More than four-and-a-half years since her part in a bank robbery, and nearly a year after her accomplice pleaded guilty to the crime, Joanna Cantu was found guilty of two counts of aggravated robbery in a jury trial that concluded this week.
Cantu was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery, one for each of the tellers, in connection to an Aug. 29, 2014 robbery of the IBC Bank near the intersection of Santa Gertrudis Avenue and Armstrong Street.
Her co-defendant, Mario Martinez, pleaded guilty on two counts of aggravated robbery in March 2018 for his role as the gunman. In May 2018, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison on each count, running concurrently, and was required to pay restitution for the nearly $50,000 in cash that was not recovered from the robbery.
Cantu, who was an employee of the bank at the time, was accused of providing Martinez with information prior to the robbery, as well as being the “mastermind” behind the crime.
The trial began with jury selection on Monday, March 25, and continued through last week. After taking a break on Monday, the trial resumed Tuesday morning with closing arguments from District Attorney John Hubert and defense attorney Philip Goff.
In his closing argument, Goff said Martinez had made threats to Cantu against her and her family, and that Cantu had been pushed into helping him commit the bank robbery.
“She was scared,” he said. “It was a scary situation.”
Goff said following her September 2014 arrest, Cantu “was an open book” who worked with and provided evidence to the police and the district attorney’s office.
“And you know what? That continued,” he said. “It continued for four-and-a-half years. It continued right there when she testified. The whole time, she was willing to answer questions and willing to provide whatever documentation or access (law enforcement) wanted.”
Goff also questioned the credibility of Martinez’s testimony during the trial, arguing that he “blames (Cantu) for putting him in prison.”
“Mario is a liar within his own testimony,” he said. “Mario has a reason to lie. He has motivation.”
Goff said Martinez was “trying to give (Cantu) a motive to do it when there isn’t any.”
“She cooperated without any protection or any kind of deal in place,” he said. “It was voluntary. She wanted the truth to come out.”
“Ultimately, it came down to she had to make a decision on the spot with a guy who she considered extremely dangerous,” he added.
Hubert told the jury that in his closing statement that this was a trial about “lies, deceit and manipulation.”
“The defendant tried to manipulate the facts and refuses to take responsibility,” he said.
Hubert said there was no evidence that Martinez had threatened Cantu, and argued that she was the “mastermind” behind the bank robbery.
“She chose Mario,” he said. “She didn’t overcome his will. She chose somebody that wanted to steal the money.”
As for her cooperation with law enforcement, Hubert said she had lied to police “over 40 times” in her statements.
“If you believe her story, you have to pick and choose parts of which to believe,” he said. “There’s no one consistent story that actually tells the truth.”
“Don’t buy into the lies, the deceit and the manipulation,” he added. “Don’t let the pretty face fool you.”
The jury, comprised of eight women and four men, retired for deliberation shortly after 11 a.m. following closing arguments. After nearly five hours of deliberation, they returned to the courtroom to deliver guilty verdicts on both counts of aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony that is punishable by up to 99 years to life in prison.
During the punishment phase, held Wednesday, Cantu was sentenced to five years in prison with no probation. She was also fined $10,000 for each count, but not required to pay restitution.
Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (361) 221-0251.