Not guilty verdict for Piggly Wiggly cashier

Published 9:24 pm Tuesday, June 24, 2014

After six years, a former Piggly Wiggly grocery store clerk was found not guilty of financial card theft by a Beaufort County Superior Court jury.

Tuesday, the twelve jurors returned a not guilty verdict for Crystal Monique Smith who was accused of using Washington resident Phyllis Lee’s Bank of American debit card to make purchases at Piggly Wiggly’s River Road store in October of 2008.

On Monday, Lee testified that she likely dropped or misplaced the card after paying for her groceries when greeting an acquaintance at the store. It wasn’t until two days later that Lee noticed it was missing and checked her account. By then, the card had been used to a make $1 purchase at Piggly Wiggly, followed by another $300 purchase, shortly after her initial $57 purchase, Lee said.

During opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Mike Holloman maintained that Smith was the only person who could have committed the theft, despite the fact that no one ever saw her with the card.

Defense attorney Norma Laughton agreed with the prosecution that Lee had lost her card at Piggly Wiggly and someone had discovered it then used it.

“None of that is in contention,” Laughton said. “The issue is about who did it — not whether it happened, but who did it. We have nothing to show that she actually did take the money for herself.”

Tuesday, Kelly Fields, then manager of Piggly Wiggly, and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jim Martin testified for the state. Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. advised the jury that in order to find Smith guilty, four criteria must be proven by state’s prosecutors: that Smith obtained possession of Lee’s U.S. Airways Bank of America card; that the card was lost or misplaced; that Smith knew it was lost or misplaced; and that Smith retained the card, intending to use it.

Jury deliberations were interrupted once when the jury requested transcripts and receipts that had been submitted to the court. Sermons gave them the receipts, but declined to give the jury transcripts of the trial testimony.

“You’ve heard all the evidence. It is your duty to recall the evidence,” Sermons told the jury.

Shortly thereafter, the jury returned with a verdict — at the not guilty verdict, Smith briefly raised her hands in celebration then hugged Laughton.

Laughton declined to comment on the trial, but said, “It’s a shame that it takes six years to try this case.”