Sunday, March 27, 2005

First of 72 Palestine cases moving in state court

Of the 72 defendants, all black, accused of participating in a "crack distribution ring" by the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force, last fall, 56 were charged in state court. The first two of those were convicted this week in Palestine, TX (pronounced Pal-uh-steen) of selling small amounts of drugs to a confidential informant, receiving sentences of 6 and 18 years. "I say he's a user," said the sister of one defendant during cross-examination on the stand, "he's not a dealer." Who cares? Lock 'em up, said the jury. Sixteen more were indicted in federal court in Tyler, and two of those have pled guilty to charges regarding very small amounts in exchange for lesser sentences.

See trial coverage from the Jacksonville Progress, and their editorial, which quotes me advocating shifting task force money to drug courts. They're not sure whether Cherokee County would want drug courts, but couldn't help but notice that all 72 of the arrests were in Anderson County, and that Cherokee seems to be getting the short end of the stick in the task force partnership. See the Palestine Herald's coverage, here and here, plus their odd, vague statements that deputies were working overtime and they'd restricted access to the courthouse because of "veiled" threats regarding the drug trials.

Of note, the first cases brought by the prosecutor relied on testimony by undercover officers, not their much-ballyhooed confidential informant, Othella Kimbrew. There's no need for corroboration for officers' testimony in Texas, as mentioned yesterday. Obviously they'd like to avoid relying on Kimbrew's sworn testimony as long as possible. The usual practice in these large roundups is to bring the very strongest cases first, get the longest sentences possible, then try to bully everyone with weaker cases into a plea bargain. In Tulia and Hearne, it worked like a charm. We'll find out soon how it goes in Palestine.

Another case begins tomorrow.

Other background: The Texas Observer's November story on the Palestine case is here, and here I've linked last fall's Grits coverage, plus takes from other bloggers. Find below a shrunken version of a full-page ad ACLU of Texas ran in the Palestine and Jacksonville newspapers last week regarding Dogwood Trails task force, urging support for President Bush's proposed budget cuts that would end funding for these rogue entities.

(If the graphic isn't showing up, scroll down.)

Dogwood trails task force is creating crime in East Texas, says ad run by ACLU

No comments: