By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
The Honorable Judge James Courrier presided over Tucker County Circuit Court with newly elected Prosecuting Attorney Savannah Hull-Wilkins representing the state. The first hearing was scheduled for Jason Adkins to accept a plea agreement and was appearing virtually from the Western Regional Jail facility, where he is serving time for violating terms of probation. This hearing has been rescheduled twice due to Adkins’ failure to appear.
Defense Attorney Hillary Bright had sent the plea agreement and relevant documentation to her client while he was in a home in Huntington but was unaware he was incarcerated and did not send the papers to the jail. Hillary assured the Judge, “I can’t say that he has reviewed them, but I can say I sent them.” On days before the hearing, Bright spoke with Adkins on the phone relating to the agreement and upcoming hearing.
Circuit Court staff faxed the documents to the jail to ensure Adkins had a full understanding of the agreement. Judge Courrier swore in Adkins before going over the plea agreement which included three felonies; failure to appear, forgery, and conspiracy. The agreement read that if Adkins pleads guilty to failure to appear, which carries a potential sentence of one to five years, the state will not argue any defense stance for an alternative sentence and the remaining two felonies will be dismissed.
Adkins requested to speak with his counsel privately and everyone left the room. Upon return, Bright stated her client had a few questions and also informed her he only has 12 days left in jail for a parole violation. Adkins requested the hearing be continued once more to allow him to be present in person to take the plea.
Judge Courrier expressed concerns with delaying the process since Adkins has had issues showing to court in the past. The Judge asked how he could assure him he would appear if he continued the hearing. Adkins responded he had spoken with his dad and he or a family member would transport him for the hearing.
After deliberation, Judge Courrier granted the request and has rescheduled the plea hearing to take place on February 11, 2021, at 3:30 p.m. “I would appreciate that,” Adkins responded. The Judge instructed Adkins to remain in contact with his attorney until the date of the hearing.
Assistant Prosecutor Frank Bush entered to represent the state in two uttering charges against Deanna Waybright. The purpose of the hearing was for the final pre-trial before the jury trial which was set for January 25.
Bright, also representing Waybright, filed a motion stating that the police department did not secure the video footage that allegedly showed her client committing the crimes that took place at Jim’s Allstar convenience store. Bush responded that Mr. Propst, the manager of the business owned by his mother, was present to testify regarding the video surveillance. He stated that the footage was not destroyed or withheld, but by the time Propst was made aware of the bad checks, the surveillance system had restarted and recorded over the incident. Bright stated the lack of this evidence offers substantial prejudice to her client. “The victim (Propst) waited until after his footage was erased before he pursued it, but there should be an obligation on him” said Bright, saying if Propst knew of the crime he should have known that the footage and evidence would be needed in a later prosecution.
Bush responded by saying Propst did not know of the crime until after the footage was erased. He felt the statute that Bright was referring to applies to the state, not necessarily a private individual. Judge Courrier agreed with Bush and allowed James Propst to take the witness stand.
Once seated, Circuit Clerk Sharon Moats swore in Propst before Bush began a series of questions. Bush asked Propst to identify two documents he handed him, which were the return notifications from the bank that stated two checks that were used at his establishment were not sufficient. The first check for $80 was dated January 23, 2020, and the bank notice was dated January 28, 2020. The notice then had to go through the postal service before being received by Propst. The second check was dated January 22, 2020, for $120 and the bank notice was dated January 29, 2020. Propst claimed that by the time the notice was received, the footage was gone for both of the incidents. The surveillance system is set up to record activity for a seven-day span and at the end of that time, the recording starts over and records over the previous activity. Propst stated that within one to two days of receiving notice from the bank he went to the Magistrates’ Office to begin the legal process.
Bright questioned Propst, verifying that he does not know how to retrieve the footage after it is erased, and he confirmed. Bright responded she knew of people who have come in to help retrieve footage from the surveillance system, which Propst agreed, but it was on the same day of the incident, not over seven days later. Bright asked why Propst failed to call the same people to retrieve the footage from the night of the bad checks. Propst said he did not call because it was the same individual who installed the system and informed them that the videos were erased after seven days.
A discussion commenced regarding law enforcement involvement and the issuing of the subpoenas for the footage. Propst confirmed that the bank did not contact him by phone or in any other way when the bad checks were discovered, the only way he found out was from the notices he received in the mail.
Bush made a motion that the two notices issued from the bank be admitted to the court, which was approved by the judge. Judge Courrier stated he didn’t feel there was anything that could be done on behalf of the store or the state to preserve the footage, therefore denied the motion made by Bright.
After the last appearance by Waybright in mid-November, she was given the option to report to a rehabilitation facility or be taken to jail for failure to comply with the terms of her bond. Bush flipped through multiple pages provided by Tucker County Day Report Director Dustin Luzier where 16 new violations have been made by Waybright since her release. Bright stated she just became aware of this issue and was not prepared to speak on that behalf at this hearing.
Judge Courrier reiterated to Waybright that she has to comply with these terms. “You don’t get to pick what you do and don’t do,” said Courrier, “I’ve given you too many chances up until now and you haven’t complied.” He continued, “If you don’t comply, Mr. Luzier is allowed to hold you and have somebody put you in custody until the trial.”
Waybright told her legal counsel that her number was no longer in the system which allowed her to call into Community Corrections while Luzier shook his head silently in disagreement. Bush responded that the defendant was compliant with the terms of the program soon after release from rehab, therefore he felt she had no excuses now and requested a drug screen be performed once she left the hearing. Judge Courrier stated that the Community Corrections can do whatever they feel is necessary with the case and can administer drug screenings at their discretion.
With the rise in Covid-19 cases, Bush expressed concern with selecting a jury for the upcoming trial. “It’s going to be very difficult to go through the jury selection process to keep people spaced,” said Bush. At the time of the hearing, 34 individuals have been called where 20 will be selected. Judge Courrier reassured Bush that he had managed to make a jury selection work in other counties and didn’t feel he couldn’t in this case.
Bright then told the court that she now has a scheduling conflict with this trial and an abuse and neglect trial in another county. Even though Judge Courrier felt his criminal case would trump the other case, he agreed to reschedule the one day trial for March 29, beginning at 9 a.m.