Judge sentences Gafford to life in prison
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Aug. 5, 2005 -- Eighth Judicial District Judge Robert Newsom sentenced Justin Heath Gafford, 33, of Brashear to life in prison Thursday for the 2004 murder of his brother, Frankie Mike Gafford.

Gafford pleaded guilty to the murder charge Monday morning, when jury selection in the trial was slated to begin, and opted to have the judge rather than a jury assess punishment.

The defendant’s family, who hired Greenville attorney Frank Hughes to represent him, met the life sentence with tears and later with accusations toward the defense attorney.

“You said 30 [years]. You told us 30. We never would have taken the deal, never would have pled out if we knew this,” Mary Jo Rodgers, the defendant’s mother, yelled at Hughes, who was later ushered from the courtroom by officers as a precautionary measure.

Prior to announcing the punishment, Newsom complimented both Hughes and District Attorney Martin Braddy for their “excellent work” on what he called “one of the saddest, perhaps most tragic” cases in Hopkins County in years, and the second most vicious he had heard as judge.

Newsom said he based his decision not necessarily on testimony, but on the law as defined in the Penal Code, and factual evidence presented in the case. He said that the legal defense for voluntary intoxication does not fit the crime, nor did temporary insanity, as the “evidence does not match the testimony.” He said also “the evidence surrounding this indicated it was a much more violent and perhaps more intent-oriented crime than some would like to believe.”

“If he had stopped with just murder it might be a different verdict,” Newsom said. He cited Justin Gafford’s fight with his older brother, Mark Gafford, when he tried to call 911 after seeing Justin standing naked over Mike, who lay curled on the floor in a pool of blood. The judge also mentioned the attack of Ray Dean Wilemon who attempted to assist Mark Gafford, as well as the theft of Wilemon’s vehicle; and public endangerment when Justin became involved in a high speed chase with law enforcement officers through Franklin and Titus counties, which nearly caused an 18-wheeler to wreck and during which he rammed Franklin County Sheriff Chuck White’s vehicle at least three times.

“I’m grateful no one else was killed,” Newsom said. “It stopped in Titus County. Those facts present a different case, those things in Hopkins Hopkins County and Franklin County.”

The judge said the defendant’s continued choice to use illegal substances “led to a horrible, tragic incident,” but that it did not fall under the legal requirements for a voluntary intoxication defense.

The defendant, during testimony Thursday afternoon, claimed that the killing resulted from methamphetamine use. He said he and Mike Gafford had used methamphetamine that night at his house, but he had to lay down because he “felt funny.” He said he became unconscious on his bed, and awoke to find his clothing off and his brother raping him. He said that he attempted to get Mike off of him, that they both struggled for scissors, and that he grabbed them and remembered stabbing Mike “a couple of times.”

A medical examiner testified that Mike Gafford sustained 75 stab wounds. The punctures ranged from a quarter of an inch to 11⁄2 inches deep, according to District Attorney Martin Braddy.

Justin Gafford said he blacked out again, but remembered throwing a TV and VCR that had been playing a pornographic tape to the floor. He said there was another black out, then he attempted to call his brother Kevin, then reached his brother Mark, who he told something bad had happened. He said the only other thing he remembered was being held in a cell.

He also said he had no knowledge of the events which Mark Gafford, Ray Dean Wilemon, Franklin County Sheriff Chuck White and deputy Brian Gurley, and Hopkins County Sheriff’s Sgt. Todd Evans and Jimmy White testified to. However, on the videotape of his ride from Titus County jail to Hopkins County jail following the police chase on Nov. 1, 2004, he recalled a scuffle with Wilemon, the police chase, and asked questions regarding murder charges.

Dr. Michael Pittman, who examined Justin Gafford prior to the trial to determine whether he was criminally insane, testified that in his more than 20 years experience he has never known methamphetamine to cause blackouts as described by the defendant. He noted that methamphetamine is a stimulant which generally causes a person to be “hyped up” or “wired,” and that if a person were to take too much they would likely suffer seizures and would require immediate medical attention to prevent death or permanent injury.

Hughes asked the judge to consider sentencing Justin Gafford to serve time in a facility where he would receive assistance for his drug abuse problem, then to release him on 10 years probation. Braddy asked the judge to give the defendant the maximum allowable penalty to prevent him from accessing drugs and continuing to represent a threat to society.

Hughes also agreed to stay on the case should the defendant wish to seek an appeal.

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