Sherman murder trial reset as courts look at ramping up jury trials

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Dropping COVID-19 numbers could result in more local jury trials this spring and summer.

A Sherman man's trial on a murder charge was reset this week till June as local courts, and those throughout the state, look at restarting jury trials again amid the pandemic.

Court records show that  Gregory Cheatham II, 36, trial on a charges murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily injury family violence was rescheduled to June 7th. Cheatham has been accused of shooting his roommate and cousin Antarious Byers back on Sept. 24, 2019 at the El Dorado mobile home park. Buyers died 45 days later and the aggravated assault charges originally filed against Cheatham were updated to include the murder charge.  He has pleaded not guilty to those charges and is represented by Sherman attorney Pamela McGraw.

While this particular case has been continued until June, recent actions by the Supreme Court of Texas could mean that other cases that have been on hold since the pandemic began could be moving forward at a more normal pace soon.

"Texas courthouses no longer need a state safety review before conducting in-person hearings, including jury trials. And requirements that people wear masks and socially distance will be left up to local officials," A Texas Tribune article said of the Supreme Court announcement

Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith did not comment on the Cheatham case Monday, but said that the DA's Office started doing criminal jury trials again at the first of the year.

"Jury trials have been the one exception to “in-person” proceedings, with criminal cases taking precedence due to defendant’s being incarcerated. We had 3 trial setting (one for each district Court) in both the months of January and February."  He said most of those cases pleaded out but they did concluded two jury trial during that time. 

"We have 3 jury trials set for March, with one commencing (this week)  and the same for the month of April," he said. 

Further, he added, "The pandemic forced us to stop doing jury trials in February of 2020, with the exception of November of 2020 when we started criminal jury trials back up, right before the CV-19 peak, only to shut down for December of 2020. So, we missed about 9 months of jury trials in 2020.  Obviously, jail cases are our # 1 priority. We have managed, through the use of Zoom court proceedings in cooperation with the jail, the courts and the defense bar, to continue resolving a relatively large number of cases through plea agreements. This has allows us to manage the jail population and move the cases of some defendants who are out of jail on bond through the system."

Judges will have to tell potential jurors about safety protocols and let people out of jury service or reschedule them if they have been exposed to the virus, are sick or are particularly vulnerable to the virus, the Tribune article noted.

Local judicial officials will also need to create communication protocols to ensure no one coming to court has the virus.