The elder abuse case against a Smith County official ended on Wednesday evening with an apology and 90 days of probation.
The prosecution and defense agreed to allow JoAnn Hampton, who represents Precinct 4 on the Smith County Commissioners Court, to enter into a pretrial diversion program for 90 days. Hampton's defense attorney said this amounts to a requirement to "stay out of trouble" for 90 days. She has no requirements to report to anyone, take any classes or complete any type of treatment.
To allow Hampton to enter the pretrial diversion program, both parties asked Judge Dwight Phifer to declare a mistrial. Phifer agreed to declare a mistrial, effectively erasing Hampton's indictment provided she completes the program.
A grand jury indicted Hampton in September after she was accused of pushing Viola Douglas, then 72, in April in the pastor’s office at Spring Creek Baptist Church in Tyler. Hampton could have been convicted on one of two felony elder abuse charges — one carrying up to 10 years in prison and another carrying up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Either felony charge would have left Hampton unable to serve in public office under the Texas Constitution. Hampton has been a county commissioner for 15 years and previously served on the Tyler City Council. She also is employed in a research capacity at the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler.
After breaking for lunch about noon, court did not resume until about 4 p.m. Then the judge announced he had granted a joint motion to declare a mistrial. After that, Hampton spoke.
“I want to personally apologize to my sister Douglas for my actions on April 2 and the Spring Creek Baptist Church,” Hampton said in her apology. “I also want to apologize to all the parishioners of Spring Creek Baptist Church, to Pastor Hood and to my constituents. I am so sorry that you had to go through this.”
Douglas responded with an emotional statement saying Hampton showed no respect for the church or its members that day. Douglas said she has injuries from being assaulted that she will live with for the rest of her life, but chose to help resolve the case.
“This is me taking a high road,” Douglas said. “This is me showing you mercy and grace. This is me being a Christian and doing the Christian thing.”
Mike Heiskell, the Fort Worth-based defense attorney who represented Hampton, said after the court adjourned that the trial was a waste of taxpayer money.
“This was a case that was tailor-made for Judge Judy, not a felony court here in Smith County,” Heiskell said. “It was a case full of drama. It should never have been indicted. It should never have gone this far.”
Heiskell said Wednesday he had turned down several plea deals before the trial, including an offer to reduce the felony charges to a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction would not have cost Hampton her seat on the Smith County Commissioners Court.
Chris Martin, the Van Zandt County district attorney, prosecuted the case because the Smith County district attorney recused himself. Martin said the victim’s main goal was not to put Hampton in prison but to hold her accountable.
“We had engaged in plea bargaining all the way up to the start of the trial and Ms. Hampton wasn’t willing to take anything as far as a plea bargain,” Martin said. He said that began to change as the trial went on.
“It came to a point where I felt like we were reaching that goal of accountability, and Ms. Hampton had come to the point where she was willing to accept some responsibility for her actions,” Martin said.
Martin said he took an oath as a prosecutor and would not have prosecuted the case unless he believed Hampton assaulted Douglas. He said he never stopped believing at any point that Hampton laid her hands on Douglas.
“A lot of cases resolve once the trial process starts and people start really examining their evidence, examining what they want out of the case, and examining what drives them,” Martin said.
The plea deal came in the second day of the jury trial against Hampton for alleged elder abuse. During the second day of the trial, the prosecution brought in two witnesses, after having brought in three witnesses the day before.
On Tuesday, the first day of the trial, the prosecution had brought three witnesses to the stand—Douglas, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office deputy who responded to the initial assault and the Smith County Sheriff’s Office investigator who investigated to the case.
On Wednesday, the key eyewitness was Rodney Hood, the pastor at Spring Creek Baptist Church. He testified he witnessed Hampton push Douglas in his office, causing her to stumble backward into a chair, with her arm falling between that chair and a second chair, injuring her.
Hood also testified to a historically bad relationship between the two women. He said as a pastor he attempted to counsel them to improve the relationship. However, when he asked Hampton’s husband for her to come to counseling, the husband said she was not interested, Hood testified.
The other witness was the victim’s husband, Jim Douglas, 75. He testified he went into the pastor’s office moments after Hampton allegedly assaulted his wife. He said Kevin Hampton was there holding on to JoAnn Hampton’s arm, but JoAnn Hampton snatched her arm out of his grasp and walked out the door.
“Obviously something just happened,” Jim Douglas said. “Obviously my wife was unhappy. JoAnn was upset. Her eyes were red. She looked like she was ruffled. And I don’t recall the exact words, but Kevin started talking, and I recall my wife saying to Kevin, ‘Yeah, your wife did this. Your wife.’”
Jim Douglas also testified he witnessed the pastor “in a defensive stance as if to separate people” when he got into the pastor’s office. He did not change that story after Curtis Roberson, one of Hampton’s defense attorneys, suggested his wife was berating Hampton and that Hampton was leaving the room because she was a Christian who wanted to avoid conflict.
“I’m as baffled as anybody that this is going on,” Jim Douglas said. “I know my wife was talking about (Hampton’s) attitude and arrogance and that she wasn’t going to put up with it anymore.”
Both Hood and Jim Douglas testified that Kevin Hampton took over the conversation after the incident, and testified Kevin Hampton told the victim that JoAnn Hampton needs to behave in a firm way because she would otherwise get walked all over at work.
Jim Douglas, who retired as a parole officer in Arizona, said, “I told him I was in a high-pressure job, and I left it at my job. I don’t bring it home or bring it to church.”
The two men also testified that Kevin and Joann Hampton no longer attend Spring Creek Baptist Church.
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