Alvin Price was willing to plead guilty to bank robbery, and he knows prosecutors have overwhelming evidence that could convince a jury he is guilty.
But, Mr. Price said, he didn't rob any bank.
"If I knew what was going to happen," Mr. Price told the judge Friday in U.S. District Court in Augusta, "I'd still be in North Carolina."
Mr. Price, 49, and Donald M. Reynolds, 34, both from the Charlotte area, were arrested shortly after the April 21 morning robbery of the Queensborough National Bank and Trust branch office in Hephzibah.
When a deputy approached a vehicle that matched the description of the one the bank robber fled in, the passenger fired a shotgun blast at him, FBI Special Agent Anthony DePrizio Jr. said.
Mr. Reynolds bailed out of the vehicle and took off on foot after he and Deputy Steve An exchanged gunfire, the agent testified Friday.
Mr. Price stayed in the car, where investigators found the bank bag with cash, a purse belonging to one of the tellers, a shotgun, and the white overalls, long black wig and gloves allegedly worn by the man who robbed the Queensborough bank, Agent DePrizio said.
"What are you guilty of?" Judge Bowen bluntly asked Mr. Price after several attempts to determine whether Mr. Price understood the meaning of a guilty plea.
"Driving the car," he said.
Greg Leopard, appointed to represent Mr. Price, said he had asked for a mental evaluation of Mr. Price because of his diminished mental abilities.
Mr. Price insisted he didn't know Mr. Reynolds was going to rob the bank. He was waiting in the car, smoking crack, when Mr. Reynolds got back in and told him to drive, Mr. Price said. He denied ever seeing the 12-gauge, pistol-grip shotgun.
Mr. Leopard said he thought Mr. Price understood that with the strength of the government's case he likely would be convicted. And because of his criminal history, Mr. Price would face more time in prison than he would if he pleaded guilty, Mr. Leopard said.
Judge Bowen said he understood the defense strategy and that it was in Mr. Price's best interest, but the judge couldn't accept a guilty plea from someone who doesn't consider himself guilty.
Mr. Reynolds, who has stood on a not-guilty plea, and Mr. Price will be tried together. A trial date hasn't been set.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.