By Cassady Rosenblum
The Tucker County Circuit Court heard updates on 11 cases, including several motions for discovery in the cases involving James Nelson, his daughter Tammy Mook (née Nelson), and her husband Lester Mook, all of whom are accused of burning down a vacation home at 1675 Dry Fork Road February 28th, 2019. Tammy Mook also faces four counts of burglary related to the arson, while Lester Mook is additionally accused of aiding and abetting the crimes.
The Dry Fork alleged arson first came to light when a cooperating informant told police in a series of recordings that she had been present during the crimes, and named Nelson and the Mooks as the perpetrators. The defendants’ legal teams took issue with the credibility of the informant, as well as the audio quality of the recordings. Pat Nichols, defense attorney for Lester Mook, argued that since the informant has been accused of uttering false checks, her honesty is in question and he would like to see her corresponding police records. The state, as represented by Tucker County Prosecutor Savannah Hull Wilkins, responded that the informant has not been convicted of those alleged crimes, so those police records are irrelevant.
Nichols also took issue with an audiotape on which the informant identifies several residences in the Dry Fork area she said she burglarized with Tammy Mook. He complained that the recording, made while the informant was in the backseat of a car, is extremely difficult to understand and “excruciating” to listen to. “I’m telling you, I have to go outside and scream and come back to it,” Nichols said, asking for a transcription. The Honorable Judge James W. “Jay” Courrier Jr. said he would listen to the tape and take the defense’s requests under consideration.
Meanwhile, Lester Mook will remain out on bail while awaiting a trial. Prosecutor Wilkins objected, noting that Mook was convicted in a separate case last September, and still hasn’t received sentencing nearly a year later. Judge Courrier responded that he wanted to hold off sentencing Mook for that case until the outcome of the current Dryfork case is determined. The court will reconvene on July 16 to set a trial date for Lester Mook, who remained quiet with his arms crossed, Carhart hat balanced on his knee. Tammy Mook and James Nelson will similarly return to court July 23 for trial scheduling.
In the afternoon, the court also heard an update to the Darrell Spitznogle case. Spitznogle, originally from Davis, is accused of sexually abusing and assaulting a minor at the Sawmill Lodge in Davis. Defense attorney Morris Davis attempted to argue that Spitznogle’s statement to the police is inadmissible since Spitznogle gave it before appearing before the magistrate. However, Judge Courrier ruled the police handled the situation correctly, and the statement Spitznogle gave is constitutional since the police read him his Miranda rights, and the magistrate’s office that evening was closed. The court will now begin the jury selection process, and will try Spitznogle on September 27 and 28.
Also of note were two cases involving defendants who broke the terms of their releases. Deanna Waybright of Parsons, who was previously found guilty of uttering two false checks totaling $200 dollars at Jim Allstar’s CITGO convenience store, was originally released, but has since amassed 56 violations of her bail terms including drug violations, according to Tucker County Assistant Prosecutor Frank Bush. Bush argued Waybright should therefore receive the consequence of prison time, while Waybright’s defense attorney, Hilary Bright, argued for her client to have another chance at rehab.
Bright informed the court she had secured her client a bed at a rehab facility in Fairmont, and argued Waybright’s mother, Norma Louise Pritt is ready to support her daughter in seeking treatment. “I’m going to be behind her all the way,” Pritt testified while Waybright’s teenage daughter looked on. Waybright, platinum hair spilling down the back of her orange jail uniform, also pleaded for another chance, arguing the 28 days she had spent in rehab had not been long enough. “I think I could do better,” she said, voice shaking. “I want better for my life.” In the end, Judge Courrier agreed, noting that Waybright has no record of criminal violence, and ordered her to enroll in a longer-term treatment program while extending her probation up to five years.
The state also requested the court enter a felony conviction against Kenneth Smith, who pleaded guilty to the intent to deliver marijuana and originally received probation, meaning if he were to complete it successfully, the charges would be dismissed. However, Smith broke the terms of that probation over Memorial Day weekend by consuming alcohol. Wilkins, representing the state, argued there was more at play than just the simple consumption of alcohol; allegedly, Smith was trespassing, driving while under the influence, and possibly involved in an accident that caused one party to receive a concussion and 17 stitches. Wilkins noted Smith also has a prior arrest for a DUI and said, “There have to be consequences… someone has already been hurt.”
“I’m torn on this one,” Judge Courrier admitted, tugging his ear. Considering that the allegations of drunk driving are still just that, Judge Courrier decided, in the spirit of due process, to wait for formal charges to be filed against Smith before deciding whether to revoke his deferred adjudication, which would leave Smith with a felony on his record. In the interim, Judge Courrier sanctioned Smith to two more weeks in jail, and will require him to wear a portable monitoring device for alcohol upon release. Judge Courrier later reflected Smith makes $70,000 dollars a year installing windmill parts, and would hate to see him lose such a well-paying job. Wilkins noted Smith had had that same job when he opted to sell drugs in the state.