AP NEWS

Liberty County man receives 67 years for drug charge

February 17, 2019

A Liberty County man didn’t stick around to hear his sentence after he was found guilty of possession of methamphetamine. He was wanted by law enforcement for a day until he was arrested on Thursday afternoon.

Timothy Cornell, of Rye, Texas, was found guilty by a Liberty County jury in Judge Mark Morefield’s 75th District Court on Tuesday, Feb. 12, and was ordered to return on Wednesday for the sentencing phase of the trial.

“The jury dutifully returned but the defendant did not,” said Liberty County District Attorney Logan Pickett.

The District Attorney’s Office then requested the defendant’s bond be forfeited and the judge agreed. State law allows for trials to continue when the defendant voluntarily absents themselves from trial after it begins.

The 54-year-old repeat offender found himself in trouble back on December 17, 2016 when Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy Ranson Martel made a traffic stop around 8 p.m. on the vehicle Cornell was a passenger in on FM 2610 in Romayor. When Cornell exited the vehicle, he threw a matchbox containing several grams of methamphetamine under the vehicle. He was arrested and jailed for the offense.

Cornell later posted a $30,000 bond and was free until his trial on Tuesday.

The jury heard the testimony of Martel during the trial and returned a guilty verdict Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday morning, the defendant didn’t return for sentencing, the bond was revoked, and a warrant issued for his arrest and bounty hunters found him late Thursday afternoon around 3:40.

“In his absence, the state allows for trials to continue when the defendant voluntarily absents themselves from trial after it begins,” Pickett said.

Lead Prosecutor Tami Pierce, with the assistance of District Attorney Logan Pickett, presented evidence of felony convictions for Cornell from 1983 for burglary of a habitation, 1985 for unauthorized use of a vehicle, 1988 for unauthorized use of a vehicle, 1991 for possession of cocaine, and 2008 for evading arrest in a vehicle.

Cornell is classified by the legislature as a habitual felon because he has two or more sequential Texas Department of Corrections trips prior to the commission of this offense. Habitual offenders may be sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment for life, or not more than 99 years or less than 25 years.

The jury deliberated for several hours before deciding punishment and sought the Morefield’s guidance on several issues by written questions before making their decision to sentence Cornell to 67 years in prison. He will be formally sentenced upon his arrest for the bond forfeiture warrant and his sentence will begin then.

Despite the long sentence, parole laws in Texas call for Cornell’s eligibility for release to begin in seven years, though it does not guarantee release.

The DA explained how it works.

“The habitual offender laws provide for a minimum sentence of 25 years. Habitual offender means two prior strikes (third-degree felonies or higher) in sequential order were final before the third strike (also third-degree felony or higher),” he said.

Courts and District Attorneys have no control over parole law, which might allow him to be out in seven years.

While the trial took two years to come before a jury, Pickett said that was typical.

“Two years is normal. Around 1,000 new felony cases are considered by our office each year,” he said. They average 22 trials per year for the two District Courts from 2011 thru 2017.

Cornell, by virtue of his bond, was not required to wear an ankle bracelet.

Pickett said it was rare that a defendant doesn’t show up after a conviction in Liberty County.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com