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Charges dropped
Woman had been accused in beating, robbery
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Crystal Reardon

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer

Charges have been dropped against a woman who was accused of masterminding the robbery and brutal assault of a Bassett couple last spring.

Crystal Lynn Reardon, 24, of Danville, was arrested and jailed in July on charges that she urged Cody Lee Brown, 19, and Justin Wayne Tillman, 20, to break into the home of Raymond Short and Melanie Sturgill while they slept, beat them up and take their money.

Brown and Tillman, who have pleaded guilty to robbery, malicious wounding and other charges in the case, have testified that Reardon offered them cash to carry out the crime. Their sentencing is set Jan. 26.

Henry County Commonwealth's Attorney Bob Bushnell on Monday asked Circuit Court Judge David V. Williams to nolle prosse, or drop, all the charges against Reardon because the evidence against her is not sufficient to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, according to Bushnell and the court order.

Reardon was released from the county jail Monday evening, said Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry.

The case against Reardon hinged on what Tillman and Brown told police about her alleged role in the April 5 crime, Bushnell said. According to previous court testimony, the men kicked in the door of the home Short and Sturgill shared in Bassett while they were sleeping and woke Short with blows to the head.

Both Short and Sturgill were beaten with baseball bats, and a safe containing about $1,000 in cash was taken from the home. Short suffered severe head injuries that continue to affect him, Bushnell said earlier this month.

Although there were some inconsistencies between the statements each man gave to police, the differences initially seemed minor, Bushnell said. However, each changed his story during a preliminary hearing in lower court, according to Bushnell.

Several differences in the testimony they gave then - chief among them whether there was a third man involved in the incident - were "irreconcilable," according to the court order.

"That's a pretty significant problem," Bushnell said of whether a third person was involved, which Tillman said and Brown denied. "It's what I would call a case killer by itself."�

Given other discrepancies, both between Brown and Tillman's testimony and between what they said and what Sturgill remembers, there was not a strong enough case to go forward, Bushnell said.

"I have sufficient problems with the stories of each of them that I'm not willing to try someone on the basis of either or both of them," he said.

Bushnell stressed that he does not doubt the truth of their confessions, which are corroborated by each other and physical evidence.

In Reardon's case, both men accused her, and she denied the accusations. Investigators set out to find more evidence to corroborate the men's accounts, but they could not, Bushnell said.

He explained that the evidence against Reardon was strong enough to warrant charges and to meet the probable cause standard of the lower court and the grand jury that indicted her. However, he said, there is a "huge leap" between probable cause and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for a conviction.

If more evidence is found in the future, the charges could be brought again, Bushnell said. Had Reardon been tried and acquitted, the charges could not be brought again.

If no further evidence emerges, "that is the end of it," Bushnell said.

A sheriff's investigator and a representative of the victim-witness program in Bushnell's office went to the victims' home Monday to explain what had happened, Bushnell said.

"Of course it was a painful thing," he said.

Reardon, who had known Short for many years, allegedly was the link between the victims and Brown and Tillman, according to previous testimony.

Relatives of Reardon said in August that she was being blamed for the actions of Tillman and Brown, and that she would not hurt anyone.

The charges that were nolle prossed were two counts of robbery and one count each of malicious wounding, aggravated malicious wounding, armed common law burglary and criminal solicitation.

Bushnell said anyone with information about the case should call his office at 634-4500 or Investigator Mark Winn at the sheriff's office at 656-4200.

Reardon's attorney, Pat Sharpe, could not be reached for comment.


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