Women get 44 years in assault case

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 2, 2001

Two Columbus women were sentenced to 44 years in prison afterbeing convicted of all counts Saturday in a morphine possession andaggravated assault trial.

An 11-woman, one-man jury deliberated a little over two hours inconvicting Tammy Vance, 32, and Leigh Stubbs, 21, both of 1306Fourth Ave. North, Columbus, of aggravated assault, unlawfulpossession of morphine, conspiracy to possess morphine and grandlarceny in connection with the sexual assault of a 21-year-oldVicksburg woman at a Brookhaven motel in March 2000. The threewound up in Brookhaven after earlier leaving a Columbus chemicalrehabilitation treatment center together.

“The jurors made the right decision,” a tearful victim’s mothersaid during a sentencing hearing that followed return of the guiltyverdicts.

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Vance called the victim one of her one of her “dearest friends”and said she did not know how the woman was injured.

“I am sorry for you and your family, I really am,” Vancesaid.

On advice of her attorney, Stubbs made no statements during thesentencing hearing. Bill Barnett, her attorney, said an appeal isforthcoming and Ken McNees, Vance’s attorney, said an appeal is”quite possible.”

“We’re very disappointed with the outcome of the verdict,”Barnett said. “We hope an appeal outcome will be different andwe’ll get another shot at this.”

In handing down the sentence, Judge Mike Smith echoed medicalwitnesses’ testimony about the brutality and severity of thevictim’s vaginal and other injuries. The judge attributed theassault to the stolen morphine that was in the women’s possessionat the time.

“I don’t think this crime would have happened if it wasn’t forthe drugs,” said Smith, commenting about the severity of the drugproblem in the country.

On a police interview tape that was admitted as evidence duringthe four-day trial, Vance admitted taking some morphine. She gaspedrepeatedly and fought to maintain her composure as Smith read thesentences in each of the three-count indictment.

“Really, I didn’t do it,” Vance said as she and Stubbs were ledaway from the courtroom.

In addition to the prison time, the defendants were each orderedto pay fines totaling $115,000 and half of the victim’s medicalexpenses, which are ongoing.

Prior to sentencing, the victim said her recovery had been “realhard.” She named a variety of medications she must take daily andsaid she undergoes painful therapy for a foot and leg injury,memory therapy and other treatment.

“I just pray to God to give me the power to forgive you,” shetold the defendants. “If I can’t forgive you, He can’t forgive mefor what I’ve done wrong.”

The victim said she had been given that power, but that did nottake away from the defendants’ punishment on Earth.

From the beginning, Barnett said his client had maintained herinnocence. Regarding the verdict, he believed the defense had giventhe jury enough reasonable doubt to find the defendants notguilty.

“They didn’t see it that way,” Barnett said. “But that’s oursystem of justice. You have to live with that and take the nextstep.”

Throughout cross examination of prosecution witnesses and duringtheir case Friday, defense attorneys focused on a lack offirst-hand witness information on the crime as well as DNA evidenceand other evidence that would make the case lesscircumstantial.

“It was a case based purely on circumstantial evidence andconjecture,” McNees said. “Nothing in the verdict was based on anyelement of proof.”

District Attorney Dunn Lampton complimented Brookhaven PoliceDet. Nolan Jones and the department on their handling of thecase.

“It was a serious case and they treated it as a serious case,”Lampton said.

During closing arguments earlier in the day, prosecutors anddefense attorneys attacked weaknesses in the other’s cases.

Admitting the circumstantial nature, Lampton said there was “noother reasonable hypothesis” given that the victim was fine inColumbus and Summit and later found injured in Brookhaven. The onlypeople she had been with were the defendants, he said.

Lampton also disputed defense contentions that the wounds wereself-inflicted. In his rebuttal, he cited medical witnesses’testimony regarding the “brutal, senseless and degrading” nature ofthe crime.

“You can forget these injuries were self-inflicted,” Lamptonsaid. “They were not.”

Lampton also spoke about the victim’s head injuries and how theywere likely caused by a toolbox in the back of Stubbs’ truck. Hethen slammed the large toolbox lid and startled several people inthe courtroom.

Barnett focused much of his closing on testimony from theprosecution’s disputed bite mark expert and that of the defense’sforensic pathologist. He said the testimony was a “battle royal ofthe experts.”

“This battle of the experts was no contest,” Barnett said as hecited ethical and other questions surrounding the bite markexpert.

Barnett said jurors could not convict on the basis of “junkscience.”

Closing arguments were heard during an unusual Saturday sessionof circuit court.

The prosecution’s case wrapped up Friday morning and wasfollowed by the defense’s case, which did not conclude untilshortly before 6 p.m. Had the trial continued Friday, jurors wouldnot have received the case for deliberations until around 8 p.m.,Smith said before excusing them for the night.