Criminal court docket ‘packed’

Published 5:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2012

Courts across Alabama last year began cutting back on the number of jury terms, causing some backlog in the number of cases set to be heard.

But Escambia County Circuit Judge Bert Rice does not believe that’s the only reason the court will see a crowded docket when the next criminal jury term begins March 12.

Rice said the upcoming court schedule has as many violent crimes and sexual offenses as any docket he has seen, including several from the Atmore area.

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“It’s going to be a busy docket,” Rice said. “This docket has at least two sexual abuse cases and a lot of murder cases and there are a number from (Atmore).”

One of the first cases scheduled to come before the court is an 10-year-old murder charge stemming from the 2002 death of 25-year-old Woodrow Judge “Token” Allen, allegedly at the hands of Nokomis man Bruce Edward Day.

Often cases are delayed or resolved before the court term begins.

Rice said there have been some changes to the court’s process concerning dockets in 2012 that will have an effect on the number of cases coming before judges, but he added that the change in jury terms is far from the main reason for the large number of violent offenses scheduled to be heard.

“What we did is that we reduced (jury terms) from eight down to seven,” Rice said. “We made this one coming up a two-week term. What we’re doing is using the same number of jurors except that we are keeping them longer.”

Rice said the change in jury terms is the result of a budget concession and should not cause much change in how the courts address up coming dockets. Rice said the minor adjustments to the terms do, however, play a small role in this month’s crowded docket.

“What we did is we did away with our July jury term and we expanded our March, June and September terms to be two-week terms and we’ve loaded this one up with cases.”

Among the cases on the docket beginning later this month:

• Bruce Edward Day was convicted in September 2002 of reckless endangerment after being charged with attempted murder and one count of shooting into an occupied vehicle that was driven by Allen. Approximately one month later Allen went missing. Day was arrested and charged with the murder of Allen in October 2009.

• The docket will also bring to trial an Escambia County man accused of orchestrating a standoff with police at a Brewton motel in 2010. Donald Gregory Wilson will face attempted murder charges after allegedly shooting Colonial Motel owner Vusha Patel in the chest before barricading himself in his room and instigating a standoff with local police officers.

• A Brewton man accused of shooting his mother just before Christmas in 2010 is also scheduled for trial. Sheriff’s officials said they went to the home Jonathon Fleming shared with his mother to find him preparing to flee in a borrowed vehicle and his mother’s body wrapped in a rug. Two shovels were also on the scene.

• An East Brewton police officer accused of aiding his brother in a robbery of Fred’s in East Brewton is also scheduled for trial. Matthew Kirk is charged with third-degree burglary.

And as the year progresses, Rice said more cases from the Atmore area will continue to roll in, including the case of a November house fire that resulted in the death of three young children and murder charges for 18-year-old twin mothers Akeevia and Tekeevia Abner.

Both women are currently awaiting a decision to be handed down after filing for youthful offender status last week during a scheduled arraignment. Rice said the women are scheduled to come before a judge in early May for a decision and added that applying for a youthful offender status is simply part of the legal process in Alabama for anyone age 18 through 20 who is facing charges.

If the sisters do get youthful offender status, they would likely face a much shorter prison term — three years as opposed to a maximum of life — if convicted of the crime.