Nearly 4½ years since the tragic night of June 15, 2014, the man accused of killing Christopher James Griffin outside a convenience store in Mineola has yet to stand trial for murder.
Meanwhile, the judge who had been presiding over the case, 402nd District Judge Jeff Fletcher, confirmed to the Wood County Monitor last week that he has recused himself.
The leadership of the Mineola Ministerial Alliance recently weighed in on the state of affairs, scheduling a community prayer meeting to address the situation and registering their concerns about Wood County’s criminal justice system.
Jason Walters, 45, is charged with murder in the death of Griffin, who was 18 when he was shot behind the EZ Mart on Pacific Avenue. Authorities allege that Walters and another man got into an argument inside the store and decided to settle their differences outside. Walters retrieved a gun from his truck before heading to the back of the store, according to police. He later fired the gun, striking Griffin, who was not a party to the original altercation, in the neck. Walters was indicted on a charge of murder in September 2014.
The trial, originally set for August 2015, has faced repeated delays, the most recent in late October.
After a postponement this spring, Fletcher explained in late May that “something came to light in late April, early May” that he could not reveal but that required Wood County District Attorney Jim Wheeler to step down from the case. It was transferred to the Texas Attorney General’s Office and to prosecuting attorney Thomas Cloudt. Fletcher said at the time that the trial would be held Oct. 29 if not sooner.
When asked recently for an update on the case, Cloudt said he could not discuss it.
Fletcher said he could not comment on his reasons for recusal. On Oct. 11, Judge Joe D. Clayton of Tyler was appointed to oversee the case by 124th District Judge Alfonso Charles of Longview.
“It’s very unfortunate and disappointing that the Walters and Griffin trial has been delayed again,” said Demetrious Boyd, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and vice president of the Mineola Ministerial Alliance. “It’ll be five years next year and this is totally unacceptable. These families and this community deserve closure.”
The Alliance intends to address the matter at a community prayer service scheduled for Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21 at First Baptist Church.
Paul Thomasson, pastor at First United Methodist Church and president of the Ministerial Alliance, said of the situation: “It appears to me that with the slaying of a human being and then the indictment of a human being, the distance between the death of the person and the trial of the person accused of slaying them should not be 4½ to five years away. The earliest possible trial now will be in 2019. I will be very, very interested in understanding the reasons why it apparently has been put off quite a few different ways and times for different reasons. I would think a long explanation would be well-received by the citizens of this county to know the reasons why.”
Boyd expressed an overall lack of confidence in those in charge of the county’s criminal justice system.
“The manner in which the case was handled; it’s a total tragedy from the beginning to where it is now,” he stated. “The misrepresentation of intents and the truth about some things that have gone on are pathetic.”
The case serves as an example of why “it’s important to elect people whom you can trust and that have the best interest of the community and fairness for all parties at hand. I think it’s very unfortunate that that didn’t happen like it should have,” he said.
He stressed that the community at large has a vested interest in seeing the case brought to trial.
“This in no way – from a community perspective – is a black thing or a white thing but a right thing,” Boyd said.
Regarding what he hopes to see accomplished through the prayer meeting, he said: “One of my hopes and goals through this peaceful prayer meeting is to see this – as horrible as it is – but also let it not be in vain. Let’s use this as an opportunity to bring awareness and let it bring change to all of our relations across the board.”
He added: “Forgiveness has already been extended from the families; we need closure, they need closure.”