Convicted tornado fraud suspect asks for new sentence

Jason McKnight mug shot courtesy of Angelina County Jail.
Jason McKnight mug shot courtesy of Angelina County Jail.

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Holley Nees - email

LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - Court testimony Thursday morning revealed the state had reached a lesser plea agreement with a Wells contractor convicted of fraud in connection to victims of the Dec. 2009 tornado.

Jason Lynn McKnight, 43, was in District Judge Paul White's courtroom requesting a new sentencing hearing based on juror misconduct during his jury trial. White turned down the request on those grounds, but said he may consider a new trial on the grounds of justice.

Prosecuting attorney Art Bauereiss said during the hearing he had agreed to a plea deal with McKnight. He said the agreement included an 11-year prison sentence and McKnight would have to pay $15,500 in restitution before a new sentencing hearing.

If McKnight continued the appeals process, the state would be forced to spend tax dollars on granting him a court-appointed attorney, plus time spent on opposing the process.

White said he would consider a motion for retrial on the sentencing phase. If he granted that, the state could enter the plea deal. He made it clear he would have to consider the plea deal and wanted to be sure McKnight did not buy his way out of a punishment.

McKnight told White during the hearing that he was sorry for breaking the law, and he has since become a born-again Christian and realizes what he did was wrong.

"I've actually personally seen a change in Jason McKnight since the trial," said McKnight's attorney Al Charanza. "I generally believe he has made some changes and decisions in his life and so I believe his statements to the court were genuine and remorseful."

For now, McKnight is headed back to prison to complete his 25-year prison sentence that White levied against him in December.

A jury found McKnight guilty of five counts of fraud in October. He was accused of illegally securing building permits on behalf of tornado victims without their permission from the City of Lufkin.

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