Bullock embezzle

Kathy Bullock with public defender Cruz Gray in Jones County Circuit Court. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

Woman accused of embezzling from ex-fire chief’s  elderly mother won’t pay because of 7-year delay

A woman who embezzled more than $4,000 from an elder-care facility won’t pay for the crime because it took more than seven years for the Jones County Sheriff’s Department to serve her indictment.

Kathy Bullock’s case was dismissed from Jones County Circuit Court after Judge Dal Williamson determined that her Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated by the delay. She was represented by public defender Cruz Gray. The case is at least the 24th to be dismissed this year because of the failure of Sheriff Alex Hodge’s department to serve indictments in a speedy manner.

Bullock was accused of stealing $4,028 from Cottonwood Manor, an assisted-living facility in Laurel, where she was working. She took two cash payments that former Laurel Fire Department Chief Steve Russell paid for his mother, who was a resident at the home, but that money “never made it into her account,” Assistant District Attorney Dennis Bisnette said. 

That happened in August 2011. She was arrested in November, according to court documents. A Jones County grand jury indicted Bullock for embezzlement in March 2012, but she wasn’t served with the indictment until May 2019.

“She lived at the same residence (on 33rd Street in Laurel) for two years after the indictment … and she never left Mississippi,” Gray said, adding that her family is still in Heidelberg at a secondary address that’s on file. Her Mississippi ID card has that address. Bullock said she moved to Lucedale from Laurel and continues to live there.

A delay of eight months between the arrest and trial date is considered a violation of the right to a speedy trial, Williamson has noted in two dozen or so similar cases this year, citing rulings from the state and U.S. Supreme Court.

Bullock gave an address of Lakins Loop at the time of her arrest, Bisnette pointed out. Bullock said that was her stepmother’s address. No family member told her the sheriff’s department had come looking for her, she said under oath. Court records show that the indictment was returned by the JCSD and marked “unserved” on April 24, 2012.

“The state doesn’t get to say that they would’ve had a hard time if they had tried to serve it,” Williamson said. “They have to show effort. Is there any proof about the effort of the sheriff’s department to get it served?”

Bisnette said that Bullock did not sign in at the jail every other month, as felons who are out on bond are required to do. That’s when felons are often served with indictments. “She failed to show up 44 times,” he said.

Williamson responded, “The state has a duty to bring her to trial, even if she’s difficult to find. There’s nothing about the state’s efforts in (the file). If they had been to two or three addresses and couldn’t find her, then I could find good cause on the part of the state. The sheriff’s department has a duty to serve the court’s papers, and there’s no proof of diligence on their part.”

Bullock was placed on the National Crime Information Center database last year and was arrested in May, when she was stopped for a traffic violation in George County and held because of the warrant for her arrest. The JCSD then served her indictment in jail. She was arraigned in June and her trial was set for Sept. 30. Gray filed the motion to dismiss on Sept. 24.

The judge noted that Bullock did not file for a motion for a speedy trial until after she was served with the indictment, more than seven years later. That’s a strike against the defendant in trying to prove that her right to a speedy trial was violated, Williamson said, again citing case law. He also noted that she has to show some sort of prejudice that she will suffer in trying to defend the case.

“An unreasonable delay is prejudice,” Gray said.

Bisnette said that the passage of time didn’t matter because “statements are preserved” and there are receipts and administrative documents from the facility to support the charge.

The lawyers made their arguments on Oct. 1 and Williamson said he would do some research before making his ruling the next week.

In his order to dismiss, Williamson wrote that the state “put forward no evidence to show that any attempt to serve the Defendant had ever occurred” and that there “is not a sufficient reason for the State’s delay in even attempting to have her served.”

“The Court finds that the delay in this case has been ‘egregiously protracted.’”

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