Posted by : February 9, 2017| On :
By Denise York
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Athens Chamber of Commerce President Tara Rigby has a passion for connecting people and building community.
“We were created to live in community and I want people to know that I am here for them to build on our strenghths and partner together as different entities, young and old, to mend fences, build bridges and improve our commmunity,” said Rigby. And that is reflected in the mission statement “Serving to build a better community.”
Rigby was born and raised along the central coast of California, graduated from Santa Cruz High School, received her A.S. degree in Accountancy in Aptos and her B.S. degree in Business Administration from California State University in Fresno. During that time, she also studied abroad in London.
She moved to the Nashville, Tenn. area as part of a church planting team where she met and married her husband Lance, an accomplished musician and artist who specializes in wood carving. When their eldest daughter was nine months old, the couple relocated to Lacey, Wash. where they lived for 2 years and from there to Shelton, Wash. on the Olympic Peninsula side of the Puget Sound where they lived for 10 years.
Lance had family in Eustace and Tara in other areas of Texas and the couple visited the East Texas area frequently before moving in June, 2015. Rigby said “We had intentions of moving for some time, but things never seemed to line up right. In 2015, things came together.”
While in Shelton, one of Rigby’s major accomplishments was to found the Pioneer Community Food Bank. She was able to bring together resources and like-minded people to establish the food bank, which still exists to this day.
Her most recent position was as Operations Manager for the Cain Center until it was taken over by the city and closed for major renovations. In that position, she worked with a great staff of varied talents, she said, and they did great things as many community events were held there.
As President of the Chamber, Rigby sees herself as a member of a solid organization with a board of directors, 20 Ambassadors and many dedicated members. Kristina Jacobson serves as the Office Manager for the Chamber and together they make a dynamic team.
Rigby is impressed by the history and culture of the East Texas area and she said, “Athens has such a rich history and such great people. I love to get out there and meet our chamber members and learn about them and their businesses. There are so many citizens dedicated to improving the community and helping others. It’s really a special place and people are so welcoming and friendly.”
Membership in the chamber is up over 315 and she hopes to get to know them all, a few at a time as she visits businesses. She sees the Chamber as a resource, to partner with the city, county, college, schools, EDC and local business to strengthen the community and put on events that benefit the community. Some of the popular events include the “Taste of Athens’ which will be held Feb. 25, the “Go Texan” Rodeo held at the fairground, the farm and ranch tour and the Ladies Night Out in November.
She has some new ideas such as yard signs that can be put out to honor the monthly large and small business of the month and recognition for local teachers.
There is a lot to do but with her talent for bringing people together and her genuine love for people, the road ahead looks bright. As she says, her door is always open to the members of the community and she hopes to serve.
Posted by : February 2, 2017| On :
By Rachel Williams
The News Correspondent
ATHENS–The Athens City Council named an architectural/engineering firm to renovate the Cain Civic Aquatic Center Jan. 23. PGAL Architects, headquartered in Houston with offices in Dallas and Austin and founded in Texas in 1946, delivers international expertise with 11 regional offices and a staff of more than 200 architects, engineers, planners, and designers. The firm was named to the project after a qualifications-based assessment. The council members unanimously agreed PGAL Architects will provide the full complement of specialists and consultants to bring these facilities up-to-date. City Manager Philip Rodriguez is also authorized to execute an agreement, pending city attorney review.
The council also ordered an election for May 6 for Place 1, now held by Monte Montgomery and Mayor, held by Jerry Don Vaught. The city will share the costs of the election with Athens ISD by mutual agreement with Henderson County providing election services, and conducting Election Day voting.
Council members also held a public hearing on amendments proposed for mobile food vendors, subject to development standards and applicable zoning regulations, followed by a first reading of an ordinance pertaining to mobile food vendors. The city’s development services staff reviewed ordinances being used in other cities, including rules about restrooms, trash receptacles, proximity to brick-and-mortar restaurants and other items. Concerns about the disposal of grease and water was voiced. The item is expected to be listed for a second reading at a future council meeting. The next one is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13.
The council also considered a first reading of an ordinance which would provide entry level police officers a hiring incentive. The ordinance proposes offering new officers a $1,500 signing bonus on the first day of work and a second $1,500 payment before the end of the first year of service.
In other business, council members:
• appointed Keri Wilmeth to the Planning and Zoning Board.
• adopted a resolution outlining a legislative agenda. In general, the collection of statements support policies that protect “home rule” and local control, encourage the state to support its mandates with resources and promotes effective local governmental processes, city staffer Ryan Adams explained. The resolution also directs the city manager or his designee to act or represent the agenda when corresponding with elected officials in Austin.
The Texas 2017 regular legislative session began on Jan. 10 and will continue through May 29. About 6,000 bills are expected to be proposed during the 140 days the state representatives meet every two years. The legislative agenda will help lawmakers understand the Athens perspective and enable them to act on their constituents’ behalf. Representatives include Lance Gooden in the House and Robert Nichols in the Senate.
• Approved the purchase by the Athens Fire Department of a new lightweight model brush truck running slightly over budget at $96,489. Fire Chief John McQueary said the vehicle meets all design specifications.
• Approved a request from the Athens Economic Development Corporation for a letter of support for the City of Athens to be included within the Foreign Trade Zone.
• Authorized a lease agreement with Steven Eddy for T-Hanger No. 1 at Athens Municipal Airport.
• Authorized the city manager to execute a contract with Stantec for street improvements in support of FutureMatrix, Inc, using 2016 Texas Capital Fund.
Posted by : February 2, 2017| On :
Special to The News
TYLER–A 35-year-old Trinidad, Texas man has been sentenced to federal prison for child pornography violations in the Eastern District of Texas, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston Jan. 25 in a press release.
Mikael Johnson pleaded guilty on Oct. 11, 2016, to distributing child pornography and was sentenced to 140 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Ron Clark on Jan. 24, 2017.
According to information presented in court, on Dec. 14, 2015, Johnson knowingly sent another person child pornography by using the Internet, digital services that he owned and a social media application. Following an investigation, federal agents obtained and executed a search warrant at Johnson’s residence on Jan. 7, 2016. More than 600 images and videos containing child pornography were located and seized during the search. Johnson was arrested on that day and a federal grand jury returned an indictment on Jan. 20, 2016 charging him with federal child exploitation violations.
This case was prosecuted as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov. [external link]
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Miller and U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division Trial Attorney Amy Larson.
Posted by : January 26, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS–Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse reports the arrest of three people in a drug ring in Athens Jan. 20.
Investigators have been eyeing the operation for about three months, Hillhouse told The News, before moving in with a search warrant last Friday afternoon.
Stephen Duane Roberts, 44; Elisha Marie Jones, 31; and Jason Denard Donnell, 41; were charged with first degree drug felonies upon finding at their Williams Street residence a large amount of methamphetamine, along with crack cocaine and controlled substances, Xanax and Ecstasy.
“This was a major drug-dealing operation,” Hillhouse said. “Our team got the information and with help of other law enforcement officers were able to shut them down.”
Investigators counted 36 grams of meth, two grams of crack cocaine, 28 grams of Xanax and 15 grams of Ecstasy, Hillhouse reported.
Narcotics investigators Josh Rickman and Brad Beddingfield were the lead in this investigation and swore out affidavits before Henderson County Court at Law Judge Scott Williams to obtain the search warrant for the residence.
Officers helping in the execution of the warrant included Chief Deputy Kevin Halbert, Captain David Jones, investigators Cayce Bosher, Brad Gray, Jeremy Rose, Robert Powers, Jessica Halbert and Jerry Corder, along with Precinct 1 Constable Kay Langford and detectives from the Athens Police Department.
Bail for the trio totaled $650,000 with a history of prior drug arrests. “Getting them in jail and keeping them there until they can be brought to trial sends the right message to other dealers and users in this community,” Hillhouse said.
Roberts and Jones were charged with three counts each of manufacturing and delivery of controlled substances in various amounts, with bonds totaling $275,000 each. Donnell was charged with possession of a controlled substance not less than a gram or more than four grams with bond set at $100,000.
“Henderson County is no place to be making, selling or using illegal drugs.,” Hillhouse stated. “I am committed to clean up this county and so are my fellow officers and judiciary.”
If convicted, Roberts and Jones face up to 99 years in prison but no less than five. Donnell faces felony possession sentence up to 10 years and no less than two, if convicted.
“These folks were selling poison that destroys lives,” Hillhouse said. “With them off the streets, hopefully one child, one mother, one father, one family will not fall into a life of addiction and pain.”
Posted by : January 19, 2017| On :
Special to The News
AUSTIN – State Representative John Wray took the oath of office Jan. 10 inside the Texas State Capitol, marking the beginning of his second term in the Texas House.
“I’m honored to represent House District 10 again in the Texas legislature, and will continue to fight tirelessly for the people and values of Ellis and Henderson Counties,” said Wray. “I am proud of the accomplishments we achieved last session, and although we face new challenges, I believe the House will continue to approach issues in the same conservative, pragmatic, and fiscally responsible manner that has helped our state prosper.”
In his first term as State Representative, Wray was appointed to the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. As a member of those committees, Wray helped pass open carry legislation, increased security at the Texas-Mexico border, and provided nearly $4 billion in tax relief to Texans.
Wray also passed the most bills of any freshmen representative, and filed bills to repeal taxes, honor Texan and American hero Chris Kyle, establish a higher education campus in the district, and protect private property rights and taxpayers funds from the planned High Speed Rail project.
The Texas Constitution dictates that the legislature meet in a regular session every two years, convening on the second Tuesday in January of every odd-numbered year. These sessions are limited to 140 days. The governor can also call additional special sessions as necessary, which cannot exceed 30 days. The 85th Legislative Session is Jan. 10 through May 29, 2017.
John Wray is a principled conservative, serving his second term as Texas State Representative of House District 10, the area encompassing Ellis County and part of Henderson County.
Wray currently resides in Waxahachie with his wife, Michele, and their two children, Morgan and Patrick.
Posted by : January 5, 2017| On :
Posted by : December 29, 2016| On :
HENDERSON COUNTY–2016 may well go down in history for its tumultuous and many would say dysfunctional election season which began with contentious primaries. The outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election, drew about 1.4 million more Americans in this year’s election than in 2012, but the numbers of those eligible to vote also rose during the interval. Approximately 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the presidential election, according to the latest estimates from Michael McDonald, associate professor at the University of Florida, who gathers data at the U.S. Elections Project, down from 58.6 percent in 2012 and 61.6 percent in 2008, which was the highest mark in 40 years. Turnout remained well above levels for most presidential election years from 1972 to 2000.
The outcome seated capitalist businessman and non-politician Republican candidate Donald Trump as this country’s 45th top executive. The upset was one of just five elections in our nation’s history where the Electoral majority votes outweighed the popular vote, which went to Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton. Trump won 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232. Clinton won 48.3 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 46.2 percent. The electoral college system was put in place by the nation’s founders to ensure cooperation across all segments of American society as explained by Prager University.
Locally, the elections while less contentious, resulted in one recount in the Republican primary for the Henderson County Sheriff race which was between long-term Henderson County Law Enforcement employees Chief Deputy Botie Hillhouse and Criminal Investigator Billy Jack Valentine. Ultimately, Hillhouse was declared the winner by a margin of 61 votes, proving to many that every vote counts. Hillhouse took office on June 1 upon Sheriff Ray Nutt’s retirement on May 31.
Storms hit the area
A 70-mph tornado which hit Eustace late in December, 2015 was major news the first part of January as damage was surveyed. The twister, estimated to be 40 yards wide had stayed on the ground for approximately three minutes. Other parts of Texas, especially the Rowlett/Garland area were much worse and Payne Springs VFD assisted there.
March 8 brought more severe storms with straight line winds and reported tornadoes damaging areas of Malakoff, including the Flagg House which was built by Harry Flagg in 1921 and now serves as the Malakoff Historical Society and museum, along with the local Chamber of Commerce.
Schools make the grade
Many area schools proudly displayed banners touting their achievements as Texas Education Agency announced ratings but one school stood out. Malakoff ISD achieved back-to-back annual national recognitions as Blue Ribbon Schools. In 2016, Tool Elementary School joined Malakoff Elementary School (2015 recipient) in gaining the honor this year, under the direction of all the teachers and Principal Christal Calhoun. Tool Elementary was one of 26 Texas schools nominated to receive the award.
Every year, the U. S. Department of Education seeks out and celebrates great American schools, which demonstrate that all students can achieve to high levels. More than 7,500 of schools across the country have been presented with this coveted award. The National Blue Ribbon School flag gracing an entry or flying overhead is a widely-recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning. Calhoun, along with teachers Kristi Dalrymple, Tasha French and Kristina Page attended a two-day ceremony in Washington, D.C. Nov. 7-8 to celebrate their achievement. After returning, Tool Elementary School celebrated the honors Nov. 16 with all of the students and about 100 community members.
In addition, the Malakoff Tigers Football Team broke a school record making it into the final round of statewide competition on the gridiron. A parade and celebration are being planned to honor the high achievement of the student athletes at Malakoff ISD.
Trinity Valley Community College made plans for future expansion with the purchase of the former National Guard Armory and adjacent Central Park Nov. 28. In similar fashion, TVCC purchased the former hospital site on State Highway 34 in Terrell to establish a Health Science Center.
Law Enforcement in the News
Another record-breaker was seen in the ending of the longest standoff with law enforcement this country has never heard about. The 15-year standoff with the law, came to an end Jan. 6, as a result of a news reporter informing the Henderson County authorities that the Anderson County DA’s Office had dropped charges against John Joe Gray. News of the dropped charge came to light in the aftermath of another armed standoff on public lands in Oregon. Gray, now 66, was arrested in 1999 for assaulting a state trooper during a traffic stop in Anderson County. Gray said it was his God-given right to carry the pistol he had that day, without a concealed handgun license. When the trooper tried to arrest him, Gray admits getting into a scuffle and biting him.
Gray was eventually charged with assaulting a public servant. But after being freed on bail, he refused to return to court, and instead, armed himself at home.
“If they come out after us, bring extra body bags. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” Gray told ABC News in a 2000 interview.
Since the felony charge in 1999, Gray reportedly hadn’t left his 47 acres along the banks of the Trinity River between Tool and Trinidad. The impasse may well be the longest armed standoff in American history, which few knew anything about.
2016 came in allowing those licensed to own a gun to carry it in a holster without needing to conceal it. A bunch more rules were erected around the practice, regarding places of instruction and education and its prohibition if a sign is posted at private or public buildings restricting it.
Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse hit the ground running when he took office on June 1 and has been a frequent contributor to major news stories as he and his deputies crack down on drugs in Henderson County. In the last six months, Hillhouse’s campaign against illegal drugs has resulted in more than 1,000 arrests, most for drugs and drug related crime.
On the Tigers’ charge to the football finals, Malakoff ISD Police Chief Stacy Hillhouse distinguished herself with fast action at an away game when Malakoff played the Teague team in Palestine. Hillhouse effectively disarmed a volatile shooting altercation between two Teague fans in the parking lot prior to the gridiron action. She held the perpetrator until local police officers could arrive on the scene. She was recognized by the Malakoff School Board for her heroism and quick response to the situation.
The City of Athens saw the long time battle of what to do with the abandoned hospital resolved when it all came tumbling down as the hospital was demolished in January.
The city took over the Cain Center and began major renovations which include relocation of municipal offices and improvement of the pool and recreational facilities. To get all the work done, the Cain Center will remain closed for all of 2017.
Malakoff saw the move of McDonalds to a new location and the grand opening of the new Whataburger as well as some work on downtown buildings.
The Henderson County Commissioners Court announced in April its final payment on the 2005 county jail expansion, making the county debt free for the first time in recent history.
The Athens branch of Trinity Valley Community College was on the receiving end of the largest single endowment in its history when Athens attorney Nancy Perkins pledged a multi-million-dollar gift in honor of her mother, naming the Trinity Valley Community College Foundation as the beneficiary of her entire estate, Pauline Perkins was the first secretary to college founder and President Orval Pirtle, and ultimately became the longest-living member of the original faculty. Pauline passed away May 22, 2016 at the age of 90. Nancy presented a 1946-47 signed yearbook belonging to her mother to the TVCC Foundation as a token of the gift. While at the college, Pauline studied to obtain her teaching degree and fulfilled a 27-year career in education. Her first position was as a sixth grade teacher for the Mabank school district, Nancy said, though most of her mother’s teaching was at the middle and high schools in Athens. She retired from teaching in 1989 but continued to live a life of service, assisting her daughter in her law practice. “TVCC is where my mother began her professional career and where she was happiest,” Nancy told representatives of the college. “Her gift is her legacy, which we believe will help future generations and will forever commemorate her beauty and generosity.” Nancy Perkins is a practicing attorney throughout the state of Texas and a Mabank High School 1973 Valedictorian. “It is because of her encouragement that I have what I have,” she told The News.
Those we lost
Losses of local citizens who impacted many of us by their leadership and service include Henderson County Extension Agent Rick Hirsch. Hirsch was honored as Agriculturist of the Year and in October a stone memorial was laid in the DREAM garden of the East Texas Arboretum by the Henderson County Master Gardeners.
Randy Thornhill, an acclaimed author who lived in Malakoff in his younger days died on May 6. He had written two novels In the Southern Gothic style that made the top 20 list in 2015 of the best Southern America novels ever written as compiled by Oxford American, the Southern literary magazine.
Malakoff Heads gain a home
Three large enigmatic stones, referred to as the Malakoff Heads, found a permanent home in the Cook Education Center of the Pearce Museum of the Navarro College Campus in Corsicana.
Two of the heads (No. 1 and No. 3 – found in 1939 in the same general location between Mala-koff and Trinidad , in the Trinity River Valley overlooking Cedar Creek) have been stored with the University of Texas.
Experts have studied and argued about the Great Depression,-era finds. Some saying they are the oldest human artifacts uncovered in North America (10,000+ years ago). Others place them at a more recent Archaic Period (6,000 or less years ago).
People in The News
2016 brought many distinctions and awards as well as new jobs for many. This is by no means an exhaustive list as we are sure to miss some.
Athens High School graduate and businessman Drew Douglas was named 2015 Athens Citizen of the Year by the Athens Chamber of Commerce Jan. 22.
Trinity Valley Community College (TVCC) Vice President of Instruction Dr. Jerry King was named President Pro Tem of the college May 2.
Three cities named new Police chiefs; Rickey Smith in Trinidad; Darrell Dean in Kemp and Raymond Wennerstrom as police administrator in Seven Points
Region 7 Education Service Center announced that Palestine ISD Superintendent of Schools Jason Marshall had been selected as the 2016 Region 7 Superin-tendent of the Year. Region 7 serves many districts in East Texas, including Athens, Cross Roads, Malakoff and Trinidad.
Court Appointed Spe-cial Advocates (CASA) of Trinity Valley announced that resource development officer Emily Heglund would replace Lee Ann Millender as the organization’s executive director.
Athens High School class of 1940 graduate Vivian Anderson Castleberry 1977 AHS graduate Drew Douglas and the late historic Athens educator R. C. Fisher were inducted to the Hornet Hall of Fame.
Athens native John Torrez was named national Postal Customer Council member for 2016
Other worthies recognized for their achievements include Joe Walenta, local musician and band leader, who was inducted into the Western Swing Music Hall of Fame this year; Outstanding Principal of the Year for Region 7 Eustace Middle School administrator Truman Oakley; and Malakoff Elementary School Principal Ronny Snow nominated one of nine Texas National Distinguished Principal finalists.
Four Athens volunteers were applauded during the mayor ’s third annual Outstanding Leadership Luncheon Oct. 26. Athens Mayor Jerry Don Vaught recognized Steve Grant, Ginger Morton, Mary Lynn Smith and John Glover for the strong leadership they exhibited making life better for everyone living in the city. Ginger Morton and John Glover were the Grand Marshals at the Athens Christmas Parade.
There were festivals and parades, beautiful ceremonies honoring Veterans, celebrations and many good works by citizens and groups. It was a newsworthy year in every sense of the word and we at The News look forward to 2017.
Posted by : December 29, 2016| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS–Two Athens men were arrested following a traffic stop on drug charges Tuesday. A press release from Sheriff Botie Hillhouse stated a large quantity of suspected methamphetamine, along with other drugs were found in the vehicle with them.
Brunzwick Jones, 45, and Laquntia Jones, 23, were traveling on Gaunt Street when narcotics investigator Josh Rickman and Deputy Kyle Pochobradsky observed a traffic violation. A search of the vehicle located “a large amount of crystal like substance we believe to be methamphetamine,” Hillhouse stated. Authorities also found pills of unknown substance and marijuana.
The men were charged with manufacture/delivery of controlled substances greater than 4 grams and less than 200 grams. The elder Jones was also charged with driving without a valid license. Both men are being held on bonds totaling $12,500 each.
Brunzwick has an arrest record dating back to 1988 with several sentences to jail time. This is Laquntia’s first drug offense, two previous offenses related to driving without license and financial responsibility.
If found guilty of the first-degree felony, the men could be jailed from five to 99 years and be fined up to $10,000 each. Hillhouse said the arrests are part of his continuing mission to eradicate drugs from the county, along with those who sell them and those who use them.
“As long as they don’t stop,” Hillhouse stated, “we don’t stop.” He added the message is also making its way to those who would bring drugs into the county.
Posted by : December 1, 2016| On :
Special to The News
ATHENS–Henderson County D.A. R. Scott McKee reports the July Term, 2016, Grand Jury returned the following True Bills for the Nov. 9 meeting. In addition, three cases are indicted under seal.
•Raul Almaraz, JR, 20, Racing on a Highway,
• Michael Glenn Barnes, 35, Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear,
• James Edward Horton, 69, Cruelty to Animals,
• Phillip Wayne Brown, 62, Driving While Intoxicated,
• Gerald Don Williams, JR, 49, Possession of Controlled Substance (PCS),
• Tyler Jimmy Ray Brown, 21, Escape,
• Tommy Clyde Hurt, 40, Tampering with Evidence,
• Jose Antonio Carreon-Aguilera, 49, PCS,
• Blaine Anthony Christopher, 28, Unlawful Possession of Firearm ,
• John Tanner Forrester, 22, three countsof Burglary and Credit Card or Debit Card Abuse,
• Randall Clayton Boone, 27, Burglary
• Paula Kay Forester, 51, Hindering Apprhension or Prosecution,
• Travis Brax Davis, 19, Theft of Property
Benjamin Douglas Harmon, 22, Assault,
• Dvahje Marquel Hayward, 20, Theft of Firearm,
• Gary J Hampton, 61, Forgery,
• Christopher Doyle Savage, 29, Aggravated Assault,
• Scott Matthew Butler, 26, Driving While Intoxicated with Child Passenger,
• Terrance Joseph Samuel Benton, 25, PCS,
• Shandra Suzette Oliphant, 29, PCS,
• Dustin Ray Snyder, 28, Aggravated Assault
• Zanon James Sherman, 44, PCS,
• Lorenzo Demarkas Patton, 34, PCS,
• Michael Dwayne Lindley, 50, PCS,
•Danny Lee Mclemore, 61, Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicle,
• William Lee Shaddox, 53, Burglary,
• Terry Paul Bevill, 54, Burglary,
• Robert Allen Shaddox, 49, Burglary,
• James David Walker, 27, PCS,
• Steven Michael Green, 45, PCS,
• Joshua Lynn Epperson, 35, PCS ,
• Johnny Craton Pope, 49, indicted for Aggravated Assault,
• Kristen Tennile Patterson, 40, PCS
• Jeffrey Mark Keith, 61, Evading Arrest,
• Kristy Anne Kidan, 37, Credit Card Abuse,
• Phillip Norman-Clinton James, 29, Assault Public Servant,
• Joshua Paul Rogers, Attempted Burglary of Habitation and Unlawful Use of Criminal Instrument,
• Robert Britt Gandy, 36, Unlawful Possession of Firearm by Felon,
• Christopher Lee Fischer, 27, Burglary,
Jeremy James Strawn, Burglary,
• Dean William Kjeldgaard, 54, Indecency with a Child.
Posted by : November 23, 2016| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Jurors returned a guilty verdict in the trial of Stacie Marie Parsons, 27, who is charged with murdering her 4-year-old daughter, Victoria Wyatt, on July 21, 2014.
The seven-man five-woman jury returned a verdict after roughly 90 minutes of deliberation Nov. 17.
Juror Barbara Meyer told The News that the defendant didn’t exhibit any reactions or emotions during the 10-day trial that she could tell. She described the members of the jury as open-minded and able to render an opinion based on what was presented.
Meyer said what was the most convincing came from the defendant during several interviews with investigators recorded on video. “She confessed to the crime and believed she’d spend the rest of her life in prison,” Meyer said. “She didn’t show any diminished capacity to know right from wrong.”
173rd District Judge Dan Moore rejected a motion by Parsons’ defense team, pleading diminished mental capacity as a defense. Moore ruled that Parsons’ could not avoid criminal culpability on that basis. “It is not a defense under the criminal law,” Moore said.
In that case, Parsons’ lawyers claimed that Moore was denying Parson her Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel and that they were rendered ineffective. Moore said the two attorneys have been very effective at representing their client.
The defense is sure to seek an appeal since its evidence of intellectual disability and diminished capacity was disallowed from being presented to the jury, but was recorded in a closed session — as well as evidence of Parsons’ mental state or awareness of criminal activity at the time of its commission.
This evidence included depositions from those who have known Parsons, as well as from witnesses who testified as to her childhood and the IQ test she was given shortly after her arrest. Dr. Joan Mayfield found Parsons IQ to be 70. A score of 100 is considered average.
District Attorney Scott McKee told the judge the people were not seeking the death penalty for Parsons because of her mental disability. “Under the law, she does not qualify for the death penalty,” McKee said.
Parsons’ defense team entered a guilty plea by reason of insanity. A guilty verdict carries a sentence of life in prison.
Shortly after 9 a.m. July 21, 2014, Parsons walked into the Athens Police Department and stated she had killed her daughter and informed that the body could be found in the trunk of her car parked at an apartment building on Martin Luther King Blvd.
Police found the little girl with trauma to her head and chest. Later Parsons lead police to the place where the crime was committed under a bridge on County Road 1500. The girl’s father, Gary Wyatt, told news outlets that the girl’s mother had never acted violently toward their daughter before and that the couple had been together for six years. When Parsons left that morning with the little girl it was presumed she was going to register the girl for pre-kindergarten. When she returned without the girl and started walking away, Wyatt approached the car to look for her, “I wouldn’t be in that car if I were you,” Parson is reported as having told Wyatt. When he and a family friend opened the trunk, they found a garbage bag with his daughter’s leg sticking out of it. The two men pulled the body out and started CPR. Water was expelled from her lungs, it was reported.
According to news reports, Wyatt said that the night before, he had threatened to leave Parsons. Looking back, Wyatt said, weeks ago she had threatened to kill the baby if he ever left her, but he had chalked that up to just “angry talk”
“I never thought for a second she’d actually do it,” he said.