Legal Woes Continue for Three Sabine County Lawmen
TYLER, Texas (AP) _ With civil rights activists planning a protest this week, three white lawmen accused of killing a black jail inmate face another round in their battle to avoid further prosecution.
The defendants were acquitted by a state court jury on July 15 of violating the civil rights of Loyal Garner Jr., a Louisiana truck driver, and state prosecutors now want to try them on first-degree murder charges.
The defendants, former Hemphill Police Chief Thomas Ladner, 41, and former Sabine County sheriff’s deputies James ″Bo″ Hyden, 34, and Billy Ray Horton, 58, argue that that would violate constitutional protections against being tried twice for the same offense.
Garner, 34, of Florien, La., and two companions were arrested Christmas night. Garner died two days later, after allegedly being beaten in the Sabine County Jail.
Ladner admitted to striking Garner on the head once with a stick but said he only used force necessary to subdue Garner after Garner hit him in the head and neck.
State District Judge Joe Tunnell dismissed the defendants’ claims last month that the murder trials amount to double jeopardy. Their appeal is to be heard in the state court of appeals here Thursday.
Although the three were tried together in Hemphill on the civil rights violation charges, they face separate murder trials, with Ladner’s scheduled to start next Monday.
Frank Henderson, an assistant district attorney for Smith County, said he doubts the trial will start on time and that the trials could be consolidated at a later date. The trial’s venue was changed to Tyler from Hemphill, where the civil rights case was heard.
While attorneys are preparing for the legal battle, Sabine County residents are bracing themselves for a Saturday rally sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Hemphill.
Vollie Grace, president of the Sabine County chapter of the NAACP, said he’s expecting 300 to 500 people at the rally, called to protest ″the brand and type of justice we’re getting in this area.″
Grace said he’s not expecting any violence but he has contacted officials with the U.S. Justice Department, who told him they would monitor the situation.
John Hannah, who served as special prosecutor in the state civil rights case, said he will seek federal indictments against the trio on conspiracy to violate civil rights.
Garner’s family has sued Ladner, Hyden, Horton and Hemphill officials over his death. The two men jailed with Garner also have filed separate suits against the trio plus city and county officials.