In 1979, the Anchorage Daily Times ran a story indicating that the Seward bank robbery in August 1971 had been the biggest in Alaska history.

In 1979, the Anchorage Daily Times ran a story indicating that the Seward bank robbery in August 1971 had been the biggest in Alaska history.

Unfortunate Choices: Three lives and a robbery gone awry, Part 3

Even the U.S. attorney himself promoted a sentence shorter than the maximum because of the youth of the three defendants.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Three young men in Seward in August 1971 successfully executed the largest bank robbery in Alaska history. They also botched their escape and were quickly apprehended. One year later, as their cases were about to go to trial, they were seeking reduced sentences.

In August 1972, prosecutors presented Randy Simmons, Robert Jett and Paul Stavenjord — all of Anchorage — with the same deal: Plead guilty to the charge of robbing the Seward branch of the National Bank of Anchorage on Aug. 4, 1971. In turn, the government will drop related weapons charges.

All three accepted the terms.

At the sentencing hearings, Simmons’ attorney asked for leniency for his client, who had gotten involved with drugs as a teen and, as a result, had allowed his criminal activities to spiral out of control. Stavenjord’s attorney, too, emphasized the hard-knock nature of his client’s childhood and asked the court to grant Stavenjord another chance to straighten out his life.

Jett’s attorney, on the other hand, continued to insist that Jett had never been an active planner of the robbery, and instead had just fallen into it for the adventure.

Even the U.S. attorney himself promoted a sentence shorter than the maximum because of the youth of the three defendants. He also noted that no one had been injured during the commencement of the crime, and that all the stolen money had been returned. Finally, because they had freely admitted their guilt, attorneys argued, the men were apt to learn from their mistakes.

U.S. District Court Judge Raymond E. Plummer agreed. He sentenced each man to only six years, with some stipulations: None of the three should be incarcerated in the same federal penitentiary, and all three should receive medical and psychiatric treatment and additional training to provide them with employable skills upon their release.

But desired results do not always mirror actual results. Looking back a half-century later, it is easy to see that the outcomes of this agreement were decidedly mixed.

Simmons

After his release from prison, Randall Morris Simmons, it can be argued, led the most productive life of all three men. There were plenty of potholes along his metaphorical road, but he navigated many of them positively.

Simmons was born in Paragould, Arkansas, to Rebecca Ann “Becky” (Ward) and Adial Morris Simmons in August 1951. His parents divorced the following year, and his mother moved to Alaska in 1958 with Randy and his older brother Robby. Randy spent part of his pre-robbery youth in Fairbanks before moving to Anchorage, where he attended Dimond High School.

He found trouble early. At age 15, authorities caught him sniffing a bag of glue, an arrest that was apparently indicative of more severe drug use. When he was released, he wasted little time exacerbating his problems with the law.

Simmons participated in the armed robbery of a Bottle Barn Liquor Store in Anchorage, an act that landed him in a federal youth facility. According to at least one report, he was released from this facility on May 8, 1971, just three months before helping to rob the bank. At the time of his arrest in Seward, he was 19 and was listed as 5-foot-9 and a slight 135 pounds.

After serving his time, Simmons returned to Fairbanks and, for a while, struggled to fly straight. In mid-January 1976, the Anchorage Daily News reported that a pickup he was driving crossed the center line on the Birch Hill curve and struck two oncoming cars. Simmons was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

In late December of that same year, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that he had been arrested again — charged with disorderly conduct, assault and battery of a police office, resisting arrest and criminal mischief at the Pioneer Hotel.

After he died in January 2016, his loved ones attested that in his later years Simmons appeared to get his life more on track.

After his mother had retired and when his own health began to fail, he joined her in operating Becky’s B&B in Fairbanks and assisted her until her death in 2007. Before this, he had worked in various jobs around the state, but specialized in construction and fine cabinetry. “Wood was his passion,” stated his obituary.

According to the obit, he succumbed to respiratory failure in California while visiting family. He also had suffered for years from leukemia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But he left behind three daughters, two of whom lived on the Kenai Peninsula, four grandchildren and “a large family of many friends and relatives.”

“Randy’s life was often filled with grief and strife, but the love he received made it all as nothing,” the obituary concluded. “At the end, he fought his demons and won. He will truly be missed.”

Jett

The life of Robert Garner Jett was another story. He seldom made life easy for himself. In fact, of the three men who committed the 1971 bank job, he led a post-robbery existence that can easily be deemed the least socially productive. He exemplified a life in which lessons remained decidedly unlearned.

Jett was born as Robert Garner Haynes in San Antonio in January 1949 to Esther Faye (Watson) and Robert Edwin Haynes, Esther’s second husband of four. Her fourth, an Air Force staff sergeant named Arthur Jett stationed in Anchorage, adopted young Robert and his older brother Robby after he and Esther got hitched in 1953.

Together, Arthur and Esther had a son named Edward who was struck and killed by a car in Anchorage when he was 8 years old. With a previous husband, Esther also had a daughter named Kathleen.

Robert Jett, who stood 5-foot-7 and weighed about 145 pounds at the time of the bank robbery, was the oldest of the trio. Like Simmons, he served four of the six years he had been sentenced, and he was released from federal prison (probably in Arizona) in what appears to be the late summer of 1975.

He claimed that he would never go back to prison alive, but he was wrong. He also failed to remain a free man for long.

On Aug. 21, he entered an Alpha Beta supermarket in Port Hueneme, California, and tried to shoplift a package of meat. When two security guards attempted to stop him, he pulled a gun and shot them both. He holed up in a nearby house until local police apprehended him about an hour later.

His trial in November and his sentencing in mid-December were, to put it mildly, unusual.

During his trial, he represented himself, and did so poorly. He pleaded not guilty and argued, according to the Oxnard Press-Courier, that he “had no intent to injure the guards, but they were assaulting him and he was just defending himself.”

A jury convicted him on two counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

Jett then argued for probation because he had “accepted Christ” and was no longer the violent person he had been. “I no longer live for my life,” said Jett. “I live for Him. I’ve been rehabilitated through Christ.” The judge disputed Jett’s argument, denied Jett’s request and countered that Jett’s rehabilitation, no matter how profound, must include time in prison.

At his sentencing, the 26-year-old Jett made another request of the judge — to be married. This request the judge granted. “I’m prepared to tie the knot,” Jett announced.

In court was Jett’s fiancé, 19-year-old Diane Denise Ekvall, who stepped forward for a brief wedding ceremony in which the bailiff and Jett’s probation officer served as witnesses. The newlyweds then shared a 30-second kiss before the groom was escorted away in handcuffs.

The record is somewhat unclear concerning what happened next, but it appears that the happy couple divorced in June of the following year.

Robert G. Jett was released from federal custody on Oct. 21, 1983, but he continued to make poor choices afterward.

TO BE CONTINUED….

Randall Morris Simmons, seen here in the photo that accompanied his 2016 obituary in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, confessed to participating in the August 1971 bank robbery.

Randall Morris Simmons, seen here in the photo that accompanied his 2016 obituary in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, confessed to participating in the August 1971 bank robbery.

A year after the 1971 bank robbery, two of the suspects pleaded guilty and were sentenced to six years in prison, as seen in this Anchorage Daily Times headline from August 1972. The third suspect pleaded guilty a few days later.

A year after the 1971 bank robbery, two of the suspects pleaded guilty and were sentenced to six years in prison, as seen in this Anchorage Daily Times headline from August 1972. The third suspect pleaded guilty a few days later.

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