SEARCY, Ark. >> An Arkansas woman who cashed a $1 million lottery ticket may have to give up the winnings to a woman who threw away the ticket after she bought it, according to a judge’s ruling Tuesday.
The judge decided that Sharon Duncan was entitled to the prize money, not Sharon Jones, who claimed the prize money after she took the ticket from a trash can of discarded lottery tickets at a convenience store in Beebe, a city about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock.
Jones’ attorney, James Simpson, said he plans to appeal. Jones had testified that she already spent some of the money on a new truck and cash gifts to her children.
Simpson noted that Duncan testified she threw away the ticket after the read-out on a ticket scanner said, "Sorry. Not a winner." The attorney argued that people shouldn’t be allowed to throw items away and then say, "’ooh, I want to un-abandon it.’"
"We’d have garage-sale law all over the place," he said. "It became trash when someone threw it away."
White County judge Thomas Hughes, however, said Jones never met the burden of proof that Duncan abandoned her right to claim $1 million.
"The $1 million was never found money," Hughes said.
Earlier Tuesday, Jones testified that she gathered a handful of discarded tickets from the trash can — as she had done many times before — and said there was no sign alerting customers not to take tickets.
That contradicted Super 1 Stop store manager Lisa Petriches’ earlier testimony that she had taped a sign that read "Do not take" on the can. But a former store clerk testified that Petriches posted the sign only after Jones claimed the prize.
Petriches brought the lawsuit against Jones, and Duncan joined it after the judge said at a January hearing that she may be the true owner of the ticket. Hughes ruled that Petriches and the store’s owner, Louie Dajani — whose corporation, Summer One LLC, joined the suit — weren’t entitled to anything.
The judge instructed the winning side to write the judgment for his signature, and it will become official once Hughes signs it. Jones’ attorneys will then have 30 days to file an appeal.
Hughes found that the evidence weighed in Duncan’s favor that she bought the winning ticket, even though lottery records and store security video didn’t synch up to the precise timing of the purchase.
Arkansas Lottery Security Chief Lance Huey testified that he investigated the circumstances of the ticket falling into Jones’ hands. He said the lottery was satisfied with the investigation and awarded the prize.
Duncan’s attorney, James "Red" Morgan, argued that she simply made a mistake by throwing away a $1 million ticket and that the only right she willingly parted with was to enter the ticket for the possibility of a secondary prize.