Prosecutors Work Through Tedious Case Load

A slew of high profile murder cases have pushed Smith County prosecutors into overdrive.

Nowadays, Smith County's trial dockets seem more like idea boards for an Agatha Christie novel than courtroom agendas. The cases run the gamut: From a mother accused of killing her own children to a minister charged with his wife's murder.

While the Deanna Laney case is one of the most anticipated, Skeen says its unlikely the trial will start before 2004.

But, then again, prosecutors have enough to keep them busy.

The capital murder case against Shawn Willhelm begins sometime in late July. Not to mention, Willhelm's girlfriend, Heather Mizer and two other suspects are facing trials for Jeffrey Joplin's murder. Skeen says its possible some of the suspects will plea before trial.

"You have several of these cases occurring around the same period of time," he adds. "It intensifies the commitment that has to be made in terms of personnel and resources."

In all, Smith County has eight murders on the docket and seven felony prosecutors. Capital murder is the official charge in 5 of the cases. A drastic change from 2002 when only one capital murder was on the docket.

With three of eight murder suspects as clients, defense attorney Buck Files has also been burning the midnight oil and working weekends.

"I think we have an uncommon number of capital murder cases which are pending now," Files says. "But like any other cases, they can only be tried one at a time. We have judges that are reasonable, they're not going to push us to trial until we're ready."

After Shawn Willhelm's case starts in July, another capital case is scheduled for August.

A recent murder outside Barnes and Noble in Tyler recently added to the case load, but Skeen says its unlikely the murder will be tried before 2004.

   Kerri Panchuk, reporting.