MARIETTA - One of two young women from Gwinnett County who gained national notoriety as the 'Barbie Bandits' pleaded guilty on Wednesday to theft and drug charges and made a tearful apology for her actions.
Heather Johnston, 19, entered the pleas to theft by taking, a felony, and misdemeanor marijuana possession during a hearing in Cobb County Superior Court.
Johnston graduated from Collins Hill High School in Suwanee in 2006.
'I regret what I did. I wish I could take it back every day,' she told Judge Mary Staley.
Crying, Johnston said she entered the guilty pleas because she wanted to take responsibility for what she did. She did not have a deal with prosecutors.
Johnston and Ashley Miller, a 2006 Grayson High School graduate, the so-called Barbie Bandits, were videotaped wearing sunglasses and laughing as they appeared to steal nearly $11,000 from a Bank of America in Acworth on Feb. 27. What at first looked like a bank robbery turned out to be a theft involving a complicit teller, authorities said.
The young women were arrested two days later.
Police also charged a bank teller and another man, saying it appeared to be an inside job because of the amount of money involved.
The charges against Miller and the two men are still pending.
According to authorities, Miller and Johnston went on a shopping spree, ate a meal and even gave money to the homeless afterward.
Johnston, who has no prior criminal record, and her parents asked the judge not to send her to prison. She already served about 30 days in custody following her arrest. She has been free on bail since.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Samuels asked for three years imprisonment on the theft charge and one year on the drug charge, to be served concurrently. He noted that Johnston was seen smiling during the theft and later laughed about the incident during a nationally televised interview.
Staley said she will defer sentencing until after the three other defendants' cases are concluded. She said she expects Johnston will testify truthfully if called as a witness.
Johnston faces a maximum of 11 years in prison.
Johnston and her parents told the court that following her release on bond, she has worked for about three months as a customer service representative for a legitimate business. Before her arrest, she had been working in a strip club.
'Money isn't everything,' Johnston said. 'It's not what's important to me anymore. Doing the right thing is.' Now, she said, 'I feel more rewarded because I've worked hard for it.
To her family and friends, she said, 'If I've embarrassed you or hurt you, which I know I have, then I'm sorry.'
After the hearing, Johnston told reporters she is prepared for the possibility of going to prison.
She was asked about her laughter during the bank incident.
'It's not funny what I did,' she replied.
As for the Barbie Bandit tag, she said, 'It's something the media made up. That's not funny.'
The comments Johnston made during the previous TV interview also caught the notice of the judge. While noting at the hearing Johnston had the right to remain silent, Staley told her, 'You haven't done much of that.'