Woman found guilty of defrauding charity
By Melanie Ruberti
LaGRANGE – It took a Troup County Superior Court jury less than 10 minutes to find an Alabama woman guilty of stealing more than $100,000 from a local non-profit organization and the Board of Education.
Annie Doris Gray, also known as Ann Spell, was found guilty on the 13 counts against her, including: seven counts of identity fraud, four counts of theft by deception, one count of theft by conversion and one count of forgery in the first degree.
A poll of the jurors showed the decision of Gray’s guilt was unanimous.
The 55-year-old woman was accused of being a co-conspirator in a scheme to take money from Troup BELL, a United Way of West Georgia educational program. The early learning service was initially funded by the Troup County Board of Education.
The state indicted Gray along with her former friend, Alfreda Hyman-Edmondson, of the crimes in March 2015. Edmondson was the administrative director of Troup BELL until November 2014 when United Way President Patty Youngblood became aware of the scheme.
Presiding Troup County Superior Court Judge Emory Palmer proceeded with Gray’s sentencing hearing immediately after the verdict was read, despite objections from her defense attorney, Fenn Little.
Coweta County Assistant District Attorney Robert Mooradian asked Judge Palmer to give Gray the maximum sentence: 40 years in a state penitentiary to serve 20 years, plus restitution for the money she stole from Troup BELL.
“I think the court understands that the crime the defendant committed affected a lot people in this community,” Mooradian told Palmer. “These thefts occurred again and again and again. It was a premeditated, sophisticated plan … The fact that the jury returned such a quick verdict shows how strong evidence was against her (Gray) in this case. Yet the defendant has never showed any kind of remorse for her actions … or apologized for taking the public’s money … or for the amount of money stolen.”
Gray’s defense attorney told the judge the state’s recommendation was “way over the top.”
“Twenty years in jail? She’s going to be 77 years old when she gets out,” Little told Palmer. “… It’s pretty clear that Edmondson was running the show … also has a prior felony and she’s doing 40 years to serve six years … my client’s sentence would be three times that just because Miss Edmondson pleaded guilty in return for testifying truthfully.”
Little also pointed out Gray does not have a criminal history and is a first offender. The defense attorney asked for “an extensive” probated sentence.
Gray also asked Judge Palmer to be lenient in sentencing. That was the first time she ever addressed the courtroom since the trial began.
The 55-year-old woman did not take the stand in her own defense.
“I was very afraid to get up on the stand and testify. I was very nervous and believed it (testimony) would mess up everything,” Gray said. “… Everything I did was because of what Alfreda was doing on the inside (of Troup BELL) … I’ve never been in trouble, I have a wonderful husband at home and a business that I operate … I thought the United Way ‘contract’ was a good thing … I didn’t know ‘who’ Alfreda was until the end. But I am not a thief … I believe I was conned just like Ms. Youngblood.”
Judge Palmer did not agree and told Gray her ‘apology’ was too little, too late.
“I think the evidence (against Gray) was overwhelming … which is why the jury returned with a guilty verdict within 15 minutes,” he said. “Ms. Spell (Gray) until this late date had not taken any type of responsibility for her actions and or any culpability …”
Palmer then sided with the state and sentenced Gray to 40 years behind bars to serve 20 years in a state penitentiary.
The amount of restitution she will owe the state will be determined at a later date, the judge stated.
Gray was immediately taken into custody by Troup County Sheriff’s deputies and transported to the Troup County Jail.
She showed no emotion as she left the courtroom.
Instead, employees, board members and supporters of the United Way quietly celebrated the verdict in the back of the room.
“I feel like justice was done for the community,” Youngblood said with tears in her eyes. “I am grateful that this is over, we can put it behind us and continue doing the business of the United Way and Troup BELL … What a testament that the program survived through all of this and is still grant-funded.”
“It was a good outcome due to great teamwork between the District Attorney’s Office and the LaGrange Police Department,” said LPD Detective Ley Wynne. “I appreciate the attentiveness and patience of the jury members.”
Also on hand for Gray’s guilty verdict were some of Edmondson’s family members. They were present in the courtroom during the entire trial and are happy with the outcome.
“I’m just glad justice was served. She (Gray) needed to own up to her role in the crime,” said Tawana Thomas, Edmondson’s god-daughter. “She (Gray) acted very ‘nonchalant’ up until the very end … and then wanted to try and apologize for it. I’m so glad the jurors and judge saw through all that b.s.”
If Gray serves all 20 years behind bars, she will be 77 years old when she gets out of prison.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.