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Purse-snatcher who injured woman gets 3.5 years and a warning

NEW PORT RICHEY — She wanted money to buy drugs.

That's why Lauren Eggleston and a friend circled a Walmart parking lot last March, searching for unattended purses.

That's why, according to prosecutors and Eggleston herself, she approached Jessica Bendl, asked for a cigarette and grabbed Bendl's purse. And when Bendl held on as Eggleston jumped into a waiting car, Eggleston yelled to the driver to go, dragging Bendl across the asphalt.

"I wanted money," Eggleston testified at her sentencing Friday.

She faced up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of robbery by sudden snatching, grand theft, aggravated battery, simple battery and attempted auto burglary. Her co-defendant, Tiesha Legette, previously pleaded to similar charges and was sentenced to two years in prison.

But Circuit Judge Michael Andrews told Eggleston, who is 22, that she was more culpable than Legette because she was the one who grabbed the bag and held on as a woman was injured.

The judge also said he was moved by the tragic events of Eggleston's life. She was abandoned by her father and then had to cope with the suicide of her mother's fiance, who hanged himself in their back yard.

Eggleston, her mother testified, found the man and had to cut him down using a butter knife.

"She basically struggled," her mother said. "She went to the street and did drugs to feel better."

Bendl also testified, saying she has had trouble sleeping and severe anxiety because of what happened. She wanted the full 15-year sentence for Eggleston.

Andrews settled on 3 1/2 years, followed by seven years of probation, so that Eggleston can try to pay restitution. She'll be subject to random drug tests and a nightly curfew once she gets out.

Before Eggleston was led away, Andrews told her about a similar case he had presided over that had far graver consequences.

Steve Cruz went to trial last year for grabbing a woman's purse in a store parking lot in November 2008. Linda Roma tried to hang on, fell in the struggle, struck her head and died.

Cruz was convicted of first-degree murder and sent to prison for life.

"That's easily what could have happened here," the judge told Eggleston.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com.

Purse-snatcher who injured woman gets 3.5 years and a warning 05/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 9:45pm]

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