WICHITA, Kan. – A former prison guard romantically involved with one of the two inmates she helped escape pleaded guilty Friday to a federal firearms charge, telling family members she now realizes she was used.
"She also feels like one of the world's greatest fools," her mother, Laurie Ann Nutter, said. "She realizes now there wasn't anything real in the relationship. She feels so extremely foolish, she is angry about it."
Nutter spoke to The Associated Press the day before Amber Lynn Goff, 24, pleaded guilty to a federal firearms charge in exchange for reduced charges and a recommendation by prosecutors for a five-year prison term and three years probation. She also agreed to pay $11,000 in restitution.
As part of the plea deal, three other federal firearms charges would be dropped at the time of sentencing. The state agreed not to prosecute Goff on additional state charges.
District Judge Wesley Brown temporarily sealed a memorandum to the plea agreement, ruling without elaborating that he found "good cause" to do so.
Lyndon Vix, an attorney for The Associated Press and The Wichita Eagle, argued in court that the First Amendment protected access to judicial records and proceedings, and courts have upheld that right except where there is a compelling interest to seal records.
"If this document were sealed, speculation about what it might concern would do more damage than what it might concern," Vix said.
Goff pleaded guilty to the first count of knowingly disposing of firearms to a previously convicted felon.
Brown deferred a decision to accept or reject the plea until he sees a sentencing report. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for June 20.
Goff was indicted in November on four federal firearms charges related to the Oct. 28, 2007, escape of Jesse Bell, 34, and Steven Ford, 27, from maximum security exercise pens at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. The three were arrested in Grants, N.M., early Oct. 31.
In a written statement filed as part of the plea deal, Goff wrote that she received a cell phone call from Ford on the evening of the escape. She said she used bolt cutters to cut through the padlock securing an outer gate and drove onto the grounds of the facility.
"I approached the outermost wire perimeter fence on foot and used bolt cutters to cut through this fence in order to assist Ford and Bell in their escape from the El Dorado Correctional facility," Goff said in the statement.
"In addition to the bolt cutters, I had two sets of wire cutters," she wrote. "I attempted to throw one set of wire cutters over both perimeter fences onto the prison grounds, but this pair of wire cutters hit the top of the outer fence and fell to the ground outside of the fence where I was waiting. I then successfully threw a second set of wire cutters over both the fences."
U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren said after the plea hearing that federal prosecutors worked closely with Butler County Attorney Jan Satterfield and determined that federal charges were be "more appropriate" for the offense than were obtainable under state law.
Satterfield said it would have been more difficult to get a prison term for Goff under state law because she had no prior criminal record.
"We know Amber Goff was involved. She is being held accountable for her conduct. We think that she is the person who facilitated this escape. She breached the public trust by doing so, and she is being held accountable today," said Deputy Secretary of Corrections Chuck Simmons.
Goff's family said she had a romantic relationship with Ford before the escape.
In a lengthy prepared statement, Nutter said the family fully expects Goff to pay a price for her actions — but sharply criticized the investigation of the escape, saying the prison break would not have been possible without the negligence or involvement of many others working at the prison that night.
"There are some who will stand before you and say that today justice was served," Nutter said. "They will try and convince you that while laws were broken justice has prevailed in this case. They will use many different words all saying the same thing. But I am here today to tell you that justice is the last thing that has been served today."
The focus on Goff has allowed authorities to avoid answering tough questions about a massive security breach at a maximum security prison that houses such violent offenders as BTK killer Dennis Rader, Nutter said.
"My goal from this day forth is for justice to be sought out against everyone who allowed this to happen, not just one foolish, young, terrified girl, who is now paying her price for all this," Nutter said.
The family also demanded to know why there hasn't been an independent investigation by an outside agency, and why no one else has been fired or prosecuted for the escape.
"We pretty well knew what happened and how it happened — that became pretty clear early in the investigation," Simmons said. "We didn't need an outside agency to tell us how to respond to this. We took immediate and aggressive action within days to begin some changes."
Those changes included upgrading perimeter security, making staffing adjustments in terms of assignments and instituting more staff training, and other security changes he declined to specify. He noted that before the incident, the El Dorado prison had not had an escape in its 15 or 16 years.
Nutter said several officers allowed the two maximum security segregated inmates to leave their cells without properly searching them, Nutter said, noting the inmates were wearing four layers of clothing and carrying a cell phone with e-mail capability when they went into the exercise yard.
Simmons said the two inmates were apparently strip searched before they went from their segregation cell to the exercise area, and prison officials do not have an explanation about how they got the cell phone and extra clothing to the exercise area.
The two escaped inmates are awaiting trial in New Mexico, where they face federal charges of being fugitives in possession of firearms and possessing stolen firearms and ammunition.