Question of indictment wording does not derail case
Questions concerning the wording of the indictment in a case alleging the abuse of an elderly man may delay a final resolution.
Public defender Sherri Smith argued her motions of demurrer and special demurrer in Jones County Superior Court Aug. 23. The definition of a demurrer in a criminal case is a defendant’s assertion that the indictment is legally insufficient. A demurrer involves a consideration of the document itself, not any of the evidence.
A special demurrer is an issue with the clarity of the charges. The law requires that the defendant be informed of what the state alleges he or she did.
Smith represents Vonshell Laquon Napier, who was arrested Feb. 14 and charged with four counts of threatening or intimidating a disabled adult or elder person.
Napier was indicted on four counts of exploitation and intimidation of a disabled adult, elder person or resident April 10. Her codefendant, Beverly Burney Jackson, was indicted on two counts of the same charges.
The motions were heard by Superior Court Judge Alison Burleson, and Senior Assistant District Attorney Dawn Baskin represented the state.
In her arguments, Smith objected to the word “snatching” in the indictment as not being specific and said two of the counts described the same conduct. She asked for the state to be more specific.
Baskin styled the case for the court. She said Napier and Jackson were caretakers of the victim whose son put a camera in the room of a local nursing home.
“The video shows the acts alleged in the indictments,” she said.
The prosecutor said the state might need to re-indict the case, agreeing that as the charges are worded now, the last two charges could merge. She said, if the case goes to trial, it would be her burden to prove the charges.
“I do believe there is sufficient information in the paragraph to describe the nature of the crimes and don’t believe there is a basis for a demurrer,” she said. “The indictment is very specific.”
Smith continued to assert that her client was entitled to her offenses being stated plainly so they could easily be understood by a jury.
“We’re not asking for perfect; we’re just asking for clear,” she said.
After listening to the arguments of both attorneys, Burleson denied the motions. The judge said she felt all the elements of the crime were included in the indictments, but she did note that in sentencing, the last two counts could merge.
Baskin thanked the court and commented she would get with the family of the victim to decide whether to re-indict the case. If the case is re-indicted, the process would start from the beginning, and that could mean it would take longer to bring the case to trial.
In a story about the arrests in The Jones County News, Maj. Earl Humphries stated that the sheriff’s office was called by the administrator of Lynn Haven Health and Rehabilitation Feb. 1, after the victim’s family made the accusation of elder abuse.
The victim was an 89-year-old male and the evidence in the case consisted of approximately 100 video clips that were each from 2-5 minutes in length from a nanny cam that was placed in the victim’s room by his son.
He said the victim had told the son something was not right but was not able to explain what was happening. That was what caused the son to place the nanny cam.
Humphries said after reviewing the videos, investigators identified six instances of physical abuse and the same number of mental abuse instances.
The major said the two CNAs were identified from the videos as the offenders, and he was satisfied they were the only ones involved in the abuse.
Jackson was arrested Feb. 9 and released on a $10,000 bond. Napier was arrested Feb. 14 and released the following day on a $30,000 bond.