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Appeals court orders new trial in Spring Hill robbery

BROOKSVILLE — The 5th District Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial for a Spring Hill man convicted in the armed robbery of a local store.

Timothy Gartner, 26, was convicted last year of robbing Spring Hill Lock & Key on Dec. 19, 2007, when it was alleged pointed a BB gun at the owner and demanded money.

He was a suspect in two other armed robberies in Hernando County and surrounding areas. The court said, however, that evidence from those crimes — for which Gartner was never prosecuted — may have influenced the jury.

The appellate court concluded that mere similarities in the other crimes was insufficient to establish legal relevance to the crime for which Gartner was being tried.

"The admission of improper collateral crime evidence is presumed to be harmful error because of the danger that a jury will consider a defendant's propensity to commit a crime as evidence of guilt of the crime charged," the appellate judges wrote.

Prosecutor Erin Daly alleged in the January 2010 trial that Gartner was lingering inside the key shop before the robbery. Five people inside the key store said Gartner was the robber.

Witnesses in the two other Spring Hill crimes testified during the three-day trial that Gartner had been the robber in those cases.

A jury of five men and one woman took almost three hours to find Gartner guilty.

But the appellate judges said that allowing in the other evidence was prejudicial.

According to court documents, the robberies occurred at different times of day at different kinds of businesses. In one instance, the suspect robbed both a store employee and a customer. In another, the suspect brought merchandise to the cash register as if to make a purchase, but did not do so in the two other robberies.

Also, there was dispute as to whether the suspect pulled out a gun or left it tucked in his jeans.

Public defender David Bauer said Friday that he argued in a pre-trial hearing against allowing prosecutors to present evidence that wasn't part of the crime for which Gartner was being tried.

"Evidence has to be pretty specific, that's the rule," said Bauer, who sought to prove during the trial that witnesses misidentified Gartner.

Meanwhile, Gartner, who had been sentenced previously to 30 years in prison for a robbery in Pasco County, remains in prison.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Appeals court orders new trial in Spring Hill robbery 09/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 8:17pm]

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