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Novelist Charged in Attempted Murder

December 1, 1999

TORONTO (AP) _ A trial making headlines throughout Canada has all the elements of an action novel _ a reformed convict gone bad again robs a bank and shoots it out with police.

But this time, the man charged with attempted murder is the novelist.

Stephen Reid, once on the FBI’s most-wanted list, is back in court, leaving Canadians wondering why the critically-acclaimed author would return to a life of crime.

Reid, 49, entered guilty pleas to two charges relating to the June 9 bank robbery in Victoria, British Columbia. But he pleaded innocent to four attempted murder charges that carry a possible life sentence, especially for someone with his record.

Reid was a member of the Stopwatch Gang, a Canadian trio that two decades ago stole millions in scores of robberies across the United States. Sent to prison, he wrote a novel called ``Jackrabbit Parole″ about a gang of escaped convicts that sets off on a crime spree.

The book became a best seller after its release in 1986 and helped Reid start a new life. Poet and author Susan Musgrave, who helped edit the book, married him in prison in 1987, shortly before he was paroled.

After Reid’s release from prison, the couple moved to Vancouver Island, where they had a daughter and Reid enjoyed a kind of celebrity status as a board member of PEN Canada. He even portrayed a security guard in the film ``Four Days,″ about a bank robbery.

But Musgrave says drug addiction dating back to Reid’s teen years returned to take over his life. She told the Toronto Star newspaper she feared he was going to overdose on heroin and cocaine the night before the June robbery.

``He was incoherent,″ she said of a phone conversation with Reid. ``I said, `I don’t think you should come home, Stephen. I just can’t take anymore.‴

Reid didn’t come home, and the next day, he and an accomplice robbed a Victoria bank of $60,000. The escape plan fizzled and Reid ended up in a five-hour standoff with police before his capture in an apartment where he was hiding.

The attempted murder charges involve the shootout, in which Reid and police officers exchanged gunfire in the streets. Reid contends he never intended to shoot anyone, but police and witnesses who testified at his trial Tuesday said otherwise.

Reid ``took a shot at me with the shotgun; I believe it was pointed toward my head,″ police Const. Eric Ooms testified.

Reid pleaded guilty to robbery and unlawful confinement of an elderly couple whose apartment he barged into during the botched getaway.

Defense lawyer Dennis Murray said if prosecutors drop the attempted murder charges, Reid also would plead guilty to three charges of firing a gun with the intent to prevent arrest and one charge of dangerous use of a firearm.

Such a deal would mean up to 14 years in prison for Reid, and Musgrave said she expects him to do ``serious time.″

``It’s not a normal family life ... but we have to make the best of this time,″ she said. ``We have to keep on writing, keep on living.″

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