3 On Your Side Investigates: Justice Delayed - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

3 On Your Side Investigates: Justice Delayed

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Dozens of accused killers move through the Hinds County criminal justice system every year. A 3 On Your Side investigation reveals that journey is painfully slow, taking around two years just to get a chance at a conviction.

The end result: justice delayed for those forever scarred by a loved one's murder.

"It's been a nightmare not only for me but for her three children," said Tammy Johnson. "She has three children, and I'm raising two of them. They just asked over the holiday what's going to happen to the man that killed her mom?" 

That's a question Johnson still can't answer. A gunman killed her daughter Nedra and cousin Bradley Adams on Nov. 9, 2015.

She believes, along with Jackson police, that Johnathan Nickson committed the crime.

"By now I thought we would have done went to trial, he would have gotten sentenced and been incarcerated in MDOC," added Johnson.

Nickson hasn't faced a trial jury yet. In court documents and our previous news reports, we found out why.

JPD arrested Nickson and charged him with two counts of murder on Dec. 2, 2015. A Hinds County grand jury indicted him two and a half months later, on Feb. 26, 2016.

After that, Nickson's trial date was continued -- or delayed -- nine times. Almost every time, court documents say the reason was a crowded docket, meaning too many cases, not enough judges.

"When you don't know what's going on, you don't know, you don't even know when the trial's gonna be. They haven't even set a trial date, and every time I call, they say it's been put back, it's been put back," said Deborah Adams.

For her, the constant waiting feels like purgatory.

She's stuck, frozen in time, hoping for closure in the death of her son.

"We are the parents and the only thing we have is to try to get justice for our loved ones," added Adams.

These families aren't the only ones affected here.

A months-long 3 On Your Side investigation revealed that, since 2015, 66 percent of Jackson's accused killers still haven't been tried before a jury.

The numbers from more than 100 cases tell the story: it took more than three months, 107 days, for a Hinds County grand jury to indict a murder suspect. 

What about going to trial? For accused killers arrested in 2015, that number's well over two years: 774 days.

Those extended stays in jail end up costing Hinds County taxpayers dearly: more than 1.3 million dollars since 2015, a conservative estimate based on inmate costs from the sheriff's office, information from law enforcement and court documents.

Why are these accused criminals behind bars so long in the first place? Those cases revealed a host of reasons: crowded court dockets, overworked public defenders, missing evidence, plea negotiations.

Sometimes miscommunication adds to the problem, too.

Circuit Judge Jeff Weill gave Nickson a quarter-million-dollar bond but had not been told that Nickson had already been indicted for two other felonies, including strong-arm robbery.

"The judge at that point said somehow or another that it was thrown out," said Adams.There was nothing ever done about  [those previous charges];  like it never really happened. They don't know where the paperwork went."

It took more than six months for the court to find out about the charges and revoke Nickson's bond.

When asked about the delays and why they happen, Senior Circuit Judge Tomie Green said part of the holdup comes from the Hinds County District Attorney's office.

"There has been massive turnover in terms of two or three years: ADA, investigative, everything," said Judge Green. "Until we get some stability there, we're going to have some problems in terms of things moving smoothly."

Green said sometimes cases get delayed because the DA's office hasn't done anything with the evidence it receives, or it doesn't even have the evidence because law enforcement hasn't provided it yet.

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith agrees that there have been serious disruptions to his office, attacks against him and others, and he believes that has held them up.

Smith said he thinks the judges are at fault, too.

"There are tons of cases on the docket in that courtroom where we only have an opportunity to try a case three times a year. Three terms: March, July and October," Smith said. "We may get three cases tried. Maybe. It is totally impossible to move a docket if you're not in court."

Green and Smith agree on one cause: a lack of communication.

Take the case of Jamonta Jackson, arrested and charged with killing Horatio Hunt Senior a year ago. 

Court documents showed Jackson had previously been charged with aggravated assault and burglary in October 2015 but wasn't indicted until after being arrested for killing Hunt eighteen months later. 

Hinds County deals with more felony cases than any other place in Mississippi, which hits the Hinds County Public Defender's Office hardest because most murder suspects who need representation are indigent.

In one murder case, we found the public defender asked for a continuance because he was handling 84 other defendants at the same time.

"It's unimaginable. I have something like 83 students this semester. If those were my criminal clients, there's no way I could say I gave those all the attention I'd want to give them," said Mississippi College School of Law Professor Matt Steffey.

Steffey said he believes Judge Green and members of the DA's office work hard to get these cases through, but he thinks more judges, public defenders and investigators would help things run more efficiently.

"It's like having a scar and tearing it back open again. That's the hardest thing to face," said Adams said.

Adams and Johnson want more understanding from those judges, though, because they still feel threatened.

"At one point the children were terrified, knowing he could come harm them. It was a nightmare not just for me but for children who live in fear that someone could come kill them as well.  January 16, I'm looking forward to that day and I'm hoping we can continue to a trial," said Johnson.

That January 16 court date has been pushed back yet again because snow closed county buildings that week.

Because of that, Nickson's case has been continued to April 2018.

Read about these cases and more in our special section devoted to Jackson Homicides.

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