Court system grows from decline to all-time record

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

A downturn in criminal cases in Carroll County during 2002 changed course in 2003 to set an all-time record, punctuated by two murders and an accelerating growth of methamphetamine-related crime.

The mushrooming of crime was largely behind a year-long struggle between the quorum court, calling for containment of overtime in the sheriff's office, and Sheriff Chuck Medford, who was determined to let investigators expend every effort to control the problem.

That conflict, enhanced by a county revenue shortfall, resulted in investigators essentially shutting down in late December to take compensatory time off. But they were called in before Christmas on an interstate methamphetamine chase out of Missouri, and the last week of the month when jail trusty James Paul Vick Jr. escaped. Vick was apprehended on the evening of Dec. 29.

County-wide, as of Dec. 31, there were 255 criminal cases filed in 2003, naming 261 defendants and 595 different felony charges. The Eastern District of the county contained the lion's share of cases, with 210 defendants named in 207 cases containing 478 felony charges. In the Western District, 48 cases were filed, naming 51 defendants charged with a total of 117 felonies.

Those figures do not include murder charges expected to be filed against three men for the June 4 shooting death of Richard W. Gerrard of Green Forest.

The biggest multiple-charge case involved 53 charges of possession of child pornography, all against a single Green Forest man. Similarly in the Eastern District, there were 53 counts of forgery filed, with 34 counts of second-degree forgery filed against one person.

In the Western District, theft of property charges and terroristic threatening charges tied for first place with nine counts each, followed by a high-tech crime, eight counts of theft by deception, via the Internet, against a Eureka Springs man.

Still, illegal drugs account for more than 42 percent of the year's felony charges, with 234 charges in the Eastern District, and 20 in the Western District.

Marijuana-related felonies accounted for 43 felony charges in the Eastern District and three felonies in the Western District.

Two charges in the Western District were for illegal possession of prescription drugs.

In the Eastern District, one man is alleged to have intentionally injured himself in an attempt to get prescription painkillers, and was charged with fraud-drugs. Also in the Eastern District, there were six cocaine-related felonies, virtually unheard of in the county in recent years; and eight charges for possession of ingredients used to make meth, two for anhydrous ammonia, five for ephedrine and one for pseudoephedrine.

The balance of drug-related charges, 169, involved methamphetamine possession, delivery and manufacture, with only 16 of those charges filed in the Western District.

Crimes of violence seem to be on the increase, particularly those involving children.

In the Western District one charge each of rape, sexual indecency with a child, second-degree sexual assault and third-degree sexual assault involved minors. There were also five aggravated assault charges, nine counts of terroristic threatening, one count of stalking, two charges of first-degree battery, three second-degree battery charges, and one charge each of capital murder and attempted first-degree murder in the Western District.

That is up slightly from 2002, which in turn was up considerably from the nine violent charges reported in 2001.

In the Eastern District, violent felony charges included three aggravated assaults, 13 terroristic threatening counts, one stalking, one first-degree battery, two second-degree batteries, two third-degree batteries, six rapes, one sexual indecency with a child, six attempted capital murders, two second-degree sexual assaults, two arsons and one third-degree domestic battery, second offense.

Of those, 11 charges, including four of the attempted murders, involved minors as victims. That total is up from the 27 such charges filed in 2002, but below the 73 violent crimes charged in 2001.

In forgery and hot check cases, a sharp increase in forgery and hot check charges was was seen in the Eastern District with 34 of 81 charges being against one person. In the Western District, six hot check charges were filed. The nature of forgery crimes ranged from identification cards to credit cards.

Overall, cases of burglary appear to be on the decline, with charges of breaking or entering largely replacing burglary in 2003.

In the Eastern District, there were five such charges in 2003, with three in 2002 and 14 in 2001.

In the Western District, there was three such charges in 2003, with five in 2002 and 15 in 2001.

Theft charges total 22 in the Eastern District and nine in the Western District. Theft by receiving totaled 10 in the Eastern District, compared with three in the Western District.

Among miscellaneous felony charges in the Western District, there was one felony charge each of stalking, leaving the scene of a personal injury accident, false imprisonment, attempted first-degree murder, and non-support, and two charges of criminal mischief

Miscellaneous felony charges in the Eastern District included six instances of criminal mischief, seven counts of simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms, two counts of failure to register as a sexual offender, two charges of theft of public benefits, seven instances of residential burglary, five charges of fleeing an officer, 14 charges of possession of firearms by certain persons, and one felony charge each of intimidating a witness, witness bribery, public servant bribery, mutilating a serial number, stalking, criminal use of a prohibited weapon, possession of a defaced firearm, unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, DWI fourth offense, fraudulent use of a credit card, and filing a false police report.

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