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Dearl Lawton
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Closing arguments will begin today in federal court here in the case of a 58-year-old Hixson man accused of robbing a bank at gunpoint in January 2014.

Federal prosecutors say Dearl Dean Lawton walked into the First Volunteer Bank on 5109 Hixson Pike on Jan. 31, 2014, dressed in a dark hoodie, dark clothes, and a dark mask that covered his face.

Inside the store, prosecutors say, Lawton brandished a long, skinny revolver, held one of the tellers at gunpoint, and robbed the bank of $2,641 in federally insured funds.

His trial, which began Monday, featured video footage and testimony from eyewitnesses and forensic specialists who analyzed gloves, a hat and a sweatshirt investigators later recovered from a nearby trash bin.

Tiffany Smith, a forensic examiner with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said three of those items matched a known swab of Lawton's DNA that was sent to her lab. She was one of three forensic experts to testify about Lawton's connection to the evidence, which sparked his arrest on May 19, 2015.

Lawton, who sat between his attorneys Tuesday, stone-faced and hands clasped, faces charges of aggravated bank robbery, carrying a firearm during a commission of a crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Early in the trial, Demetri Proffitt, a businessman, said he pulled into the First Volunteer drive-through to cash a check around 5 p.m. But when his teller continued to act odd and ignore his comments, Proffitt leaned forward and saw a robber holding a teller at gunpoint.

Wanting to help, Proffitt said he drove around the bank and saw the robber walk out the front door.

Thirty feet apart, they locked eyes for a few moments before the robber ducked behind Proffitt's car and ran down an alley, he said. Although Proffitt never saw his face, he noted the man's medium build and white skin color.

Lawton's attorneys, Brian O'Shaughnessy and Mitchell Carter, countered that Proffitt never had visual confirmation of Lawton. They said the video was too grainy to identify anyone and Proffitt never relocated the same person after losing the robber in the alley.

After reviewing the video footage, FBI special agent Jeff Nix testified a truck driving around the bank parking lot for 1 1/2 hours before the robbery had several of the same features as Lawton's truck — which Nix photographed on the day of Lawton's arrest.

O'Shaughnessy pounced on that note, asking whether anyone identified the license plate in the video footage of the truck. Then he asked whether investigators recovered a pair of sunglasses, a bucket, or a canvas bag that were involved in the robbery. Then he pointed out two hours passed between the time of the robbery and the discovery of the evidence. Then he mentioned Lawton's finances, since the Hixson man previously said he was several months behind on a mortgage payment.

"Did you pull financial records to see if he'd made large payments?" O'Shaughnessy asked.

Nix's answer — every time — was no.

When the state concluded its evidence, O'Shaughnessy called Lawton's ex-wife, Dorothy Lawton, to the stand.

Dorothy Lawton, who now lives in South Carolina, said she and her ex-husband remained close after their divorce in spring 2013. Even apart, the couple routinely filtered through their things and dropped off clothes every two months at Goodwill.

"I lived in Georgia," she told prosecutors. "He lived in Tennessee. We never stopped seeing each other though."

On the way out, Lawton waved goodbye to his ex-wife, face scrunched and stiff.

After both sides finished presenting evidence, U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier dismissed the jury and said they will reconvene today at 9 a.m. for closing arguments.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347 with story ideas or tips. Follow @zackpeterson918.

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