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Thu, Oct. 17

Prescott man pleads no contest in sex assault, kidnapping

Steven Foster Gunter

Steven Foster Gunter

PRESCOTT - Steven Foster Gunter took a plea deal in a sex assault and kidnapping case Tuesday in court, but, because he said he could not remember having committed the crimes, entered a "no contest" plea rather than pleading guilty.

Gunter, 53, was arrested after police said he broke into the Prescott Valley home of his estranged wife, 52, who had an order of protection against him, on Oct. 23, 2010. Police said that while she was out, Gunter entered her house and waited for her to return. When she did, he "grabbed" her, according to the police report, and said he wanted to talk. She tried to escape, but Gunter struck her in the face, knocked her down, dragged her by the hair into a bedroom, tied her hands behind her back, and sexually assaulted her, according to police.

She tried to get away again, running to the front door, but he once again grabbed her and threw her to the floor. Gunter then took her to her own car, and, with her bound and gagged, drove her to an ATM where he forced her to give up her access code so he could withdraw money, said police.

Gunter drove her to an isolated area where he once again sexually assaulted her, then drove her to Mayer, where they stopped at a convenience store and she convinced him to let her go, police said. The incident spanned about six hours, according to police.

A police officer saw Gunter driving on Highway 69 near Fain Road and tried to stop him, but he accelerated to speeds near 100 mph and crashed at Fain and Lakeshore Drive.

Gunter was seriously injured in the crash and spent several weeks in the hospital.

His attorney, Robert Gundacker, said the crash caused Gunter to develop serious cognitive difficulties and memory loss.

Gunter was examined to determine whether he was competent to stand trial, and doctors established that he was.

On Tuesday, he did have some trouble with the legal procedure, however.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley asked him, "Do you understand this plea?"

"As best as I possibly can," Gunter said, quietly.

They discussed it further, and she again asked, "Do you feel you understand this plea agreement?"

"I want to understand," he said. "I think so, yes."

Ainley told him that she was leaning toward sentencing him to between 15 and 18 years in prison.

When it was time for him to plead guilty to the crimes listed in the agreement, though, they ran into a problem.

"Mr. Gunter has no memory of any of the counts he would be pleading to," Gundacker said. "He's read the police reports, but that's all he knows."

Ainley talked to the attorneys in a sidebar and then recessed so they could work out what Gunter would do.

He pleaded no contest to each charge, but that also left him unable to provide a "factual basis," which is essentially an admission of guilt.

Instead, Gundacker agreed to allow Deputy County Attorney Steve Sisneros to explain what the state would argue if the case had gone to trial.

He did, and Ainley accepted the plea.

Gunter will be sentenced at a later date.

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