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Suspect pleads to robbery, expected to testify in murder case [updated]

A woman who is expected to testify against co-defendants in a cold case murder trial later this year pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiracy to commit robbery, and was sentenced 12 years and six months’ imprisonment.

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Sandra Ellison Lynn, 53, enter the plea for her role in the 1994 robbery and murder of Covington County businessman James “Nibby” Barton.

Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan sentenced Lynn.

Lynn was one of four people indicted in the murder case in December of 2013. She was charged with murder and first-degree robbery, and later released on bond.

Sheila Williams Walker and Shelia Ellison Brooks also were charged with murder and first-degree robbery. A fourth suspect, Eugene Black, initially was charged with murder, robbery I, burglary III, domestic violence/harassment and violation of parole.

Brooks, who was Lynn’s sister, died in jail of natural causes in February of 2014. The remaining three suspects were indicted again in December of 2014 for murder.

Whether or not Lynn would testify against the alleged co-conspirators has been debated in several court hearings. The cases against Black and Williams were combined. Defense attorneys for Black and Williams previously raised questions about the availability of Lynn’s medical records. Defense attorney Peter Bush of Montgomery, who represents Black, told Judge McKathan earlier this year that Lynn previously was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he would like to know what drugs were prescribed for her between 1994 and the present. Her physician, Bush said, has closed his practice.

Gypsy Smith represented Lynn. Smith would not comment on whether of not Lynn would be expected to testify as part of the plea deal.

“ That will be up to the district attorney,” she said.

A press release circulated by the district attorney’s office late Tuesday said “Court records indicate that Lynn participated in planning the robbery, but did not participate in the robbery or the murder.”

District Attorney Walt Merrell said in a statement, “Ms. Lynn was indicted for murder because the law in Alabama says that if you participate at any level in a felony and during the commission of that felony, someone is killed, then you can be charged for the murder, too.

“Dropping the murder charge against Lynn seemed fair and appropriate, given the fact that she was not at the store when Mr. Barton was killed,” he said.

After the investigation was reopened, she gave statements to investigators concerning her knowledge of the crimes and has been helpful in the investigation thereafter, according to the district attorney’s office.

Lynn applied for the benefits of probation, and a hearing is expected to be set at a later date. She had been held in the Covington County Jail since her re-indictment this past December.

Black and Walker are expected to be tried in August.