April 25, 1995 in City

Robber Gets 20-Year Term

Gita Sitaramiah Staff writer
 

Spokane’s “bad-tooth bandit” has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for a string of robberies last fall that put the city’s businesses on alert.

Aaron Wayne Coats admitted to 31 holdups that panicked store clerks last fall in Spokane and the Valley.

In each instance, authorities said, he wielded a fake gun - a gold-painted lighter shaped like a Colt .45.

Coats, a high school dropout, said he robbed in order to feed his heroin habit.

He was repeatedly described by his victims as having rotten teeth.

During an interview at the Spokane County Jail last November shortly after his arrest, Coats told a Spokesman-Review reporter he couldn’t be the notorious robber because his teeth weren’t that bad.

“I don’t have a beautiful smile or anything, but my teeth are OK. I’m just missing a few,” Coats said.

Coats pleaded guilty last month to four counts of first-degree robbery.

Authorities were able to go forward with all four of the robbery charges, despite initially claiming some might have to be dismissed because The Spokesman-Review had published a photograph of Coats before witnesses could view a lineup.

Coats, who has three prior felony theft convictions, faced a standard-range sentence of between 10 and 14 years in prison for the robberies.

Deputy Prosecutor Ed Hay asked for the exceptional sentence of 20 years because there were so many robberies.

Some store clerks who came face to face with the bandit were so frightened they quit their jobs, Hay has said. “He did a lot of damage to a lot of people.”

Coats targeted restaurants and small businesses.

Police arrested him in November after he had tried to rob Excell Foods on East Francis.

Coats also pleaded guilty last month to assault and attempted-escape charges stemming from a botched attempt to flee on Dec. 9.

Using a steel rod smuggled from the jail, he attacked a bailiff in a courtroom but was quickly subdued.

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