By Kathy Jefcoats
Stockbridge Municipal Court Judge Ernest Blount found Henry District V County Commissioner Lee Holman not guilty of misdemeanor shoplifting following a two-hour trial Friday.
"I'm happy with the verdict and just want to move on with my life," said Holman.
Blount said he holds the city to proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt but didn't think the city met its burden in the case against Holman.
Holman took the stand in his defense and testified that the Jan. 13 incident at Stockbridge Wal-Mart "embarrassed and humiliated" him.
Undisputed testimony presented by the state showed that Holman entered the store through the garden section and picked up a store bag from the check-out area. He took the bag to the outside garden section and put two quart bottles of charcoal lighter fluid inside.
He made his way to the pharmacy section and put two bottles of peroxide and a package of dental floss inside the bag. He went next to the menswear department and picked up a tie, which he held in his hand. Next, Holman went to the electronics department and picked up two $6 DVD movies.
Holman took the items to the electronics register to check out. He took out the floss and laid it on the counter, placed the bag and other items on the counter. The clerk rang up only four items the tie, the movies and floss double bagged the already bagged bottles and Holman paid $27.18 with a credit card.
Cashier Melissa Miller testified that she thought Holman paid for the fluid and peroxide, valued at $6.60, in another section of the store. She double-bagged the items because they were heavy.
What Holman didn't know was that the garden section cashier alerted a sales associate to his getting a store bag from her check-out area. From that moment on, Holman was under surveillance by store employee Shane Starr and assistant manager Tracy Davis as well as by cameras.
Starr said Holman met the four conditions to have him stopped at the exit door and have his receipt checked selection, in that he took items from the store shelf; concealment, in that he put them in a bag; he passed all points of sale and he was under watch the entire time.
Since there was no disputing what transpired, the only thing to decide was if Holman intended to steal the items. When he took the stand, he apologized for creating a situation that led employees to think he was shoplifting.
"If I had known the store would consider that to be an alarming event, I wouldn't have done it," he said, referring to picking up a store bag to use as a shopping cart. "I apologize to the store for my actions. I did it for my convenience."
Holman said he assumed Miller scanned the items.
"I don't know what she did because I wasn't looking," he said. "I didn't know it was my responsibility to ask."
The store video shows Holman looking at the receipt when Miller handed it to him, reportedly for a "pretty good while," but Holman said he wasn't wearing his glasses and couldn't read it. He did sign it, however, as it was a credit card purchase.
"I signed it without reading it, yes," he said, later acknowledging that the receipt reads "Total 4 Items" in bold letters.
When he was stopped by the store greeter, who had been alerted by Davis, he showed her his receipt and opened his bags. She testified that she told him he did not have a receipt for the fluid and peroxide.
"He said he thought he'd paid for it," she said. "I told him he didn't have a receipt and he said he'd pay for it now."
But Holman was not allowed to pay for the items. In fact, he testified that he asked for and got a credit card refund on the four items he did purchase when it became clear he was being arrested for shoplifting.
"If they're gonna do that to me, I'm not gonna shop there and I want my money back," said Holman.
The door greeter testified that she has allowed shoppers to go back inside and pay for items in similar situations.
"But when the store security is involved, it's out of my hands," she said.
Henry Commission Chairman Leland Maddox helped bond Holman out of jail after his arrest and drove him to pick up his car at the Wal-Mart parking lot. However, none of the commissioners attended the trial.