took two hostages with him, using one of the hostage’s cars to flee the scene.

He took shots at pursuing police cars, though did not hit any of the officers. He eventually ditched the car and hostages in an area near the Virgin River between St. George and Washington City that was a mix of subdivisions and foliage.

The hostages were unharmed.

Multiple police agencies became involved in the hunt for Schroff. As the search continued, Schroff left the cover of brush with a shotgun in hand and ran toward two officers ahead of him. Other officers who saw him ordered him to stop and drop the gun multiple times. Schroff allegedly pointed the shotgun at an officer, at which point officers opened fire, killing Schroff.

Among items police recovered from Schroff were a sawed-off shotgun and a large handgun with black tape wrapped around the grips of the weapons. Schroff was found to have a roll of black tape on his person. Police also found .22 bullets with Schroff, but no .22-caliber weapon.

The scene where Zions Bank robbery suspect Benjamin Schroff was brought down, Washington, Utah, Sept. 11, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News
The scene where Zions Bank robbery suspect Benjamin Schroff was brought down, Washington, Utah, Sept. 11, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News

The area where Schroff had been hiding was approximately 100 feet from where Holt had been parked in her minivan about an hour before. Officers who were establishing a perimeter around the area encountered Holt. At the time, a side door to her van was wide open and police saw a .22-calber rifle on a seat in the van. Along with the rifle, according to court documents, were magazines fastened together with black tape.

After checking her ID, police told Holt to leave the area for her safety. After further investigation, police learned Holt was Schroff’s live-in girlfriend.

According to court records, Holt originally gave police different reasons for why she was in the area, and ultimately told them Schroff had called her and told her to drive to the area and wait for 15-20 minutes. She told authorities she didn’t have any knowledge of Schroff’s robbing the bank at that time.

As for the open side door and .22-caliber rifle, Holt said it was open to allow a breeze into the minivan, while the rifle had been left in the van by Schroff’s 17-year-old son who had been using it for rabbit hunting.

Police obtained a warrant and searched Holt’s home for the rifle, which she said was given back to Schroff’s son. Schroff’s son told investigators Holt told him to take the .22-caliber gun and other guns after the bank robbery and get rid of them. He did, and led investigators to a spot in Diamond Valley where he had buried them.

“One of the guns was the .22 rifle that was in the minivan at the time officers first contacted Holt,” one of the investigators wrote in a probable cause statement. “The .22 rifle had black tape around its barrel that was similar to the tape found in Schroff’s possession and on the sawed-off shotgun and handgun.”

Police had also been trying to establish how Schroff had gotten to the bank, as he had to use a hostage’s car to flee the scene. According to the probable cause statement, evidence collected by police placed a vehicle matching Holt’s minivan within seven blocks of the bank about seven minutes before the robbery.

“I feel that there is probable cause to believe that Elizabeth Holt intentionally sided (with) and encouraged Benjamin Schroff in the commission of the bank robbery, and has gone to lengths to conceal evidence and lie to the police,” the investigator said.

St. George News Assistant Editor Kimberly Scott contributed to this story.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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