Drug trial begins for Washington

May 30, 2012

Jerry Dewitt Washington

The trial against Jerry Dewitt Washington began on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 in the 32nd Judicial District Court. Washington was previously indicted for possession of a controlled substance, namely cocaine, occurring on July 14, 2011.
Jury selection began on Tuesday morning, with the panel dwindling to become the 8-woman, 4-man jury. A pre-trial motion outside of the jury's presence was heard on Tuesday afternoon in an effort for the defense to suppress any evidence found in the trunk of the car Washington was in, but was denied by presiding judge Glen Harrison.
Opening statements were then heard by the jury from District Attorney Ann Reed and defense attorney Chris Hartman, respectively.
Reed noted that on the date in question, Sweetwater Police Department (SPD) officer Rob Hohman pulled Washington over and found marijuana on the defendant. After Washington was placed into the patrol car, a search in the car began and more marijuana was found in the glove compartment.
Washington noted that the trunk would not open, but when the trunk was eventually opened, authorities found a plastic bag which was suspected as having cocaine inside. He was then placed under arrest for possession of the cocaine.
Along with the law enforcement testimony, a chemist from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Crime Lab in Abilene would prove the substance was over two grams of cocaine, proving he was in possession of a controlled substance.
Hartman broke down the terms of the indictment in his opening statement, then went on to inform the jury that Washington was stopped in a rental car, which meant that he would not know what the car contained. While officers and government employees would be testifying, Hartman said that his client was a victim of someone else's crime.
Hohman was the first to take the witness stand for the state. He recognized Washington while on patrol on the night of July 14, 2011 and knew that a warrant was out on Washington, thus pulling him over. Upon confirming the warrant, Hohman placed Washington under arrest and searched him, finding some weed on his person.
After Washington was placed in the patrol car, the officer then searched the glove compartment and found more narcotics, which led to the entire car being searched by Hohman. Two other officers arrived, and while the defendant initially said that the trunk didn't open, the trunk was later opened, in which an officer found a small bag with a white substance inside.
The state entered an enveloped which contained three packages of marijuana — two packs found on Washington and one in the glove compartment. Another envelope was submitted as well, which had the cocaine found in the car trunk.
In addition, a dashboard camera video of the traffic stop on Washington was placed as evidence and the nearly-twenty minute video was shown to the jury. Washington was shown asking if a friend named Marcus — who was not there — could get the car keys from him.
He also made a phone call, telling the caller how to open the trunk from the glove compartment and to head to his house to get something. When the trunk was finally opened, Washington tells the caller that the policemen found something in the car.
Hohman told the defense that he personally saw Washington in the car and made the stop around 11:20 p.m. based on his knowledge of the warrant out on him. He knew the substance he found was marijuana based on his police training.
The find of the drugs in the glove compartment prompted the search of the entire car, yet Hohman pointed out that two access points — the key fob and button inside the car — to the trunk were deactivated. The only access was through a button inside the glove compartment of the vehicle, which was a rental car.
Hohman said he handled and secured the two evidence envelopes, which would later be taken to the DPS Crime Lab. While he didn't know if others had driven the car, the officer said that Washington was the only person in possession of the car at the time.
When Hohman mentioned the weight of the cocaine found, he said it was only an estimated number which was needed before charging Washington. The vehicle was later returned to the rental agency, but it was never researched as to who rented the car.
Hohman said that at least two days prior to the traffic stop, he saw Washington driving the vehicle. He didn't remember the location of the sighting but noted that car was a blue, four-door Nissan. A large dent on the driver side made the car distinguishable on both occasions.
Following Hohman's testimony was SPD officer Mark Webb, who assisted Hohman in the search of Washington's vehicle. He too was aware of the warrant out on Washington and was the officer who found the contraband in the trunk — a "corner bag" which contained a white powdery substance, believed to be cocaine, located inside a grocery sack. Upon finding the bag, Webb informed Officer Hohman.
While Webb knew that the car was from a rental agency, he told the defense that he did not know who actually rented the car. He did, however, note that he saw the car on a prior occasion in front of Washington's residence. When he found the substance on the night in question, Webb said only Hohman handled the narcotic.
Sweetwater Police Lieutenant Randy Hanes then took the stand, telling the state that he along with another officer oversee all evidence that comes into the SPD headquarters. In this case, Officer Hohman handled the evidence and pre-packed the bag; Lieutenant Hanes never saw the evidence but took the envelope with its contents to the Texas DPS Crime Lab in Abilene.
The last witness of the day was William Chandley, a chemist with the Texas DPS Crime Lab in Abilene who analyzes drugs sent to the lab. Chandley noted that in determining an unknown substance, the evidence is weighed, a color test is run and is also run on a mass spectrometer to determine the contents.
Chandley tested the substance on Sept. 15, 2011 through the three steps, and it was confirmed as being cocaine-based with its net weight coming in at 2.21 grams (a gram is typically compared to a packet of Sweet and Low sugar substitute). The lab undergoes inspection annually and is accredited every five years, though Chandley told the defense that he was unaware of the most recent inspection at the time of the testing.
Chandley additionally stated that the mass spectrometer separates and breaks down the substance and is used for confirmation after the color test identifies the substance. Chandley did all the testing on the narcotic, which was received at the lab on July 19, 2011.
The defense asked why the item was shelved at the lab for around two months, in which Chandley replied that the timeline from delivery to testing was actually quick in comparison to other testings. The evidence was then returned to the SPD on Sept. 29, 2011.
Shortly before 4:30 p.m., the state rested their case and court went into recess for the day. The defense started their case around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

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