Appeals court upholds Gilmer man's evading arrest sentence
By PHILLIP WILLIAMS
GILMER-- A state appeals court has upheld last April's conviction of a Gilmer man who received a 10-year prison term for felony evading arrest after leading officers on a vehicle chase two years ago.
The 6th Court of Appeals in Texarkana on Dec. 19 rejected the appeal of Shannon Mark Battee, who argued that 115th District Court Judge Lauren Parish wrongly rejected his insanity defense, and that his right to trial by jury had been improperly waived.
Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd, who prosecuted the case, announced the appellate court's decision in a Dec. 26 news release. Because of Judge Parish's finding that the pickup driven by Battee was a "deadly weapon," he must serve at least half his maximum 10-year term before becoming eligible for parole, Byrd said.
Battee, who has a degree in criminal justice and has worked as a guard, was convicted and sentenced last April 26 -- his 42nd birthday -- of committing the crime July 15, 2010.
"We affirm the judgment of the trial court because (1) the lack of a written waiver of a jury was harmless error and (2) sufficient evidence supports the trial court's rejection of Battee's insanity defense," the appellate court said in an opinion signed by Chief Justice Josh Morriss III.
According to the opinion, evidence in the case was as follows:
Gilmer police officer Larry Sewell was called to the Brookshire's supermarket parking lot in Gilmer after a report that someone involved in an offense there two days earlier was present. Sewell recognized a green truck from the prior incident, and it left the parking lot and sped away.
"Sewell said he pursued the truck for about fifteen to sixteen miles at speeds of beyond 100 miles per hour. This testimony is corroborated by a video recorded from the dash of Sewell's police vehicle," the opinion stated.
"Consistent with Sewell's description of events, Battee, later identified as the truck's driver, can be seen passing vehicles on the right shoulder, driving in the center turn lane, and driving in the opposite lanes. . .into oncoming traffic," Morriss continued. At one point, the opinion noted, Battee entered a truck stop's parking lot, slowed and stopped; but almost immediately, and after Sewell opened his patrol car door "sped away again."
"In the course of the chase," the document added, "one police car with lights flashing passed Battee in the oncoming lane; another car, also with lights flashing, pulled onto the shoulder on Battee's side of the road, facing Battee; and a third police car, lights flashing, passed Sewell and overtook Battee around the time Battee swerved from side-to-side on the four-lane highway and finally came to a stop.
"Battee finally was slowed and pulled to the left shoulder facing oncoming traffic," the opinion said. As his truck rolled to a stop, he leaped from it and ran into a field.
"Sewell said that, though it could not be clearly seen in the video recording, Battee jumped from the truck while it was still moving. Sewell gave pursuit and eventually apprehended Battee."
The defendant testified he ran from his vehicle because he smelled gasoline and feared an explosion and that, upon realizing Sewell was behind him, "just put (his) hands up and went with them." But Sewell said he had to chase Battee 30-100 yards, and the defendant "did not willingly cease running from him."
The opinion quoted Battee as telling a psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Murphy, he didn't "know he was being pursued and was hurrying to town for a meeting and to get his truck fixed."
However, testifying before Judge Parish, the defendant "explained the chase by saying the speedometer on his truck had been malfunctioning and he was driving at high speeds to get the meter to 'kick in.'"
As for Battee's argument that the record had no written waiver of a jury trial, the appeals court noted there were other "references indicating Battee's actual waiver."
Battee had a history of hospitalizations for mental illness. A psychologist who testified for the state,.Dr. Thomas Allen, and Dr. Murphy, who testified for the defense, agreed Battee suffered from mental illness, but disagreed on whether he was legally sane at the time of the incident. (Dr. Murphy said he wasn't).
Longview attorney John W. Moore represented Battee at trial. Gilmer attorney Dwight Brannon filed the appeal, and Assistant District Attorney Natalie Miller filed the prosecution's response.