A Smith County jury took over five hours this afternoon to sentence a woman to 50 years after she pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated robbery on Monday.
Vanessa Ashley Ashford, 28, will have to serve 25 years before she is eligible for parole.
Ms. Ashford opted to have a jury decide her punishment for the robbery at Regions Bank, which took place at 1810 SSE Loop 323 on March 29. She took $7,000 in cash in a bag, which tellers also loaded with exploding dye packets. After Ms. Ashford traveled a short distance from the bank, the dye packets, which also contain tear gas and hot red paint, exploded inside her car, Smith County Assistant District Attorney Jason Parrish said.
The jury could have given the defendant probation or up to life in prison at sentencing, Parrish said. Tyler police arrested her after she pulled over to place her outer clothing and the bag of money inside the trunk of her car.
The defendant also confessed to the Feb. 29 robbery of the Telco Credit Union, 620 W. Front St. in Tyler, Tyler police said in March. Ms. Ashford obtained $6,000 from that robbery. Parrish said Monday he would try Ms. Ashford in that case in a separate trial.
On Tuesday, Mason Wilson, a teller from the Regions Bank gave emotional testimony saying that he thought about his wife and family and worried about what could happen to him when he saw Ms. Ashford enter the bank wearing a ski mask and carrying a knife.