Failure to serve

Accused credit-card thief served indictment 5 years later

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A Jasper County woman who was accused of stealing credit cards from a co-worker’s car will get to keep on trucking because her indictment was served five years late.

Rita Terrell, 39, was charged with auto burglary in 2014 after being accused of taking credit cards from a colleague’s vehicle at Howard Industries. The case against her was dismissed because her Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated, Judge Dal Williamson ruled in Jones County Circuit Court on Thursday.

Terrell is the latest of more than two dozen accused felons whose cases had to be dismissed over the last two years or so because their indictments weren’t served in a timely manner under then-Sheriff Alex Hodge’s administration.

Terrell, who is an over-the-road truck driver, was not present for the proceeding, which was OK’d by the judge and attorneys.

Terrell was never arrested for the crime, said attorney John Piazza, who filed the motion to dismiss the case because his client’s right to a speedy trial had been violated.

It was believed that the theft happened in March 2014, but it wasn’t discovered until a couple of months later, in June, when credit-card bills started coming in, District Attorney Tony Buckley said. No windows were broken — it was believed the burglar used the “clicker” to gain entry to the car, he said.

Terrell was developed as a suspect and indicted by a Jones County grand jury in February 2015, and three attempts were made to serve her immediately after that. But no more effort was made to serve the indictment until October 2019, according to court records. Terrell was finally served in February 2020 then arraigned in April.

“She was not hiding,” Piazza said. “She didn’t even know about the charge until February of this year.”

Williamson, Buckley and Piazza all noted that there were several days Terrell could have been served with the arrest warrant in June 2014 by then-Investigator Jason Myers of the JCSD, as Terrell continued to work at Howard’s through June. Myers left on a military deployment in July.

Terrell lived at residences in Vossburg and Heidelberg during the time immediately after her indictment and works in a “highly-regulated industry,” Piazza noted. She renewed her commercial driver’s license in 2015 and 2019 and went through a background check with Tyson in 2017, so her address was available to law enforcement, but her name apparently hadn’t been entered in the National Crime Information Center database as being wanted by law enforcement.

With no exact date for when the crime was supposed to have happened, it would be “hard to find alibi witnesses,” Piazza added.

The Supreme Court has ruled that a delay of more than eight months is considered a denial of the Constitutional right to a speedy trial, Williamson said. He acknowledged the JCSD’s attempts to serve Terrell immediately after the indictment, “but the job of the sheriff’s department is to continue to make an effort to get the person served … 4-1/2 years is too long to wait to make another attempt to serve someone.”

Williamson said that “after the problem came to light, the problems serving the court’s process ceased.” Still, some cases are coming up that are the result of the failure to serve indictments in a timely manner from years ago. 

The judge also agreed that the defense would be hindered in its ability to take on the case because of the lack of exact dates of the crime. 

“That’s no fault of the prosecutors,” Williamson said before granting the motion to dismiss the case.

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