Judge moves hearing for dismissal to September

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A Laurel woman who is accused of causing the death of a man in a drunk-driving crash could go free because her indictment wasn’t served by the Jones County Sheriff’s Department until almost four years after her arrest.

Jessie Mae Windham, 46, was charged with DUI-death of another after her passenger Eugene Collins died in a one-car crash on Interstate 59 while they were returning from a local club in September 2015.

But Windham wasn’t served with the indictment on the charge until May 2019, after she was arrested by Laurel police on a misdemeanor charge of simple assault, according to testimony in a hearing on the case Friday in Jones County Circuit Court.

“She lives seven minutes from this courthouse,” said Windham’s attorney Jeannene Pacific, who filed the motion to dismiss, claiming her Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated. “She was not trying to not be found. I don’t know why anyone couldn’t find her.”

The courthouse is next door to the Jones County Sheriff’s Department. Windham was living in the 1700 block of Queensburg Avenue, and Pacific had an affidavit from her landlord and records from the water department showing that Windham had lived there since the time a Jones County grand jury indicted her.

“She is disabled, diagnosed as paranoid-schizophrenic, and she is at home most of the time,” Pacific said. 

Windham usually sits on her front porch during the day, her daughter testified in the hearing.

Sgts. J.D. Carter and Bobby Moree of the JCSD both testified that they attempted to serve Windham — Carter in May 2017 and Moree in March 2018. Neither made contact with her, they said. Both said they weren’t aware if anyone contacted Laurel police to help locate Windham. It was the LPD’s case, but the sheriff’s department is responsible for serving papers for the circuit court.

Windham’s indictment was not placed on the National Crime Information Center database after the second attempt to serve her. Pacific asked Moree why.

“I wasn’t doing it then, so I don’t know, ma’am,” he said. “Now, we put them on there immediately.”

Assistant District Attorney Dennis Bisnette acknowledged that the JCSD was “negligent,” adding that “two attempts over almost four years is not working that hard.” But there are other reasons to not dismiss the case, he argued.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that a delay of more than eight months between the arrest or indictment and the time it is served is “presumptively prejudicial” to the defendant, Judge Dal Williamson has said in 21 other cases this year in which accused felons had to be set free because their indictments weren’t served in a timely manner. The delay is one of four factors cited in case law that the judge has to consider before dismissing a case, he said.

The ability to track down witnesses and “faded memory” are problems for the defense, he and Pacific pointed out. Two other passengers were in the car with Windham and survived the crash, but Pacific said she couldn’t reach them with the phone numbers that were on police paperwork.

Because of the delay, Pacific said she wouldn’t be able to get statements from people who were at the club when Windham was there and that the officer who was first on the scene is now at another department.

“That’s why they file reports,” Bisnette said.

Pacific said, “And we would’ve gotten statements immediately.”

“My client has been available … she’s seven minutes from this courthouse. To now come forward and say there’s not any prejudice (because of the delay) is utterly ridiculous.”

Windham’s daughter Alneleisia Newell, who is an accountant for Keesler Air Force Base, and daughter Deja Lindsey of Laurel both testified that their mother has been in treatment for paranoia-schizophrenia for about 10 years with Pine Belt Mental Health and that she takes three medications for it.

Both also testified that she is more depressed and has difficulty recalling or talking about what happened in the crash that killed Collins.

“If she was intoxicated, would that affect her memory?” Bisnette asked.

Lindsey said, “Maybe.”

DA Tony Buckley said that Windham is on video admitting to driving the vehicle and her blood-alcohol content was .12 percent. The legal limit is .08 percent.

No evidence of Windham’s medical condition was presented. The court needs that and a report from an expert’s mental evaluation of Windham to determine if her memory has been affected, Williamson said.

“I want the defense to make some effort to subpoena these (witnesses),” he said. “This is a very serious charge. It’s the first one of these cases where a motions to dismiss where there was a death. I want to get it right.”

The judge continued the hearing until Sept. 17.

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