Failure to serve-2

Christopher Wayne Anderson with public defender Patrick Pacific listen to Judge Dal Williamson in Jones County Circuit Court in Ellisville on Monday. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

Fleeing suspect with criminal history gets birthday present, has case dismissed because sheriff never served indictment

Christopher Wayne Anderson got an early birthday present in court this week — A Get Out of Jail Early card.

Anderson, who turned 44 on Thursday, is at least the 15th accused felon this year whose case was dismissed from Jones County Circuit Court because the sheriff’s department failed to serve his indictment in a timely manner.

Almost 10 years to the day since he was indicted for felony fleeing by the Jones County grand jury, Anderson was in court in Ellisville with public defender Patrick Pacific on Monday afternoon.

Pacific filed a motion to dismiss the charge because his client’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated. Judge Dal Williamson granted the motion, noting again that the Supreme Court has ruled that a delay of eight months or more is prejudicial to the defendant.

“I don’t have any choice but to dismiss the case,” Williamson said.

Anderson was indicted on May 1, 2008 — four months after Sheriff Alex Hodge took office for his first term — after being accused of leading then-Deputy Jerry Hutcheson on a high-speed pursuit. Anderson was released from the Jones County Adult Detention Center to continue on the Walthall County Drug Court, which he completed in 2011.

He could have been served any time during that three-year period because participants have to keep regular contact with drug court coordinators. 

Deputies had several other opportunities to serve Anderson after he finished drug court.

He was arrested in September 2013 for attempted auto burglary in Forrest County and he bonded out of jail there. Two months later, Anderson’s mother called the JCSD to her home and then-Deputy Josh Welch transported Anderson to the Forrest County line, where a deputy from that county took custody of him.

In April 2014, a Forrest County jury found Anderson guilty of attempted burglary and he was ordered to serve seven years in prison. After several weeks in the Forrest County jail, he was processed at the Mississippi Department of Corrections in Rankin County — where, once again, no detainers or holds from Jones County had been placed on him — and he remained incarcerated with MDOC. In February, he was eventually served with the Jones County indictment.

District Attorney Tony Buckley told the court that there would be problems with the case because there is no video of the chase and a material witness could not be located.

“I’ve known Jerry Hutcheson for a long time, and he’s a credible person,” Williamson said. “The question is the length of the delay and the reason for the delay. That issue is prejudicial to the defendant. Ten years … is far in excess of the time set by the Supreme Court.”

Anderson, a two-time convicted felon, is eligible for release on Dec. 11, 2020, according to the MDOC website. Had he been convicted of felony fleeing, he could have been sentenced to up to five more years and he could have been convicted as a habitual offender. Defendants who are habitual offenders have at least three felony convictions and are required to serve all of their time day for day, with no chance for early release.

Hodge called a press conference last week to talk about the issue of unserved indictments and the 14 felony dismissals from this year that were detailed in a Leader-Call investigation and story.

“Those that were recently dismissed, that’s not on us,” Hodge said. “That’s the law.”

In the cases that were dismissed, the delays ranged from almost three years to more than 12 years between the time the defendants were arrested and the time they were served with their indictments. There was “no satisfactory reason” for the delays, Williamson wrote in the orders to dismiss. All of the defendants had lived and/or worked at the same locations for years and JCSD officials made only one attempt to get the paperwork to them.

“With reasonable diligence, the Sheriff’s Department should have been able to serve the indictment,” Williamson wrote in most of the orders.

Hodge said his department has a 94-percent success rate of serving indictments since he took office in 2008 and noted, “We’ve done that with a total staffing of 39 people.” He said that “manpower and staffing” are issues with the department, continuing with a theme that goes back to his budget battles with the Board of Supervisors that boiled over last year.

“Let me be honest,” he said. “If we go one time (to serve an indictment), that’s great. If we get there two times, it’s a blessing. If we make it a third time, it’s a miracle … that doesn’t mean we’re not looking for them and we don’t keep looking.”

 

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