As I waited at the courthouse for the jury to return their verdict in the capital murder trial of Ricky Allen Barnett late Friday night, I had time to reflect on a few things.
Both the defense and prosecution teams, law enforcement and courthouse staff in Hopkins County are some hardworking folks. These folks had already spent about a year and a half going over all information submitted to them regarding the burglary and murder of Cynthia Barnett in her East San Antonio Street residence, just to get things ready for trial.
To an observer, trials of this nature generally involve a lot of hurry up and wait. And, that’s true – for us, the jury and witnesses. But, the attorneys, their assistances, the witness coordinator, district attorney’s investigator, courthouse security officers, clerks and judge were there from at least a half hour or more early each day and stayed late into the night, readying things for the next day, hashing out things that needed attention before they could be presented to the jury.
And special thanks goes to our hardworking sheriff’s deputies and reserves who not only provided additional support in the courtroom, but also manned the halls and the security entrance at the courthouse. They were there at 7:30 every morning for a week, and stayed until the defendant and attorneys left the courthouse every night. These folks put in some really long hours, generally 12-13 hour days at the least. Some of these officers also put in time out on the street patrolling and attending to the routine business of serving and protecting.
While the deputies were at the courthouse, their coworkers pulled extra hours on the street and were stretched thin making do with even fewer officers than usual to cover more ground. The entire work schedule had to be reworked to accommodate the trial, making sure enough officers were available to work at the courthouse while still leaving others to patrol.
And, let’s face it. It’s not like these folks are expecting to get any extra pay for the long hours and work. Once they’ve reached their allowable hours, the best they get is comp time. Doesn’t really help the pocketbook much.
Speaking of pocketbooks, aside from the reserve deputies who volunteer their service to the sheriff’s office, at least one investigator put in as much time as the rest of the prosecution team. However, due to a misunderstanding about departmental funding out of his control, he likely won’t see a dime for his efforts. The investigator was there the entire time, lending support, despite the circumstances. To him, on behalf of the citizens, I say thank you for all you do.
I can’t say enough about that jury; those are some dedicated, hard-working folks. They agreed to stay late Friday night instead of returning Saturday or next week to finish up the trial. Closing arguments weren’t until 10 p.m. They then went into deliberations, and apparently did just that. They were in the jury room for three hours, which for those downstairs seemed interminable. The jury sent a note out asking for several articles of evidence to be brought up during those deliberations. They stayed until 1 a.m. Saturday to reach a unanimous verdict. Folks, that’s dedication. That’s commitment to doing what’s right, our judicial system at work.
And the alternate juror, after being dismissed from service at 10 p.m. Friday, stayed to talk to attorneys and waited for the outcome. Talk about commitment to a trial! She was given the opportunity to go home and stayed to see it through.
The defense team, which consisted of the attorney and an assistant, worked constantly, always alert and putting the defendant’s interests first. Those folks had to stay on their toes throughout the trial. They had what looked like a tome of notes, and were constantly consulting with the defendant, looking up legal issues, finding counters to evidence and challenges posed by the prosecutor. They really work hard.
Delta County sent an officer over to assist in the courtroom when staffing permitted throughout the week. The chief deputy was on the witness stand for four days! He sat through the playing of upwards of eight hours worth of videotaped interviews with the defendant not once but twice. He was professional and forth right. Several deputies, the Texas Ranger, an investigator remained close by nearly every day either awaiting their turn on the witness stand or subject to recall as a witness. Their sheriff-elect was there most days as well, watching the members of the department he takes over in January in action, lending support, taking notes for future improvements. And these folks didn’t just sit the long hours at the courthouse, these officers had to drive over from out of town daily. One officers testified in the morning after pulling a late night shift.
If you haven’t sat in on a major case recently, I encourage you to carry yourself over to the courthouse the next time one is being tried and watch. It’ll give you a new appreciation for all of the folks involved. They are some dedicated, hard working people. Remember that the next time you see them on the street; take the time to shake their hands and say thanks.