BELTON — After a two-day trial, a jury of seven women and five men deliberated for less than an hour on Wednesday before finding a 20-year-old woman guilty of robbing a man at the Killeen Mall last year.
The jury then deliberated into the afternoon regarding the punishment for Lanae Tipton after finding her guilty of a first-degree felony charge of aggravated robbery.
Tipton was sentenced by the jury to 19 years in prison on Wednesday afternoon.
A first-degree felony is punishable by five to 99 years, or life, in prison.
On Monday and Tuesday in the 264th Judicial District Court, members of the jury heard from both the defendant and the victim, who was 17 years old when he was robbed at gunpoint on Feb. 20, 2020.
On Wednesday morning, Judge Paul LePak read the court’s charge and jury instructions before closing arguments began.
The jury started deliberations just before 10 a.m. and had returned a verdict by 10:45 a.m.
A co-defendant, September Bliss Inniger, 21, is set to have her case heard by a jury on Nov. 29 in the same courtroom.
Both women have been held in the Bell County Jail since being booked on Feb. 22, 2020.
Police said that Tipton and Inniger, who were roommates, used a web application to lure the victim to the parking lot of the Killeen Mall to purchase an iPhone. After the man returned to the car with $200 in cash to purchase the phone, Inniger, the passenger in the car, allegedly robbed the man at gunpoint and took back the phone, the $200 and a gun magazine that the man had in his possession, according to the prosecutor’s arguments.
Tipton was the driver of the car.
Police said they found the magazine under the living room couch, the packaging for the magazine in Tipton’s car, and the handgun used in the robbery under Inniger’s mattress.
“They knew a crime had just been committed and these items had to be hid,” said Assistant District Attorney Erica Morgan.
Jury hears two sides
In closing arguments, Tipton’s defense attorney said that it was a case of mistaken identity, while the state’s prosecutors indicated that a multitude of evidence proved Tipton’s guilt.
“Thousands of people are in jail or prisons because of mistaken identity, especially people who are of cross-ethnicity such as Ms. Tipton,” said defense attorney Michael White. “The victim was 17 at the time, he had a gun pointed at him, and mistakes are made.”
White said that the victim described Inniger vividly to police, but that the identity of the second woman, the driver of the car, was more uncertain.
“Officers make arrests based on probable cause, but you have a higher burden of beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said to the jury.
He also argued that some pieces of evidence were not processed at the state’s forensics lab.
“There is no direct evidence that (Tipton) ever held the gun, the (victim’s) magazine or the packaging that it was in,” White said. “We believe that (Inniger) was using Ms. Tipton’s car and that this is a case of mistaken identity.”
Prosecutors argued that a preponderance of evidence showed Tipton to be guilty, regardless of the reliability of the victim’s memory.
“Use your common sense to tell who is telling the truth and who is telling a lie,” Morgan said.
She said that a digital timeline proved that Tipton and Inniger worked together to commit the robbery.
“They texted constantly throughout the morning, and then stopped during the timeframe that the robbery was being committed,” Morgan said. “They left a digital footprint.”
After the robbery, the pair commenced to run ordinary errands.
“Robbing a guy at the Mall was just one of her errands that day,” she said.
The prosecutor left the jury with an impression of the impact of the crime on the victim.
“He works in construction, out in the hot sun, and they took his hard-earned money ... he thought he was going to die,” Morgan said. “He stared down the barrel of a gun and that never should have happened to him.”