In Smith County, you can shoot your husband and a 5-year-old child, and walk away with no consequences - if you’re the right person.
Last year, Meraland Taylor Jackson shot her husband, Precinct 1 Constable Henry Jackson, during an argument. Their granddaughter also was struck by a bullet.
Yet a grand jury no-billed her on the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. It appears District Attorney Matt Bingham’s office failed to pursue an indictment vigorously. It’s just another example of the District Attorney’s Office demonstrating reluctance to engage when Smith County officials or their family members are involved. In Smith County, it seems members of the “In Crowd” are held to a very different standard than the rest of us.
A recent example includes Sheriff Larry Smith having to go to Gregg County to find a judge willing to sign an arrest warrant for Commissioner JoAnn Hampton. The sheriff continues to maintain silence about which local judge declined to sign the arrest warrant.
And then there were the illegal executive sessions conducted by Smith County Commissioners were referred to the Attorney General’s Office rather than being addressed locally.
Some cases may call for appropriate distance. However, too many such cases seem to be a pattern of recusal, which stands to cost taxpayers extra expense.
We contacted Bingham about this matter. He responded via a text message.
“What I can say is that the Tyler Police Department conducted a thorough investigation,” he wrote. “The family members who witnessed the shooting and victim (Henry Jackson) did not want the case prosecuted. My office presented the case to the grand jury for indictment. The grand jury declined to indict in the case.”
Let’s break down that statement. Tyler police did, in fact, investigate - though there was little mystery here. Meraland Jackson freely and repeatedly admitted shooting her husband and grandchild. She told police that Jackson “should be dead,” according to the arrest affidavit. How was this case not a slam dunk?
According to Bingham, the victim didn’t want the case prosecuted. Yet cases are prosecuted all the time with uncooperative victims. Bingham’s office has prosecuted many domestic violence and sexual assault cases with uncooperative victims.
Smith County is tough on crime. We are known statewide as a county whose judges dole out tough sentences.
So what happened here? We don’t know what took place in that grand jury room. But there are some things we do know. In a grand jury hearing, only one side presents its case - the prosecution. Indictments are not hard to obtain. The old adage that “you can indict a ham sandwich” is not far from the truth. Bingham’s prosecutor walked into that room with a confession to a violent crime.
The failure of the DA’s office to obtain an indictment appears to show it wasn’t seeking one.