SAN ANGELO, TX — Controlled chaos in the County’s largest courtroom Tuesday with pretrial hearings for hundreds of defendants as District Judge Barbara Walther plowed through felony hearings.
Defense attorneys appearing before the judge in packed courtroom with the court bailiff and jailers waiting for attorneys to file a motion or set a court date in what is known around the courthouse as ‘cattle calls.’
The defendants who are in jail are brought in shackled in chains and are seated in the back of the courtroom separated from defendants out on bond and family members and friends by jailers. The chains are constantly rattling adding to the cocophony of nervous anticipation.
At the front of the courtroom is the judge and over a dozen defense attorneys conferring with 8 or so District Attorneys or Assistant D.A.s. In the back of the courtroom are the chained inmate defendants in orange or yellow or striped jumpsuits. In the middle sit family and friends and defendants who are out on bond.
Sometimes the chatter gets out of hand and the judge admonishes the crowd to be quiet and not talk.
It’s a revolving door of misery with freedom on one side and a prison cell on the other.
Court appointed attorneys scramble to have a few minutes with each of their clients then the attorneys appear in front of the judges bench with a District Attorney or Assistant D.A. representing the state. The judge then approves or denies whatever motion is up and then sets the plea date or trial date and moves on to the next defendant with all of them represented by a particular attorney.
The judge then moves on to the next defense attorney and all of his or her clients and their motions.
The courtroom is so big and so crowded and the judge and attorneys don’t use a sound system so it’s almost impossible to hear what’s taking place at the bench between the judge and the attorneys.
The wheels of justice turn at an agonizingly slow pace in the courtroom. Some defendants wait years for their day in court. But once the trial is actually underway and/or a plea deal is reached, the process can move swiftly.
The outcome of each case is neither good nor bad; it’s simply justice.
The courts currently use uniform, fill-in-the-blank duplicate forms for motions and orders, etc. It seems like the forms are like the defendants in pretrial proceedings; the names and faces change, the forms don’t, the offenses don’t, after a while they become anonymous; just another case number to the judges and attorneys and bailiffs and jailers and yes, even the reporters. Another day, another court story.
The courtroom slowly clears as cases are heard. Jailers escort shackled inmates one by one to the restroom as the day drags on; the chains never stop rattling.
And through it all life goes on. Family members talk about facebook and holidays, kids and grandparents. It’s amazing that even in that ever uncomfortable setting, people manage to get on with life between hearings.
John Gilbreath was one of the defendants in the crowded courtroom Tuesday. He is charged with unlawfully possessing body armor, illegally possessing a weapon by a felon, possession of a controlled substance and possession of marijuana. He is under investigation for the 1988 cold case murders of Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly.
Gilbreath has additional pretrial hearings on November 8 and January 2, 2018. His jury trial is scheduled for January 16, 2018.
Darnell Toran also had a pretrial hearing Tuesday. He is charged with reckless bodily injury of a child in the drowning death of Treswawn Collins at Mary Lee park at Lake Nasworthy in August of 2015. The child’s mother, Porcelain Douglas, was sentenced to five years probation.
Philip Horton was also in the courtroom for a pretrial hearing. Horton is charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury. Court documents indicate Horton pointed a firearm in the direction of Latasha Huffman during an assault on Avenue N on July 5. The 39-year-old has additional pretrial hearings on January 10 and February 6, 2018. His jury trial is scheduled for February 20.
There is another round of pretrial hearings all day Wednesday at the courthouse.