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Nearly three years after Heather Ellis switched checkout lines at a southeast Missouri store and touched off what she calls a racially charged dispute with white customers and authorities, the young black schoolteacher faces a trial that could send her to prison for 15 years.

Witnesses have told authorities that Ellis cut in front of waiting customers at the Walmart in Kennett on Jan. 6, 2007, shoved merchandise already placed on a conveyor belt out of the way, and became belligerent when confronted, according to court filings.

Ellis maintains she was merely joining her cousin, whose checkout line was moving more quickly. She claimed in a written complaint to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that she was then pushed by a white customer, hassled by store employees, called racial slurs and physically mistreated by Kennett police officers.

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