An Erath County jury sentenced a 24-year-old repeat offender to life in prison Tuesday following a recommendation by District Attorney Jason Cashon.
But the jury did not have the daunting task of determining if the evidence presented in trial proved that Johnathan Bedford Newman was guilty of possessing four-200 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Newman pleaded guilty to two counts of the first-degree felony offense prior to the sentencing hearing, which began Monday in the 266th Judicial District Court.
In presenting the charge to the jury, District Judge Donald Jones said the first-degree felony carried a punishment range of five-99 years or life behind bars.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Sterling Harmon told the jury that the judicial system had given Newman every opportunity to walk a straight path, but the message was never received.
Harmon said over the past seven years, Newman had been convicted on 14 jailable offenses, including nine drug convictions, three of which were felonies. He said Newman had been placed on probation twice and was incarcerated after his probation was revoked, and the defendant continued to commit crimes while he was out of jail on bond and facing charges in the local court system.
"(He) can't follow the rules," Harmon said, adding that since he was 17, Newman had been incarcerated an average of every 133 days. "If he continues to re-offend at that rate, in 15 years he will have committed 41 jailable offenses."
During opening arguments Monday, Harmon told the jury it was time to decide the message they wanted to send to other drug dealers and the community as a whole.
"It is time for you to decide for yourselves and your community what you are going to do about it," Harmon said.
During closing arguments, Newman's court-appointed attorney, Andrew Ottaway, told the jury that a life sentence might send a message, but the intended recipients would not or could not read the headlines in the local newspaper.
On redirect, Cashon said although illegal drug distributors may not get the message from the front page of the newspaper, it would still be received.
"Maybe dope dealers can't see or read, but I guarantee you they are listening," Cashon said, adding that within an hour of Newman's arrest, his cell phone had received messages from individuals who had already heard he was in jail. "The ink on the booking papers is not even dry and his dope customers already know where he is. They are listening."
Cashon said he wanted drug dealers and users to know that if they found themselves facing charges in the courtroom, they "will get their heads torn off."
Cashon said when the trial was finished, the jury would be allowed to talk about their service with friends and neighbors. He said when asked by other community members, "Why don't they do something about it (the local drug epidemic)," the jury could take pride in being the "they" who did do something.
"This is your chance to help the community, your chance to do something about it," Cashon said.