JURY VERDICT: Lea guilty, faces life in prison

After a 25-minute deliberation by the jury Thursday, 24-year-old Stephen Lea was found guilty of three felonies, punishable by life in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Mattie Hardin shows members of the jury that the State Attorney’s Office has met its burden by proving each of the elements beyond a reasonable doubt in all charges brought against Lea. The jury found Lea guilty of all three counts after only 25 minutes of deliberation.

Lea, of Lakeland, was convicted of robbery with a firearm, shooting deadly missiles into an occupied vehicle and aggravated assault with a firearm following a two-day trial.

The case was investigated and submitted by the Lakeland Police Department (LakelandPD), whose members testified in court both Wednesday and Thursday.

On June 18, 2014, Lea – a convicted felon on probation – was an accomplice to a robbery where the victim was struck with a firearm and had about $250 stolen from him.

Lea testified Thursday saying his involvement in the crime was necessary. Lea claimed a man who was with him robbed the victim, got in the car and pointed a gun at him, forcing Lea to drive the vehicle and flee.

But in closing statements Thursday, Assistant State Attorney Mattie Hardin reminded the jury that Lea sat in the car and waited on the co-defendant for three minutes while the crime took place instead of leaving the scene.

While attempting to flee after the victim was struck and robbed, Lea intentionally tried to run over the victim before suggesting the co-defendant should harm him.

“You encouraged (the co-defendant) to take care of the witness with that gun,” Hardin said.

She said Lea told him to “Just shoot him (the victim), and stop wasting time.”

After the crime, Hardin said, Lea spent a month evading the police with the co-defendant.

“You don’t hide from the police with somebody who held a gun to you in order to commit a crime. You don’t plan to run away with someone who held a gun to you in order to commit a crime,” Hardin said in her closing statement.

“You don’t get to do any of these things without being held responsible,” she said.

Lea’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 5.