A highly unusual outcome for a man who was convicted in 2010 on three counts of aggravated robbery; it's a crime that would have him spending 22 years behind bars.
Three years ago, just before 3 p.m., three tellers at a bank in Grimes County would be robbed at gunpoint. While the suspect would get away with cash -- the entire heist would be captured on camera.
On August 24th, 2009, a surveillance camera captured Christopher Tolbert robbing the First National Bank in Anderson. He was convicted in 2010 and is now serving three concurrent 60 year sentences for the crime. Police say Tolbert wasn't alone. Witnesses say Billy Jo Wyatt was waiting down the street in a White Oldsmobile sedan.
"He was essentially charged as the getaway driver during the bank robbery,” explained Grimes County District Attorney, Tuck McLain.
The two reportedly parted ways, but an hour-and-a-half later, Wyatt was found in Huntsville. He was spotted driving the same car described by witnesses at the time of the robbery in Grimes County. During his arrest, police found $4,000 of marked bills inside his pocket.
“He dropped Tolbert in the grease saying Tolbert paid him the $4,000 for a marijuana purchase. The problem with that is the purchase would have been a $15,000 marijuana deal so his story didn't jive,” said McLain. “He changed his story around and then told us he got the money from selling a car. We went and spoke to the person Wyatt said had purchased the car, and that guy said it wasn't true.”
Two years into his sentence, Wyatt's request to overturn his conviction in a Houston appeals court is granted.
“One of their allegations was there was insufficient evidence to hold that Billy Wyatt knew that Tolbert was going to use a firearm or any deadly weapon during the commission of the robbery,” explained McLain.
The Houston court of appeals agreed there was in fact insufficient evidence in the case -- consequently reversing Wyatt's 22-year conviction. With the court entering a no-guilty verdict, McLain says if the opinion stands, Wyatt could never be charged for aggravated robbery.
“It's very frustrating to know somebody is guilty as sin and you've got three judges in Houston sitting in a giant tower basically telling the 12 folks in Grimes County, who sat there for a week listening to evidence, that they don't know what they're doing. That's disappointing and I think wrong," said McLain.
McLain says his fight is far from over and plans on pursuing robbery charges.
“We're still looking to find out if we can try him for regular robbery,” said McLain. “We will be requesting the pre-panel to reconsider this case and if they don't reconsider and they stick with the decision, then we can ask for the entire judge panel to reconsider it. We can then petition the court of appeals in Austin and ask them to consider it as well.”
McLain says Wyatt may be eligible for bond in the near future.
“There's a procedure he can request to have him out on bond, but he's not getting out tomorrow," said McLain. "We still have to go through the hearing process."
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