The first felony jury trial in eight months at the Lamar County Courthouse resulted in a 33-year prison sentence on drug charges Thursday for 28-year old Darrion Deshon Biggers of Hugo, Oklahoma, according to Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young.
Biggers received the sentence on a charge of manufacture/delivery of 4 to 200 grams of methamphetamine as a repeat offender in a drug-free zone. He must serve the first five years day for day before he can be considered for parole, according to Young, who noted Biggers has prior felony convictions in Oklahoma in August 2015 for possession of a controlled substance and burglary of a habitation.
Following a traffic stop, Biggers was arrested Feb. 25, 2018, after a brief foot chase during which an officer saw the defendant toss what police determined later to be two large chunks of methamphetamine weighing about three-fourths of an ounce, Young said.
Conducting a jury trial during a coronavirus pandemic was no small feat, requiring months of preparation and a formal Covid-19 Operating Plan for the Lamar County Judiciary, which became effective Oct. 1.
“This plan is very detailed and required the assistance of numerous departments to implement during the jury selection and trial,” 6th District Judge Wes Tidwill said in email correspondence Friday, naming Lamar County Sheriff’s Office, courthouse security officers, Bailiff Gerry Hines, Court Coordinator Barbara Crabb, the District Clerk’s office, the District Attorney’s office, defense counsel as well as custodial and maintenance department. “Input on the propriety of even having a trial requires consultation with the local health authority as well as the regional presiding judge and our Local Administrative Judge Will Biard.”
The plan calls for a Covid-19 questionnaire to accompany jury summons notice, which are reviewed by both district clerk and the judge. Tidwell excused those with health concerns and exemption in advance to reduce the number of persons coming to the courthouse.
“The clerk’s office and the court coordinator should be commended for their efforts because it was no small feat to process and document the large response,” Tidwell said.
Courthouse security screened potential jurors for temperature at the courthouse entrance on the day of jury selection, and the pool of potential jurors was divided into two groups for the qualification process — one at 9 a.m. and the other at 1:30 p.m. Qualified jurors were then seated socially distanced in the district courtroom for voir dire.
On trial day, nine women and three men gathered in two separate rooms and were spread out during the trial rather than confined to the jury box. Attorneys and the defendant were socially distanced as well, and sneeze guards protected the witness box and clerk’s station, Tidwell said. During jury deliberation, the courtroom was cleared and locked so the jury could deliberate there rather than in a jury room.
“Although the trial itself was without any issues, having now gone through this process, we expect to review our plan and see where we can improve,” Tidwell said.
The judge said he would remind the public that the courthouse has remained open for business during the pandemic even though the health crisis has impacted many courthouse employees, as it has so many people.
“We have continued with business as usual over the past eight months because it is important that we push forward for the sake of our justice system,” Tidwell said. “Most importantly, we want to thank the great citizens of this county who did show up when called upon, and especially those persons who actually served. These are the ones who truly deserve the credit because without them we cannot do