The conviction and 30-year sentence of 23-year-old Justin Miles Sanders for the hit-and-run death of Texarkana, Texas Police Officer Jason Sprauge was upheld by an appellate court Wednesday.
Sprauge was responding to a 9-1-1 call of a large disturbance at Grady T. Wallace Park with around 100 people there. According to testimony the vehicles scattered when Sprauge arrived in his patrol car. Sanders’ jumped a curb and ran over officer Sprauge while fleeing.
On appeal, Sanders contends that the trial court erred on six points.
Sanders’ first point contended that the charge for felony evading failed to show that the evading arrest charge was a felony.
Justice Moseley wrote, “if Sprague was struck with a motor vehicle, surely Sanders would not believe that the State had alleged that Sanders had hefted an automobile in the air and struck Sprague with it. Following Sanders’ reasoning would require the reader to render the entire indictment nonsensical.”
In his second point of error, Sanders contended that the jury charge was fundamentally defective because it omitted the factual allegations necessary to elevate evading arrest or detention to a felony and that, therefore, the charge authorized the jury to convict him for an offense not alleged in the indictment.
If you find from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that on or about June 14, 2013, the defendant did then and there intentionally commit or attempt to commit a felony offense, to-wit: Evading Arrest or Detention, and while in the course of or in furtherance of the commission or attempt of said offense did then and there commit an act clearly dangerous to human life, namely, striking Officer William Jason Sprague with a motor vehicle, which caused the death of Officer William Jason Sprague you will find the defendant guilty of Felony Murder as charged in the indictment.
The court ruled although it did not find the jury charge as submitted to be a paragon for all to follow, they also determined that its submission was not error. “Although the instruction could be read in such a way that Sanders somehow struck Sprague with a motor vehicle but not while he was driving it, logic says that would be impossible.”
In his third point of error, Sanders contends that the State violated his right to a fair trial by wearing “fallen officer” wrist bands. The wristbands were black and blue and said, “Jason Sprague E.O.W. 6-15-13.”
In the original trial Sanders attorney objected to the prosecutors wearing the bracelets. The Judge asked the prosecutors to remove the bracelets “out of an overabundance of caution” but denied a request for a mistrial.
“It is apparent from the record that the wristbands were rather inconspicuous in nature as State’s counsel had been wearing the wristbands for the previous three days of trial and voir dire before Sanders finally noticed them and objected. By its own admission, the trial court failed to notice them until Sanders pointed them out. Based on the record, we find that an instruction to disregard the wristbands would have been sufficient to cure any harm or prejudice they caused. Accordingly, Sanders’ failure to request an instruction caused a failure to preserve this issue for our review.”
In the fourth point of error Sanders contended the trail court erred in admitting text messages showing that Sanders’ was selling marijuana. The appellate court ruled that the messages showed Sanders had a logical motivation to assault the officer and/or evade arrest or detention.
- 1:03 p.m. From “Taylor”: lol pretty much bout to go run at Grady t now
- 1:04 p.m. From Sanders to Taylor: Imma come see you
- 1:35 p.m. From Sanders to Taylor: It start at 2
- 1:35 p.m. From Taylor to Sanders: Ok well I’m at the park now
- 1:52 p.m. From Sanders to Taylor: Lmao, I’ll have you a lil something! & I’ve never seen you buzzed
- 1:55 p.m. From Sanders to Taylor: You gone smoke?
- 1:58 p.m. From Sanders to Taylor: Oh okay, cause I sho wanna get you high as shit!
- 6:01 p.m. From Rollins to Sanders: What time and where do you want me to meet you? Is a half 30$?
- 6:02 p.m. From Sanders to Rollins: That’s Reggie, I got some GOOD stuff in. I can get you 2G’s for 30
- 6:09 p.m. From Sanders to Rollins: Okay, I’m at work . . . I get off at 9
- 6:12 p.m. From Rollins to Sanders: Dang I was wanting to burn one now but that’s cool just text me when you get off
- 6:22 p.m. From Sanders to Rollins: You can come up here to my job if you want
- 6:27 p.m. From Sanders to Rollins: I got it up here
- 6:27 p.m. From Rollins to Sanders: Where do you work at?
- 6:28 p.m. From Sanders to Rollins: At the liquor store by Arkansas side Tamollys
- 9:44 p.m. From Unknown to Sanders: Come to Grady t
- 9:46 p.m. From Sanders to Unknown: Ight
Sanders also claimed the seizure of his cellphone was unlawful. The appellate court disagreed and said that Sanders gave officers consent.
The court also rejected the argument that the there should have been a mistrial when a prosecutor asked a witness in front of the jury about being threatened.