Woman sentenced to jail for part in Zions Bank robbery

ST. GEORGE – A woman who aided her boyfriend in a bank robbery last year that ended in a fatal officer-involved shooting was sentenced to serve time in the county jail Tuesday.

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

Elizabeth Jeanne Holt, 37, of Washington City, appeared with attorney Travis Christiansen before 5th District Judge Eric Ludlow for sentencing Tuesday morning. In August, Holt pleaded guilty to amended felony charges of robbery and obstruction of justice. The charges are related to the Sept. 11, 2014, robbery of the Zions Bank on River Road in St. George that ultimately resulted in the death of 37-year-old robbery suspect Benjamin Jay Schroff.

Though she could have been sentenced to serve one to 15 years for her part in the robbery, Holt was ordered by the judge to serve eight months at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility, serve 200 hours of community service, write a letter of apology to the victims affected by the crime, undergo a mental health evaluation and pay restitution.

Holt has a chance for an early release for good behavior. Upon her release, she would be on supervised probation for 36 months.

“I think it turned out as well as can be expected,” Christiansen said Wednesday.

Prior to the robbery, Holt had no criminal history, Christiansen said, adding he believes she won’t have any after her release.

During the sentencing, Christiansen described Holt as being “very remorseful” over what happened.

Vulnerability

Prior to meeting Schroff, Holt had gone through a separation that left her in a vulnerable state, Christiansen said.

She was in a very emotionally fragile state,” he said.

Schroff provided the love and acceptance Holt had lacked in her previous relationship, Christiansen said.

While he said his client was “somewhat complicit” in the incident, she was also “blinded to the difficulties Mr. Schroff had, be they criminal or mental,” he said.

Holt took part in Schroff’s plan to go to the bank but had no idea how far he would go, Christiansen said.

“She was always adamant she had no idea he would take hostages and shoot at police,” Christiansen said.

The robbery

During the September bank robbery, Holt took Schroff to Zions Bank and dropped him off. From there, Schroff entered the bank wearing a disguise and carrying a firearm. He demanded money at gunpoint and then left the bank with two hostages, using one of the hostage’s cars to flee the scene.

Robbery suspect Benjamin Schroff, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Washington County Attorney's Office, St. George News
Robbery suspect Benjamin Schroff, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Washington County Attorney’s Office, St. George News

Schroff shot at pursuing police vehicles but didn’t hit any 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.

Schroff ultimately 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’s person 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, as well. Police also found .22 bullets with Schroff but no .22-caliber weapon.

The area where Schroff had been hiding was approximately 100 feet from where Holt was parked in her minivan about an hour before.

Holt’s involvement

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-caliber rifle on a seat in the van. Along with the rifle, according to court documents, magazines were 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, ultimately telling 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 robbing the bank at that time.

Scene of the officer-involved shooting involving St. George Police and Benjamin Jay Schroff, Washington City, Utah, Sept. 11, 2014 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Attorney's Office, St. George News
Scene of the officer-involved shooting between St. George Police and Benjamin Jay Schroff, Washington City, Utah, Sept. 11, 2014 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Attorney’s Office, St. George News

As for the open side door and .22-caliber rifle, Holt said, the door was open to allow a breeze into the minivan and 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.

“In the initial panic, she did some stupid things,” Christiansen said. “It’s hard to be sane when you find out your significant other robbed a bank.”

“It was just”

“She has, from the get-go, expressed remorse for what happened,” Christiansen said of Holt.

Christiansen said his office worked hard to bring out the “human element” in his client’s case so her own circumstances could be considered at sentencing time, and he was pleased with the outcome.

He once more noted that someone in Holt’s position yearning for affection and acceptance can be influenced by the party supplying that need who, in this case, was Schroff.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Holt was remorseful and scared, he said. She was remorseful for everything that had happened but also scared to be going to jail. She hadn’t been there before with the exception of the day she was arrested in connection with the robbery, Christiansen said.

Despite that, Christiansen said, the case had a favorable conclusion, and the Washington County Attorney’s Office had been very equitable.

“It was just,” he said of the sentencing. “We’re pleased with the outcome.”

Members of Holt’s family where present during the sentencing, as were families of the two women Schroff held hostage during the robbery.

“We feel for all the families involved,” Christiansen said. “There really are no winners in this case.”

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

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2 Comments

  • 42214 October 8, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Some on this site whine and bemoan the injustice of our courts. They complain about the little guy getting bullied by the system. If this isn’t an example of compassion and leniency I don’t know what is.

  • .... October 8, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Hey it ain’t nice to make fun of the whiners.! BITE ME. LOL.!

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