PROVO Utah. Feb 23 2008
— Two video-store employees robbed at gunpoint said they’re sure the woman who stole $1,800 from their store’s safe was the same woman sitting in court Friday morning.
But Becky Vanzant’s attorney and family members strongly disagree and will come to court again March 5 for a pretrial conference on Vanzant’s charges of aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, witness tampering and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person.
“She’s not guilty,” said her mother, Nan Nielsen, after the hearing. “She was home with me. I’ve got two dogs. If that front door is open, we all know. Or the back door.”
Nielsen and other family members don’t buy the story that Vanzant crept into the American Fork Hollywood Video store before midnight on Jan. 4, then hid under a table until the store closed.
The eyewitness testimony is shaky, they say. After all, the employees only looked at the robber for less than a minute before she told them to turn around and not look at her again.
However, the two victims testified during a preliminary hearing they were quite certain it was Vanzant, wearing a red knit cap and glasses, who crept out, pointed a gun at them and told them — in a deep voice — to turn around and not look at her again.
Melissa Cummins testified that Vanzant then walked her and her co-worker Teresa Wilkes to the office, duct taped their hands and feet together, duct taped their eyes closed and stole $1,800 from the store’s safe
“I felt really threatened the whole time,” Cummins said. “(She said) she would come find us if she got caught, that she would come kill us.”
After hearing that testimony, 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock ruled there was enough evidence to bind Vanzant’s case over for trial, but she agreed with prosecutors to dismiss an obstruction of justice charge.
American Fork police detective Tony Weinmuller testified that after talking with the two women, he formed a photo lineup.
“With the physical description and the indication of the voice — I’d been in the American Fork area for 12 years and had dealings with Becky over the years,” Weinmuller said. “She matched the physical description, primarily the voice.”
Both women picked out Vanzant’s picture from the photo lineup, then a blind voice test, Weinmuller said.
However, defense attorney Barbara Gonzales questioned Weinmuller about the other five pictures used in the lineup.
The robber was described as around 5 feet 3 inches tall, 100 pounds, in her 40s or 50s, with shoulder-length brown hair.
One picture was a 28-year-old woman at 140 pounds. Another was 245 pounds and 38 years old. One picture showed a woman whose hair was up in a ponytail and another picture was from a woman’s 2000 driver’s license.
“You chose Becky, put her in a photo lineup, because of a physical description and voice matched, but she doesn’t have a history of robbery,” Gonzales said.
“I don’t know,” Weinmuller said.
“So no other person that you know would fit this physical description?”
“She was a random person who came up in the discussions with other detectives,” Weinmuller said.
“Because of her voice, but not because of motive?” Gonzales asked, and Weinmuller agreed it had been because of her voice.
It was the voice that the employees relied on most, as they had been told not to look at their captor, then had a cloth and duct tape placed over their eyes.
After taping the women, Vanzant allegedly the robber asked for the safe’s combination.
As a stressed Cummins hesitated, she testified, the robber reminded her to do what “company policy” dictated.
Gonzales asked the detective if they interviewed a female former employee who had been named by the store’s district manager as a potential suspect. The woman had allegedly left the store on bad terms.
Her photo was in the lineup, Weinmuller said, but the employees didn’t pick it.
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