Texas Man Gets 35 Years For Pot Possession

A Smith County jury found a Tyler man guilty on Thursday of possession of less than five pounds but more than four ounces of marijuana in a drug-free zone.

The jury in the 7th District Court with Judge Kerry Russell presiding then sentenced Henry Walter Wooten, 54, to 35 years confinement in prison. He was not assessed a fine.

Wooten, who had pleaded not guilty to the current charge, had been found guilty of two felonies in Smith County, one in 1987 and one in 1989. He pleaded true to both of those on Thursday before he was sentenced. His 35-year sentence will run consecutively to any other sentences that may be unexpired from his prior felonies, Judge Russell said in court.

The defendant had been accused of possessing marijuana within 1,000 feet of the Ebenezer Day Care Center in Tyler in October 2008.

Tyler police officers were alerted to Wooten’s location because of the smell of the marijuana. Tapes played in court showed Wooten removing a number of individual plastic bags loaded with the drug from his pockets. Officers also found a larger bag of marijuana in Wooten’s car the same day.

Wooten, who had remained incarcerated since he was arrested for the offense in 2008, had decided he wanted a private laboratory in Tyler to test the marijuana he was accused of possessing when he was arrested. Smith County Assistant District Attorney Richard Vance said Wooten did have a right to ask for such testing.

Both the results from the tests conducted by T.H.E. Lab in Tyler in January, and the tests conducted by the Department of Public Safety Laboratory soon after Wooten’s arrest were very similar in results.

Trey Cloud, DPS forensic chemist, testified that the weight of the marijuana seized from Wooten when he was arrested was 4.6 ounces, and the packaging alone weighed 1.06 ounces. He also testified that the drug seized from Wooten was indeed marijuana.

Tom Thompson, from the private laboratory, who testified on Wednesday, said his analysis showed the packaging alone weighed 1.059 ounces.

Cloud testified that the weight of the marijuana, which was analyzed closer to the time of the offense, in this case, in December 2008, was more accurate. The testing done by the private lab was performed on Jan. 29, 2010.

In his closing arguments to the jury, Vance told them they set the standard for the community.

“Every decision made by a jury sets a precedent,” he said.

He appealed to the jury to use their common sense and to look at the evidence.

“Wooten pulled bag after bag from his pockets like one of those clowns you see — and in the driver’s seat of his car was a big bag and digital scales,” Vance said.

Defense attorney O.W. Lloyd told the jury in his closing arguments he was not there to yell at them and put the pressure on them about precedents. “You don’t have to be a chemist — you believe what you believe.”

Vance had asked for the jury to give Wooten a sentence of 99 years. Leslie McLean served as co-counsel with Vance.

– Article from the Tyler Morning Telegraph on March 5, 2010.

A Generational Moment for Drug Policy Reformers

by Stephen C. Webster

John Lennon’s voice is echoing somewhere over Texas tonight.

That’s because a moment has arrived — a very special moment, the likes of which drug policy reformers have not seen in a generation.

It all centers around a man named Henry Walter Wooten, a 54-year-old Texas resident who will likely be spending the rest of his life behind bars. That’s because a jury in Tyler sentenced him to 35 years in jail after he was caught in possession of just over a quarter pound of marijuana. The prosecutor originally sought 99 years, due to the man’s prior felony convictions in the 80s and his proximity to a day care center, deep within one of the dreaded “drug free zones” where legal penalties become much more stiff.

Thirty-five years. That’s 420 months. This jury, this court and this prosecutor are sending a message directly to marijuana consumers the nation over.

It’s as if radical poet, musician and author John Sinclair were never actually freed. And who is John Sinclair? If you’re a drug law reform advocate, you should know this by now. First, a word from the immortal Beatle …

The song is from the “Free John Now” rally in Michigan, circa 1971, when over 15,000 people converged to protest a 10 year jail sentence over the distribution of two marijuana cigarettes. (”10 for two, John Sinclair… Breakin’ the rules, but he don’t care.”)

A decade of imprisonment over an otherwise minuscule amount of pot is just as outrageous now as it was then. Days after the “Free John Now” rally, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned Sinclair’s ruling and declared the state’s marijuana statues of their day unconstitutional.

In the annals of the American drug war, this was simply revolutionary. It was a cultural watershed that has not been repeated. It’s not that the chance never presented itself … There just hasn’t been another pot prisoner like John Sinclair.

Until now.

I do not personally know Henry Walter Wooten, but he doesn’t strike me as a revolutionary sort like Sinclair. He was reportedly smoking pot somewhere inside a drug free zone when police smelled the stuff — not exactly the brightest move. They found an additional 4.6 ounces in his vehicle, along with a digital scale.

Now he’s likely facing death in a cement cage; although, the greatest travesty here was that Smith County Assistant District Attorney Richard Vance first sought a sentence of 99 years. Ninety-nine years?!?

Wooten’s sentence is identical to the punishment dealt to Alejandro Arreola, who was given 35 years in jail by a jury in Del Rio, Texas for his involvement in a multimillion dollar marijuana smuggling ring. Arreola, according to reports, transported over 24 TONS of the stuff into the United States. His accomplice, Casey Bob Hutto, got 24 years.

Twenty-four tons? Meet 4.6 ounces. You’ll both be sitting here for three and a half decades. And I ask you, WHERE IS THE EQUALITY OF JUSTICE?

This is something that everyone should be concerned about. In my line of work, I’ve seen rapists get shorter sentences.

If nothing else, this presents a brilliant opportunity to campaign against drug free zones, which have had virtually no effect on public health or safety,according to the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Instead, the think tank found, drug free zones disproportionately target minorities, who serve inflated sentences because of this Reagan-era insanity.

But the greater trouble here is the silent cry of Lady Justice being smothered for Mr. Wooten. His sentence is so stunningly, terrifyingly unjust, if drug reform advocates do not fly into an uproar over this case, I may just give up all hope of seeing this drug war problem rectified in my lifetime.

John Lennon thought Sinclair’s 10 for two was bad. I cannot imagine what he’d sing about this.

– Article from True/Slant.