Woman released with time served

Friday, May 7, 2010

A woman - arrested in a drug bust by Cornersville Police last October - was free to go home with her family after she was sentenced last week.

Tamira N. Thomas, 24, pleaded guilty in March to possession of marijuana. Last week, Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler sentenced Thomas to two years in prison, plus fines and costs, but only ordered her to spend 180 days in the Marshall County Jail. Since Thomas had already been in jail for 198 days, she was free to go. Once the two years expire, and fines and court costs of $2,959.50 are paid, Thomas may apply to have her court record expunged.

According to documents in her case file, Thomas was the passenger in a car driven by James Bragg Jr., 26, of Murfreesboro. Cornersville Police Chief Todd Bone stopped them on Oct. 13, when he saw the car speeding and passing on the double yellow line. Over 20 pounds of marijuana was found in a duffle bag in the back seat of the car, where Thomas was sleeping.

The pre-sentence report by Chris Hill of the Board of Probation and Parole contains a long written statement prepared by Thomas' appointed attorney, Kevin Latta of Pulaski. The statement describes how Thomas moved from Cleveland to Atlanta about a year ago, "chasing her dream of becoming an R & B singer." When her money ran out, she accepted an invitation to drive to Texas with Bragg. He told her they were going to a concert in Houston, where he knew some of the musicians, but they ended up in San Antonio. After several days there, the pair set off for Tennessee, with the duffle bag of marijuana in the car. In Thomas' statement, as written for her by Latta, she is profoundly apologetic, saying, "I am asking this honorable court to approve my judicial diversion so that this out-of-character mistake may ultimately be expunged from my otherwise non-existent criminal record following my probation, during which I can assure this court that all terms will be complied with fully... I offer my most solemn promise that my lesson has been well learned, and that I will never again allow myself to act in a manner so incongruent with the law and what I know to be my responsibility as a citizen."

Bragg, represented by Kelly Wilson of Shelbyville, has not yet entered a plea.

Lura Nicole Grace, 32, of Pulaski, was also free to go after her sentencing hearing last week. Grace pleaded guilty to a charge of possession with intent to sell marijuana, and Crigler sentenced her to three years' probation, ordering her to pay $80 per month until she has paid off the $2,000 fine, plus costs.

According to the pre-sentence report by Terese Frazier of the Board of Probation and Parole, Grace was driving with her boyfriend on Interstate 65 when Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Wayne Dunkleman pulled the car over to check the window tint. Dunkleman saw a bag containing almost four ounces of marijuana in the car, and Grace admitted ownership of the drugs.

According to Frazier's report, Grace was working her way up in the nursing profession. She had been a nursing assistant and a nurse tech, and was a "sleep tech," earning $12 per hour when she was arrested. Now she is making $7.50 an hour working at a Wendy's in Nashville, and is enrolled in a cosmetology program.

Grace stated to Frazier, "I apologize. I'm very sorry... It wasn't worth losing my job, my career, my place, my car. It dropped me back down to zero. I lost my dignity and self-respect."

Other sentencings last week included 12 years in prison for a former Columbia resident who pleaded guilty to a number of motor vehicle offenses, as well as charges of evading arrest and failure to appear.

Burnette B. Jones, 40, whose most recent address is in Lyles, Tenn., pleaded guilty to driving after being declared a habitual motor vehicle offender (HMVO), driving on a revoked license (8th offence), driving under the influence (2nd offence), and evading arrest. While his case on these charges was making its way through the court system, he did not turn up for a February court date and was arrested on a bench warrant, thus adding the failure-to-appear charge.

Jones' convictions for driving on a revoked license date back to 1990, and he was convicted of driving after being declared HMVO for the first time in 1997, and again in 2000.

In view of his criminal record, Crigler sentenced Jones to six years in prison on the HMVO charge, a total of 90 days in the County jail on the revoked license and DUI charges, and six years in prison on the evading arrest charge, all to run at the same time. However, an additional sentence of six years in prison on the failure-to-appear charge is to follow.

As a "persistent" offender, Jones will have to serve at least 45 percent of his sentence, or a little over five years, before being eligible for parole. He has a pre-trial jail credit of 52 days.

Ricky L. McKnight, 49, of Columbia, also pleaded guilty to driving after being declared HMVO and driving on a revoked license (8th offense).

McKnight was declared HMVO in 1994 and again in 2000, and has been convicted twice of violating the order that prohibits him from driving. Lewisburg Police Officer Larry Hazelwood stopped the car McKnight was driving on Dec. 6 because it had a taillight out, and McKnight wasn't wearing a seatbelt. According to the pre-sentence report by Lorannda Borja, McKnight had an excuse. He told her, "I wasn't driving a car that day. Howard Bryant was with me, he was driving the car and he is a diabetic. He had a diabetic spell and the reason I was driving was to get him home and get his medication."

Crigler sentenced McKnight to three years and six months in prison. As a "multiple" offender, he will have to serve at least 35 percent of that time before being eligible for parole.

Ronald L. Sumner, 39, of Nashville, was set for trial, represented by attorney Don Himmelberg, but instead pleaded guilty to the charges of driving under the influence (5th offence) and violation of the implied consent law. Crigler sentenced him to five days in the County jail on the implied consent charge, and a year in prison on the DUI, specifying that Sumner serve at least 150 days. Sumner is also ordered to pay a $3,000 fine, and costs.