Thursday, October 30, 2008

     

 

 

 

Youth minister indicted on sex assault
Monitor Staff Reports
CEDAR CREEK LAKE–A Kaufman County grand jury indicted Joshua Neal Ponder, 32, on one count of Sexual Assault of a Child during its deliberations Oct. 21.
Ponder had resigned his post with the First Baptist Church in Mabank the day after he was arrested, which took place Aug. 13.
He has been held in the Kaufman County Law Enforcement Center on a $200,000 bond.
According to a Mabank police report, the offense occurred April 8, and was reported to police Aug. 8.
Chief Kyle McAfee said the offense allegedly occurred repeatedly throughout the year.
Ponder’s name was not found on the FBI’s national registry of sex offenders.
When the arrest occurred, the church leadership issued a statement expressing sadness by the circumstances involving Ponder prior to and during his employment at First Baptist, and praying for those who have been affected.

Eye doc pleads guilty
By Michael V. Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–On a recent Monday, 59-year-old Curtis Cook stood before a Henderson County judge and admitted to stealing the innocence from a girl who should have been in elementary school rather than in the courtroom that day.
Cook, an optometrist with a practice in Gun Barrel City, pleaded guilty in Judge Dan Moore’s 173rd District Court to aggravated sexual assault of a child, a first degree felony which carries a penalty of between five and 99 years in prison.
His victim was significantly younger than the statutory 14 years old listed in the indictment; an indictment which doesn’t point to intercourse, but to perversion nonetheless.
Henderson County prosecutors weren’t the only ones going after Cook. He was not only indicted here, but also three times in Kaufman County on the same charge.
Cook’s dual arrests in Gun Barrel City, first in November, 2007, and then again in February, 2008, made headlines in all Henderson County newspapers.
And on Sept. 29, the day he pleaded guilty, Curtis Cook went home instead of to jail.
Judge Moore accepted a deal worked out by Assistant District Attorney and future County Attorney Clint Davis to give Cook 10 years deferred adjudication probation.
The deal also reportedly covered the three indictments in Kaufman County.
Calls to the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office for comment on the case were not returned.
So how does a confessed sex offender get to walk the streets?
In this case, at least, it had more to do with the victim and her family than with Cook, according to the judge who approved the plea.
Moore said the victim’s family asked him to approve the deal so that their daughter would not have to take the stand in a trial.
“They just wanted it to be over,” Moore said.
The judge said he could have ignored the family’s request and impelled the child to testify, but to what end?
It would be like the victim getting assaulted all over again, this time with the family sitting in the front row, Moore said.
The judge pointed to a similar case recently that underwent trial three times, due to a mistrial – and the victim was only 6 years old.
“As a judge we have to think about what’s good for the state of Texas,” Moore said, “but to some extent we also have to think about what’s good for the child.”
Moore also pointed out that many of the child sexual assault cases do not involve an exchange of DNA, and therefore the only evidence comes from the testimony of the victim. There are almost never any other witnesses.
“Who’s going to do something like that when someone else is watching?” Moore asked.
Although not directly involved in the Cook case, Henderson County District Attorney Donna Bennett agreed with Moore.
Bennett said her office is willing to accept probation in sex offender cases when a supportive family is asking to keep the victim off the witness stand.
The “supportive family” is a key factor, said Bennett. She said her office pays close attention to the family dynamic when making decisions.
The DA’s Office would be less likely to listen to the family’s request for probation if the accused is linked to the victim, she said, like the mother’s boyfriend, for instance.
But in those other cases, with a supportive family that doesn’t want to put the victim through any more trauma, the DA’s Office sometimes listens.
Bennett said she’s had parents tell her of victims who wet their beds, struggle in school and have nightmares. Her voice caught as she told of one child who was strong during her testimony only to collapse from the strain when walking out of the courtroom.
And what if a jury, which can sometimes be fickle, decides not to believe the victim?
“Then the parents have to try and explain to this little child what happened,” Bennett said.
Both Bennett and Moore said the important thing with the deferred adjudication probation is that it gets the sex offender into the system.
After pleading guilty, the defendant has to register as a sex offender for life. That does not stop when the probation is over, Bennett said.
That fact that revoking probation is easier than getting a conviction at trial is also an important factor, she said. Revoking probation does not require a trial, only a hearing before a judge.
“In a trial, we have to prove someone is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Bennett said. “In a probation revocation, all we need is a preponderance of the evidence. We only need 51 percent instead of 100 percent, in other words.”
In Cook’s case, if his probation is revoked he could go to jail for the original sentence: five to 99 years.
How hard is probation for sex offenders in Henderson County?
“Do you remember the old book ‘The Scarlet Letter?’” asked Ty Choate, the director of the Henderson County Probation Department.
“That’s almost what you are if you are determined to be a sex offender, because somebody in the state of Texas is going to be watching you from now on.”
Choate described probation for a Level I sex offender, a pedophile, in Henderson County as a stepped process that takes years.
During years one and two, the offender is at the maximum level of oversight. Some of what that entails includes:
• Meeting twice monthly at the probation office for group therapy.
• Being visited, unannounced, once monthly in the field.
• Going through a full battery of tests and evaluations that begin to build a file of the pedophile’s “triggers.”
• Sex counseling once a week.
• Providing a DNA sample.
• Passing three polygraph tests that help with the counseling.
There are many other steps required in the probation as well, such as drug and alcohol counseling, drug testing, community service, etc.
Moore said the sex offender’s probation list looked like a second full-time job.
After two years, the sex offender gets dropped to the medium level of oversight. Choate said the only thing that gets dropped in the move from maximum to medium is one group session.
How hard is it? Choate said 70 percent of the sex offenders fail to keep up with all their probation and end up back in front of the judge.
“We have one of the highest levels of supervision in the state,” Choate said. “This is a high priority for us.”
Choate said the county currently has 33 sex offenders in the program, including two who were transfers from another county.

ECC considers buying
some Mabank customers

By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

GUN BARREL CITY–East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District directors approved the first submission of a proposed draft contract to the city of Mabank at their Oct. 23 meeting.
“Some months ago, Mabank contacted East Cedar Creek to see if there was any interest in purchasing a number of its water meters, and a portion of its CNN (Certificate of Convenience and Necessity),” director Harry McCune explained.
The district’s finance committee studied the question, worked up the numbers and proposed a purchase price of $1.1 million, McCune reported.
The finance committee, consisting of Carol Meyer and Jim Boyles, approved a preliminary contract to be submitted to the city of Mabank.
“It seems to be a good idea,” McCune said. “However, there’s a lot of work to do in a change-over.”
In other business, directors:
• agreed to continue with the current Blue Cross medical insurance policy for employees on a 3-2 vote.
McCune and Meyer voted no. Both said they would like to give employees more of a choice.
Boyles and W. Richard Watkins voted yes and board president David Burch cast a tie-breaking vote.
• approved an employee purchase program through the district’s vendors, and allow payments to be through payroll deductions.
• agreed to hold an employee benefits and awards dinner, with the time and date to be settled later.
• agreed to allow the finance committee to meet with the general manager to discuss the dispensation of a $224,000 CD that matures in late November.
The committee will be deciding how much to roll over, and how much might need to be placed into the district’s operating reserve fund for upcoming projects.
• authorized Athens engineer Chris Weeks to specify and manage the refurbishment of the filter units numbers 1 and 2 at the Brookshire water treatment plant.
“We may suggest getting a metallurgist to check for cracks in the filter walls,” Weeks said.
• agreed to use I&I reserve funds, not to exceed $3,500, to replace a section of sewer main and to rehabilitate the manhole at lift station No. 36.
• agreed to take $10,100 from the operating reserve fund to update the communications system at the McKay water treatment plant.
• denied a $415.46 reimbursement of personal expenditures occurred during the investigation of sewer odors at a residence on Boshart Way, because the odors were coming from the resident’s property, not the district’s sewer main.

High winds feed flames


Courtesy Photo
The Eustace Fire Department and five other area departments responded to a
fully engaged structure fire at the old "Putman Home" just east of Eustace.
High northerly winds fed the flames, Payne Springs Fire Chief Randy Harley
reported. The abandoned 11,000 sq. ft. structure was once used as a nursing
or halfway house many years ago. Assistance came from the North 19 VFD
and Payne Springs Fire Rescue, along with its aerial ladder truck. As the battle
continued Gun Barrel City, Log Cabin and Malakoff units were called in to help.
One minor injury was sustained while fighting the fire.


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