Judge quashes indictment against Nacogdoches jailers

Elizabeth Owens (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)
Elizabeth Owens (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A visiting judge signed an order Tuesday to quash an indictment against two former Nacogdoches County jailers, essentially ending the prosecution of the case involving an inmate who died in jail.

Visiting Judge Guy Griffin signed the order against Elizabeth Ann Owens, 40, of Nacogdoches, and Danny Ray Russell, 35, of Douglass, who were indicted on charges of state-jail criminal negligent homicide.

The charges were in connection to the Dec. 5 death of Edwinta Ruth Deckard, 53, of Nacogdoches.

Deckard was booked into the jail on Dec. 2 on misdemeanor theft charges. She became ill on Dec. 4, according to a previous report, and taken to the hospital after 6 a.m., where she died.

The grand jury indicted Owens and Russell on June 18.

The indictment stated they "did then and there by criminal negligence, cause the death of an individual, Edwinta Deckard, by failing to provide appropriate medical care."

Griffin stepped in for Judge Campbell Cox, who recused himself from the case.

The attorneys for Owens and Russell filed the motion to quash. The prosecution did not oppose the motion.

District Attorney Nicole LoStracco explained a quash is not the same as a dismissal. The defendants can be re-indicted, but LoStracco said there will be no more investigation into the case, unless new evidence is presented.

"At this point there is not any way to prove Danny caused Ms. Deckard's death," said Russell's attorney, John Heath Jr. "It's a tragedy, but that's what it is."

Heath said instead of attempting to implicate the jailers, "what ought to be looked at again is why we under fund jails and make it so difficult for people to get proper health care and enough jailers on duty to provide a better level of care."

One inmate in jail with Deckard, Robin Griffin, contends she and other women inmates "begged jailers to call an ambulance".  Griffin said she was not interviewed by anyone. Nor did she present herself to investigators. Griffin claims several women wrote and signed a grievance to staff following Deckard's illness.

"First thing you do when you get an indictment you look to see what the particular acts are complained of," said Owens' attorney, Tim James. "And the State has to furnish those acts and if they're unable to do that than the only proper thing to do is dismiss the charge."

"We all have remorse over Ms. Deckard's untimely death, but just because she was confined in our jail at the time of her death does not mean a criminal violation occurred," said Sheriff Thomas Kerss in a text message.

Kerss said he plans to meet with the jailers Wednesday morning to address lifting their suspensions. "We look forward to their returning to work in the near future," stated Kerss.

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