Attorney Jeannene Pacific petitioned Circuit Court Judge Dal Williamson Friday to toss out a case against her client, Jessie Mae Windham, due to a violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
Windham was first arrested back on September 18, 2015, and charged with the DUI death of another, after a car she was allegedly driving crashed and killed one of the occupants. Windham was indicted on that charge by a grand jury, but that initial indictment was dismissed due to her last name being represented as “Williams” to the jurors. The District Attorney’s Office then decided to re-indict her.
That second indictment was handed down on July 22, 2016, but Windham was not served the second indictment until May 20 of this year, a nearly three-year delay. Pacific argued that Windham did not receive the indictment in a timely manner, even though she lives just minutes from the Jones County Sheriff’s Department and often, according to testimony from her daughters, sits on the front porch of her house. She lives on Queensburg Avenue in Laurel. Pacific said her client has lived at that same address since 2015, and she said she had documentation to prove it.
The attorney also noted that her client is disabled, suffering from paranoia schizophrenia, meaning she stays at home most of the time.
The second indictment was served, according to the lawyer, only after Windham was picked up by the Laurel Police Department on a simple assault charge. According to testimony given before Judge Williamson, two attempts were made by the Jones County Sheriff’s Department to serve the indictment – once in May 2017 and another time in March 2018 – before her arrest by the LPD.
“You’re saying the only attempt to serve her was made a year later?” the judge asked Pacific after hearing of the two dates.
“Yes,” she replied. “To my knowledge there were no other attempts to serve her.”
Windham’s name was placed in the National Criminal Information Center database, which is a digital index of criminal history that is available to all law enforcement agencies, on March 1, 2018.
Assistant District Attorney Dennis Bisnette agreed that the eighth-month time frame (for serving an indictment after a defendant’s arrest or indictment) had been violated, and he offered that it looked like the Sheriff’s Department had not worked too hard to serve Windham, saying “three attempts over four years is not working that hard.”
“It is not in the Court’s view,” replied the judge.
However, Bisnette told Judge Williamson that the delay by negligence should weigh less in his ruling than if the State of Mississippi had intentionally attempted to hinder the case from going to trial. He also pointed out that Windham had only been in jail 12 days, which he said does not constitute oppressive incarceration, and that there were no medical records present in court to prove that the defendant’s memory had faded, something Pacific seemed concerned about.
“We have no medical records but just a daughter with an interest in her mother not being prosecuted saying her mom’s memory has deteriorated,” explained Bisnette.
He then said the DA’s Office has statements and videos from the time not long after the arrest of Windham that would provide information gathered prior to the perchance loss of memory.
Judge Williamson proposed that a loss of memory could adversely affect Windham’s ability to assist her attorney at the present time, not just affect her ability to accurately recollect details from nearly four years ago. He said he wants to see records that may bear out a deteriorating mental condition in the defendant, and he urged the parties to find the other witnesses involved in the case.
“I want to make sure I rule accurately, because this is a very serious charge,” he said.
The judge set another hearing on the matter for September 17.