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In a hearing Tuesday afternoon, Eighth Judicial District Judge Eddie Northcutt ordered a new trial for Roy Dean Duffey on charges of murder in the stabbing death of David Harrison Cooper four years ago and said he would hear the full case on a date to be set in June or July. In the hearing, Northcutt finally rejected a plea bargain deal that had been tentatively agreed to prior to the start of a trial two years ago in which Duffey had agreed to plead guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for a probated 10-year sentence and 180 days “shock probation” in prison before then-District Judge Robert Newsom. Northcutt said he had reviewed a pre-sentence investigation to account for the planned sentence and said he would try Duffey on the original indictment either in June or July. Attorney Frank Hughes now represents Duffey in the murder trial. Before announcing the order setting a new trial, Northcutt took about 20 minutes to summarize the events in the case and why he decided to retry the case rather than go back to the plea bargain. Duffey, accused in the Feb. 2011 stabbing death of David Harrison Cooper, was set for jury trial in July of 2013. Just prior to the start of that trial, he agreed to a plea agreement that specified a sentence of 10 years in prison with a provision for “shock probation” which would mean 180 days in prison, including two months time already served. Duffey would have then been released serve the remainder of his sentence on probation. Attorneys for Duffey appealed the sentence after Newsom rejected the plea agreement. Newsom's rejection of the plea bargain came after members of Cooper's family met with the judge and without defense and prosecution attorneys in what was termed an “ex parte” meeting. Following that meeting, attorneys Chad Cable and Frank Long filed a motion to recuse or disqualify Newsom from the case. That motion left Newsom with two options, he could have either removed himself from the case or ask the presiding judge of the First Administrative District to appoint another judge to hear the case. Newsom chose the latter. Presiding Judge John D. Ovard rejected the motion to disqualify Newsom. The conviction was then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Appellate District of Texas at Texarkana. The appellate court, after reviewing the trial, sent the case back to the Eighth District Court. “While the recusal testimony indicates the trial judge [Newsom] refused to discuss the details of the case during the ex parte meeting, he clearly listened to the concerns and objections of the Coopers and [Pastor Lavelle] Hendricks regarding a sentencing decision that was not yet final,” the appeals court wrote. “Allowing this trial judge, even if he were to sit mute, to meet privately with a crime victim's family and pastor regarding sentencing and unfinalized plea agreements would create a dangerous precedent that could prejudice injustice in other cases. Characterizing this behavior by a jurist [judge] as harmless would undermine public confidence in the judicial system. “Accordingly, we [appeals court] reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the case for a new trial by a different judge,” the ruling stated. The question before the court Wednesday morning was whether the original plea bargain agreement in the second-degree felony manslaughter trial had been accepted by the court or not.
Winnsboro police say a 16-month-old child found unresponsive in a McKinney Street apartment died Saturday in a Dallas hospital from head trauma and other injuries. Winnsboro Police Capt. Chris Hill said that, along with EMS and fire medics, officer Jameison Hawkins was the first to arrive on the scene. “On arriving on scene, he noticed there was obvious signs of abuse on the 16-month-old child, a female,” Hill said. “Sgt. Investigator Heath Guy and myself headed up to Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Winnsboro. The local doctor here at the ER gave us his preliminary view of the status of the infant, which wasn't good.” The child, identified as Madison Cannon, was airlifted to Childrens Medical Center in Dallas. On Friday morning, Hill and Guy were at the Dallas hospital to meet with doctors there after they had time to assess and treat the child and to interview the child's mother. “The doctor told us there was some obvious abuse, there was some trauma, head trauma, as well as bruising throughout the body that we already knew about,” Hill said. “They were already starting the protocol for declaring the infant brain dead and that would take 12-14 hours. “We got a call Saturday evening that they had taken her off the ventilator and declared her brain dead at that time,” the captain continued. The death of the child immediately changed the case from an assault to a murder investigation that brought in an investigator from the Wood County District Attorney's office as well as the Texas Rangers and Child Protective Services from Dallas County and Gregg County. “We interviewed several more, getting statements,” Hill said. “The child's body was sent over to Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences for an autopsy.” Hill expected the investigation to be completed Tuesday. Hill said that, at this time, the death is being investigated as a homicide but could become a capital murder case. “As of right now, It does meet the criteria of a capital murder case of the victim being under 10-years-old,” he said. “It is definitely handled as a capital murder case but, this early in the case, we're not sure of the intent of the suspect and that's going to be a hinging factor — if it was intentional, then, yes, it would be definitely capital murder. However, if the culpable mental state of the suspect ends up being something that was reckless or criminal negligence, then it would knock it down from being a capital case.” The Winnsboro police captain said investigators are talking with possible suspects in the death. “Naturally, any time you have a child death, that died in the home like this, the first ones that are looked at are in the home,” Hill said. “You know, inside the home with the mother. The biological father did not live in the home with them. You look at the ones in the home and that's who we are speaking with right now.” Hill said the family was new to Winnsboro, having lived there about two weeks.