Spokane’s “bad-tooth bandit” faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday to robbery charges.
Aaron Wayne Coats claimed responsibility for a one-man crime wave - 31 holdups that panicked store clerks last fall, putting every business on alert.
In each instance, authorities said Coats wielded a fake gun - a gold-painted lighter shaped like a Colt .45.
Targeting restaurants and small businesses, he’d grab a few hundred dollars in cash and run away.
Deputy Prosecutor Ed Hay said some store clerks who came face to face with the gap-toothed Coats were so frightened they quit their jobs.
“He did a lot of damage to a lot of people,” Hay said. “I can only imagine how those young people behind the cash register felt.”
Coats, 31, a high school dropout, said he robbed in order to feed his heroin habit.
He started hitting businesses close to home, then branched out, roaming across the city and the Spokane Valley. Soon, he was robbing a couple of businesses a day.
Police arrested him in November after he tried to rob Excell Foods on East Francis.
On Thursday, he came to court eager to go to prison.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree robbery.
He admitted holding up 27 other businesses during the same period, and agreed to pay restitution for all of the heists. The amount of restitution, which could include counseling for victims, will be determined later.
Coats also pleaded guilty to assault and attempted-escape charges stemming from a botched attempt to escape from custody Dec. 9.
Using a steel rod smuggled from the jail, he attacked a bailiff in a half-empty courtroom but was quickly subdued.
Authorities were able to go forward with all of the robbery cases, despite police initially claiming some might have to be dismissed because The Spokesman-Review published a photograph of Coats before witnesses could view a lineup.
Coats, who has three prior felony theft convictions, faces a standard-range sentence of between 10 and 14 years in prison, authorities said.
His attorney, Terence Ryan, will recommend the high end of that range at sentencing April 20.
But Hay wants an exceptional sentence of 20 years because there were so many robberies.
Coats asked to be sentenced right away, complaining that he has been held in solitary confinement in the Spokane County Jail since his escape attempt.
“I just want to get on with it and go over to prison,” he said.
Superior Court Judge Robert Whaley refused to proceed without a pre-sentence report digging into the defendant’s background, routinely ordered in criminal cases.
“I’m going to feel better about it if I know more about you,” the judge said.
“It looks bad for you, and I want you to know that.”