Andrew Lee Robinson, 41, was sentenced to 200 days in Upshur County Jail by 115th District Judge Lauren Parish following the conviction in her court. He was found guilty of taking money that a customer at a Big Sandy grocery store had accidentally left at the office window there in an envelope.
Robinson pled not guilty to felony theft of property of the value of $1,500 or more but less than $20,000. However, the jury exercised its option to instead convict him of misdemeanor theft of $500 or more, but less than $1,500.
Robinson’s parole officer told The Mirror after the verdict that although the conviction was a misdemeanor, the defendant could face revocation of parole. The officer said the state Board of Pardons and Paroles would make the decision.
Upshur County Assistant District Attorney Edward Choy introduced evidence that Robinson had 10 prior felony and misdemeanor convictions, including several for drug-related offenses.
The defendant, whose court-appointed lawyer Brandon Winn had already raised the issue of his prior convictions, testified he was on parole after serving about 3 1/2 years of a 20-year term he drew in Smith County for possession of a controlled substance.
Testimony in the short trial Thursday established that Robinson found an envelope containing money which Franklin Ray Hartman had inadvertently left at the Two Rivers Grocery in Big Sandy on Jan. 13. Robinson admitted taking the money.
Hartman testified he had cashed his $2,362.09 paycheck at the nearby Austin Bank before going to the store to purchase a money order, and that he accidentally left behind $1,862.09 of it in an envelope upon leaving the grocery. But Robinson testified the envelope only contained $522, and that he picked it up when he went into the store to cash a check.
Hartman testified that upon discovering he had lost his money, he phoned store owner Keith Langston and returned to the grocery, where the men unsuccessfully searched for it.
Langston testified he watched a video tape which showed that only one person, Robinson, came to the store window to cash a check after Hartman came. The video (which Langston said he accidentally erased) showed the defendant appearing to put something in his pocket, and shaking out an envelope, the store owner testified.
Langston said he called Robinson, who “said he didn’t take anything.” Robinson denied telling him that.
Big Sandy Police Officer Ryan Kuhn confirmed Langston’s testimony that Kuhn viewed the video. The jury heard a tape of a conversation between Kuhn and Robinson that took place at the defendant’s home in Hawkins later that evening.
Robinson testified he thought he “had just got a blessing” when he found the envelope with the lost money, and that although he had once sold drugs illegally, he was not a thief. He said he went to Two Rivers only to cash a check.
He said he had gone to another store to buy his son a bicycle with the money he found when Langston phoned him.
The defendant testified the call “kind of scared” him since he was on parole, and that “I told Mr. Langston I did have the $522.” The defendant said he spent some of what he took.
Robinson said he made “an honest mistake by keeping the money” and decided to do “the right thing, and give this money back.”
He subsequently gave police “the $500 that I had,” he said.
Kuhn testified Robinson did not bring the rest of the alleged missing money by 8 a.m. the next day, as the officer had offered to let him do.
Kuhn testified he did not arrest Robinson the night of the incident because Hartman “simply just wanted his money back,” and could not get it if the defendant was in jail.
On the tape, Robinson told Kuhn that the envelope “was just laying there (atop some soft drinks, according to testimony). . . I seen the envelope and I picked it up. . . put it in my pocket.”
Robinson said he went to his car, looked at the envelope, and found it contained more than $500. He told Kuhn he spent the $1 bills he found.
On the tape, he told Kuhn, “The guy (an apparent reference to Langston) told me if I bring it back, that’s all I got to do.” Robinson said he wanted “no problems” and “if I was gonna get in trouble, I wouldn’t have even give none of it back.”
When Robinson insisted the envelope only had $522, Kuhn told him the man who lost the money has “really good proof” it contained $1,863.
Winn, a Gilmer attorney, told jurors his client never intended to deprive anyone specifically of their money, and that the defendant had no idea who owned it.
Winn said about five minutes elapsed between the time Hartman left the store and Robinson came in, and that there was “reasonable doubt” on the amount of money in the envelope.
But Choy suggested that Robinson admitted to stealing $500 because that was only a misdemeanor, while a felony conviction could get him returned to prison.
“He didn’t give it (the money) all back, did he?” Choy asked. The prosecutor said Hartman had nothing to lie about, while Robinson “has everything to lose in this case.”
Although Hartman just wanted his money back, and “we wouldn’t be here today” if he had received it all, Robinson would not “hold himself accountable,” Choy said.
“When was Andrew honest?” the prosecutor asked. “Did he call the police (and say) I’m pretty sure somebody didn’t leave $1,800 laying around. . . Did he call anyone? Make a report? Bring to anybody’s attention that he had his (Hartman’s) money?”
The 10-woman, 2-man jury deliberated slightly more than an hour. Robinson then elected to have Judge Parish rather than the jury sentence him, and she accepted Choy’s recommendation for the 200-day county jail term with credit for time served. Robinson also waived his right to appeal.
Assistant District Attorney Natalie Miller sat at the prosecution table with Choy. The jury was chosen Monday and heard only one day of testimony which concluded before noon Thursday.