In just one day this week, assistants from the Grayson County District Attorney’s Office watched while two different defendants were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for murder and attempted murder.
Brandon Jeffery was sentenced to 18 years in prison for killing Devin Wayne Owens and Roderick Mask was sentenced to eight years in prison for shooting at Desean Price. Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said those were just the first of a number of high profile cases expected to go to trial in the first three months of 2019.
Cases still to come in the first quarter include a capital murder of a child case, several sexual assault of a child cases, and some other assault cases. All of those cases, Smith said, are subject to continuances or other delays. The DA’s office has filed charges on at least a dozen people for murder in the past two years.
“I can say this, in 2016 and 2017, we saw a rash of violent murders in Grayson County,” Smith, who was elected DA in November, said. “We know the numbers went way up. So, here we are now, in 2018 and 2019, dealing with that.”
He said the number of those cases has slowed down, but not stopped. So his team of 14 prosecutors has its hands full. The murder cases, the aggravated assault cases and the child abuse cases all take a lot of time to work up to the point of being ready for trial.
Smith said those cases move slowly because the work required to get them ready for trial relies, at least in some part, on work done by outside agencies. For instance, he said, the minute DNA enters a case, the timeline slows down because Grayson County doesn’t have its own DNA testing facility. Those items are sent off to labs where they can wait for weeks or even months to get tested and have the results ready for attorneys.
In addition to the DNA, there are other reports that take time including autopsy reports or medical records in child abuse cases. In other cases, the lengthy prison sentences featured as consequences for crimes causes defendants to refuse plea offers.
“That’s why I think this lineup is the way it is,” Smith said. “I think we are using our resources we have as far as jury trials to try the more serious cases and I think that’s a good thing. So often times, there is this ongoing investigation that is done by the DA’s office in conjunction with law enforcement where we’re still getting records six months or nine months after a case (is indicted).”
He said the unfortunate side effect is the county has to house inmates longer as they wait for those trials.
“It has an impact, but overall, our office does a pretty good job of moving cases through the court system,” Smith said.
In addition to those violent crimes, he said, his office has a great many drug cases pending and they continue to come in everyday. Drugs, Smith said, took up over 40 percent of the most recent grand jury docket.
Even though the county has seen some cases involving opioids, the major drug in Grayson County continues to be methamphetamine.
“We are seeing that across socioeconomic boundaries now,” Smith said. “It’s cheaper, and the high is more effective. It’s easier to access than cocaine.”
Meth is, he said, at the root of a number of other crimes in addition to the sale or manufacture of the drug. Smith said if one took methamphetamine out of the equation, there would be a dramatic decrease in the amount of domestic violence, sex crimes and crimes of violence in the county.
“That’s my personal opinion, but I believe that to be the absolute gospel truth,” he said, adding that about 90 percent of the forgery and counterfeit cases charged are against people with drug problems.
And try as they might, Smith said, no one has been able to find a way to stem the flow of those people or their crimes.
“We hand out probation and rehab like candy at the courthouse,” Smith said. “And that’s a good thing — we are trying to help these addicts make the right choices and lead them into recovery — but meth is a highly addictive stimulant and it is just hard for some people to walk away from that.”