- Special Sections
Jerry Dewitt Washington was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance, namely cocaine, and was sentenced to 8 years confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) with a $1,000 fine on the second and final day of his trial held in the 32nd Judicial District Court on Wednesday, May 30, 2012.
Testimony from the defense was slated to begin shortly after 8:30 a.m., but conflicts with a potential witness who was considering testifying led to an extended recess period.
The trial resumed at noon on Wednesday, but the witness decided not to take the stand after all. Washington himself also made the decision not to testify.
Thus, defense attorney Chris Hartman presented no witnesses and rested the defense's case around 12:20 p.m. Following the reading of the charge by presiding judge Glen Harrison--possession of a controlled substance, namely cocaine in the amount of less than 4 grams but more than one gram, closing and final arguments were given by the state and defense.
District Attorney Ann Reed, for the state, said that while the trial was short, it was still an important case to the city, state and the authorities involved.
Washington had the drugs in his possession on the night of July 14, 2011 and the dash-cam video of the traffic stop pointed out Washington saying he had drugs on him. The search of the car also proved drugs were in his possession.
The lies Washington made about the trunk not being able to open were important because he was aware of the cocaine inside. On the phone call he made, Washington is seen on the video telling the caller how to access the trunk and to get the cocaine.
The testimonies heard from SPD (Sweetwater Police Department) officers Rob Hohman and Mark Webb reiterated the find of cocaine in the trunk that Washington had, proving he is guilty.
Hartman then brought his closing argument for the defense, telling the jury that they were in charge of deciding Washington's life. The evidence from the traffic stop noted that contraband was found, but the officers never determined who was responsible for the rental car or if anyone else placed the cocaine inside.
Testimony from William Chandley with the Texas DPS (Department of Public Safety) Crime Lab in Abilene acknowledged the 2.21 grams of cocaine found, but was less than the amount Officer Hohman stated in the video.
The combination of the testimonies points to the fact, the defense claimed, that more investigation on the vehicle should have been done. Washington had marijuana on him--which doesn't make him a bad person--but it shouldn't lead to the assumption that he had cocaine in his possession.
Washington had the right not to testify in his case and made that choice, and the evidence against him proves that he is not guilty.
Reed offered her final argument, recalling that both SPD officers saw Washington and the rental car prior to July 14, 2011. On that night, he was the only one to have control of the car.
The phone call also proved his custody of the car when he lied to Officer Hohman, and when the drugs were found Washington claimed them as his own. Washington's words on the video point out that the drugs were in his possession.
The jury then began their deliberations around 12:40 p.m. Ninety minutes later, the four-man, eight-woman jury came back with the guilty verdict, prompting the sentencing phase of the trial.
Both sides offered their opening statements. Reed said that his instance was not his first interaction with the law or his first felony.
Washington had also been in state prison twice, and on April 30, 2012, he was arrested by the Abilene Police Department (APD) for having over 2 grams of cocaine. Thus, an appropriate punishment should be assessed to him.
Hartman reminded the jury that their decision determined his client's fate, and asked them to see this all from Washington's point of view. While he has been in trouble with the law, this was his first drug offense--charges had not been brought yet from his arrest in Taylor County--which should be considered in setting a punishment.
Reed then submitted 10 copies of judgments against Washington into evidence. One was from Midland County on the conviction of the burglary of a vehicle; three were from Taylor County for convictions of theft by check, theft by service and the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle; and the rest were from Nolan County for obstructing a highway/passageway and convictions of debit card abuse, possession of marijuana, theft by check (twice), and a false report to a police officer.
The state then called APD officer Rusty Antilley to the stand, one of the two officers involved in Washington's arrest on April 30, 2012. He spotted an unknown vehicle around 10:40 p.m. that night in an area known from drug dealing in Abilene, which was later found out as Washington to be the driver.
Antilley followed the car when it left the house, in which the car had expired registration. The car was pulled over--which also had two female passengers--and following interaction with Washington, the officer called for K-9 unit assistance.
Washington was arrested for the warrants out on him for a number of tickets, but after the K-9 unit arrived the odor of narcotics was found. Antilley told defense attorney Hartman that the contraband was in the area under the driver seat, in which Washington had the most direct access to the seat. Antilley recognized the wrapper as being crack cocaine that was found by the assisting officer.
Both the envelope and the package of crack cocaine was submitted as evidence for the trial, and Antilley said that the drugs had been tested and came back as being positive for cocaine.
Following Antilley's testimony was APD officer Kevin Easley, a K-9 handler who assisted Antilley on the night of April 30 of this year. "Tex", who has been with the unit since October 2011, was used in this case, in which Easley discussed the near-six week training--compared to a hide and seek game--that takes place for the dog to be able to smell out cocaine and around four other scents of drugs.
When Easley arrived to the request of assistance with Tex, the dog was prepared and began walking and sniffing around the vehicle. His method for sniffing was explained, who is watched by Easley during the process to ensure his and the safety of others at the scene.
Tex positioned himself at the location of the odor, which was found at the back passenger side door and the driver side door. This led to the search of the car from Tex, specifically the interior near the console area and the driver side.
Easley then searched the car, in which marijuana residue at the bottom of the cup holders in the console was found. However, a package which was suspected as crack cocaine was found under the area of the driver seat.
When questioned by the defense, Easley said that he handled the package and showed it to Officer Antilley. Easley also did a color test on the contents, which tested as positive for crack cocaine.
Tex's record for finds was also questioned, in which the officer noted that the dog is correct on his findings around 80-90% of the time. He will have a stronger reaction when stronger drugs are found.
While Easley stated that he did not know who owned the vehicle, he was confident that Washington had control of the car that night. The drugs were found at the driver spot, which the officer said that location plays a large role in regards to possession.
William Chandley was then called back to the stand, the chemist with the Texas DPS (Department of Public Safety) Crime Lab in Abilene. He received the drugs found by the APD on May 1, 2012, which was then analyzed on May 23.
The same steps were taken on this sample as the other sample found on Washington by SPD officer on July 14, 2011--weighing the contents, running a color test and running the sample on the mass spectrometer. The drug was determined to be cocaine with a weight of 2.35 grams.
When asked by the defense if any false positives had been reported before, Chandley said that this case saw no false positive reports.
The state then rested their case around 3:25 p.m.; the defense presented only one witness for their case, a man by the name of Paul Wright.
Wright, a pastor and youth pastor from Stamford, was the foster parent of Washington when he was 13 years old for two years. After he left, Wright said that Washington kept in contact through calls and visits on holidays.
Wright said he loved Washington like a son and maintained that father-son relationship in adulthood. He said that he knew that Washington knows right and wrong, but his actions didn't change his feelings toward him.
He said that he hoped Washington learned from his mistakes and gives him guidance in the hopes of making a change in his life. Wright also tells him to be careful of his environment, but has seen that Washington has obviously been with a negative crowd.
Wright added that he was willing to help Washington in any way possible and hoped that he gets help. He described Washington as a great man who was a funny and caring kid, who can get past everything in his life if he desires to do so.
The state briefly questioned Wright, telling that he saw the defendant several months ago in Abilene while Washington was working at a restaurant. While he didn't visit him in Sweetwater, Wright said that Washington typically reaches out through phone calls.
The defense then rested their case around 4:10 p.m. Judge Harrison then read the charge for the punishment phase around 4:15 p.m., which noted the possible sentence of 2 to 10 years confinement in the TDCJ and a maximum fine of $10,000. Closing and final arguments then followed.
Reed noted in her closing argument that Washington was a career criminal with 10 judgments against him in three different counties. Wright's testimony proved that Washington knew right from wrong and chooses to break the law.
Washington's continual actions prove that he has yet to learn from his mistakes and while Wright said that something needed to get his attention, the state noted that a strong sentence could hopefully grab Washington's attention. She then asked the jury to give him the maximum sentence of ten years.
Hartman refuted some of Reed's statements in his closing argument in that Washington was not a career criminal--some of the judgments were from nine years ago. Though the defense acknowledged his trouble with the law, there was no career track of drug-related crimes.
The jury, said the defense, shouldn't consider the April 30, 2012 incident for Washington possessing the drugs. Wright's testimony showed the life Washington lived and the father-son relationship the two had in giving advice and help.
Hartman also asked the jury to consider the impact prison would have on his client, and that a two-year sentence would help him learn and pay the consequences for his mistakes.
In her final argument, Reed pointed out that while the prison system is to deter people from committing crime, the system apparently hadn't worked for Washington after his two times there. The long list of crimes he committed has shown the elevation of his crime activity; having Washington incarcerated would help keep the community safe while sending a message to him and other drug dealers of the pending consequences.
Shortly after 4:30 p.m. the jury went back for their deliberations. They came back to the courtroom three hours and 45 minutes later--around 8:15 p.m.--with their sentence for Washington.