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2018 a whirlwind year in Ector County

December 30, 2018

Over the course of 2018, the Ector County Courthouse and local law enforcement agencies had their hands full.

On July 13, Grace McDonald walked out of the Ector County Law Enforcement Center a free woman.

All charges against McDonald were dropped in the fatal shooting of her parents, Gregg and Jana McDonald, on March 2, 2016.

District County 244 Judge James Rush agreed to drop the charges against McDonald after a motion filed by the Assistant Attorney General Geoff Barr said there was “insufficient credible evidence.”

McDonald faced capital murder of multiple persons and criminal conspiracy charges. McDonald’s adoptive brother, Gabe McDonald, was also initially charged with capital murder, but plea bargained and pleaded guilty in June to two counts of murder. He reportedly pulled the trigger.

A grand jury later charged Grace McDonald with prohibited sexual conduct on suspicion she had sexual intercourse with her adoptive brother weeks before the killings.

Gabe McDonald is still in prison and was sentenced to two 50-year sentences, which run concurrently.

Charges could be brought back against Grace McDonald, but her attorneys, Steven Brand and Thomas Fagerberg, said at the time, they believed the judge would see the prosecution as vindictive unless they had credible evidence.

The Attorney General’s Office took over the case after Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland recused his office from prosecuting both cases in December. Bland’s recusal came after issues arose during Grace McDonald’s pretrial hearing that the DA’s office had not been forthcoming with information and not turning over information about her case in a timely manner.

A 24-year-old Odessa cold case was closed this year when serial killer Samuel Little, also known as Samuel McDowell, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was issued a life sentence in the 70th District County of Judge Denn Whalen.

Little who has been called “the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history,” suspected of killing around 90 people, is now serving four life sentences. The other three life sentences came after he was linked to three cold-case murders involving three women between 1978 and 1989, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

Little received a fourth life sentence after Bland offered the killer a deal in a hand-delivered letter via Texas Ranger James Holland. By pleading guilty and not fighting extradition, Bland said he would waive the death penalty.

Little pleaded guilty Dec. 13 to the 1994 strangling death of Denise Christie Brothers. She was reported missing Jan. 1, 1994, and her body was found a month later.

Holland struck up a rapport with Little, who provided a timeline placing him in Odessa during the time the crime was committed, and reportedly had intimate knowledge of the crime and about Brothers never released to the public.

In March, seven people were charged with capital murder after they reportedly kidnapped a man, assaulted and sexually assaulted him before burying his body. Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said at the time it was a “brutal, gruesome crime” and called it the worst crime he has seen in his history in law enforcement.

Fred Hardy McNeal, 26, was reported missing by his sister in September 2017 and his body wasn’t found until a month later in a shallow grave on a property near Sheep Pasture Road and Farm to Market Road 181.

The seven people charged were David Dearick, Eddie Barnes, Jose Ramirez, Jennifer Rogers, Michael Silvas, Mikel Stegall and Wesley Dickenson.

Dearick had two bonds totaling $1,001,000 and he posted bail on Aug. 24, jail records show. Barnes, Ramirez, Rogers, Silvas, Stegall and Dickenson are all still in custody. Ramirez, Rogers, Stegall and Dickenson each have a capital murder bond set at $850,000, while Barnes’ bond is $750,000.

Silvas doesn’t have a bond set as he has two capital murder charges against him, one in connection to McNeal’s death and another connected to a separate case. Silvas and Johnny Ray Aguirre were arrested and charged in connection to the shooting death of 26-year-old Ryan Stebbins in February. The two reportedly were stealing Stebbins’ vehicle when the shooting occurred.

During a recent phone interview, Bland said no court dates for the seven suspects arrested in connection to McNeal’s case are coming up.

Odessa Police Department terminated the employment of former Cpl. Cory Wester on June 13 after he allegedly used an unreasonable amount of force during an arrest attempt in April at the MCM Grande.

OPD reported Wester tried to handcuff a woman, 20-year-old Lexus Breann Gish, who was refusing to comply with orders when she grasped his wrist tightly. He reportedly punched her in the head four to five times. Gish was treated and released from Medical Center Hospital.

Wester was not indicted by an Ector County grand jury in August. Wester began working as a deputy for the Ector County Sheriff’s Office in November.

Mark Cason Garrett, 24, spent 2018 behind bars, but after several changes in defense attorneys, he’s asking for his bail back.

Garrett was arrested after a wreck that caused the deaths of three people and injured three of his passengers when his vehicle collided with an ice cream van, causing both vehicles to burst into flames. Richard and Barbara Mackrell and Angel Pierce died as a result of the wreck.

Garrett was indicted in July 2017 on 12 felony counts, including intoxication manslaughter, intoxication assault and aggravated assault.

Garrett had his bond revoked in September 2017 after violating his bond conditions, including testing positive for THC after taking a drug test.

The bond hearing for Garrett is set for 3 p.m. Jan. 10 in the 70th District Court of Denn Whalen. Justin Low is Garrett’s attorney. Bland, along with Assistant District Attorney Kourtney Williams, will be prosecuting the case.

Kevin Lee Roberts, 23, also spent all of 2018 in jail after being charged with the stabbing death of 21-year-old Ashley Williams, the girlfriend of his roommate, Kevin Ramirez. The incident occurred in December 2017 at Quail Run Apartments, 5335 N. Grandview Ave., where the two men lived.

While being interviewed by Texas Rangers, Roberts admitted to stabbing and killing Williams while he was trying to leave the apartment, a police affidavit detailed, and told them he had hidden Williams inside of a large duffel bag and disposed of her body in a dumpster near Eighth Street and Meadow Avenue, where officers later found her body.

Roberts was initially charged with murder, a first-degree felony, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, a state jail felony, but after reviewing the completed investigation and presenting all the facts to the grand jury, an indictment for capital murder was returned in March.

On Aug. 15, a 42-year-old man died and another was hospitalized following a shooting in south Odessa.

John Paul Jimenez died from a gunshot to the chest and Jimmy White Jr., 36, was transported to the Medical Center Hospital for serious bodily injury after he was shot in left and right shoulder. White was later treated and released from MCH.

Jose Alexander Carrera, 20, was indicted on a murder charge on Nov. 5 by an Ector County grand jury in connection to the double shooting. Odessa Police Department spokesperson Cpl. Steve LeSueur said over the phone earlier this month that detectives are still searching for a second suspect, who is described to be in his 40s with black and white hair.

Carrera’s bond was set at $1 million, but jail records show Immigration and Customs Enforcement has placed a hold on him. Carrera has a plea conference set for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 22, 2019, court records show.

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