15-year standoff in East Texas over, charges dismissed over a year ago

Published: Jan. 8, 2016 at 5:50 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 9, 2016 at 1:04 AM CST
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John Joe Gray (Souce: ABC News)
John Joe Gray (Souce: ABC News)
Swinging sign and noose at the front of John Joe Gray's property in Trinidad. (Source: KLTV...
Swinging sign and noose at the front of John Joe Gray's property in Trinidad. (Source: KLTV staff)
(Source: KLTV staff)
(Source: KLTV staff)

HENDERSON COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - An armed standoff in East Texas has ended after 15 years. The standoff that began in 2000 is being called the longest in the country.

Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt confirmed the standoff with John Joe Gray is officially over because they no longer have grounds to arrest Gray.

RELATED: 10 Year Standoff: Sheriff's Waiting Game

"They're free to come and go as they please," said Nutt of Gray and the approximately 13 family members living on the Gray compound.  "He's got no criminal charges whatsoever."  

According to ABC News, Gray, a self-proclaimed "freedom fighter", had lived on the 47-acre compound in Trinidad near the Trinity River with no running water or electricity since the standoff began.

The original charges brought by the Anderson County district attorney on March 15, 2000, included taking a weapon away from an officer and assaulting a public servant. The Anderson County clerk's records show both charges were dismissed on Dec. 29, 2014.

Nutt said they haven't had any manpower devoted to the standoff in recent years, but he said he is relieved it ended without casualties.

"To me it don't fit a stand-off, but I don't know how you describe it otherwise," said Nutt, who has been sheriff of Henderson County for eight years. "It's not like we've been out there watching them every day for fifteen years, it certainly hasn't been with weapons."

He said there have been multiple requests to his office, especially from the media, asking why his did not plan to storm the property with an arrest warrant. 

"That's very simple to me. There's several children out there, they haven't hurt anybody in our county," said Nutt. "Why should I take my deputies out there and chance getting someone killed, and in turn, us having to kill one of their family members and maybe the children?"

A year passes before John Joe Gray or Henderson County officials learn of dismissal

Sheriff Nutt said he was unaware of the 2014 dismissals until now.  With Gray being essentially cut off from the outside world, Nutt said he doubts Gray knew the status of the charges either. On Friday morning, Nutt visited Gray and explained the dismissals. 

"He seemed relieved, but that's about as far as I'm going to go," said Nutt. 

Former Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe filed the original charges against Gray.

"It's a very serious offense that he's charged with," said Lowe. "But it's not an offense that justifies the taking of lives. It was resolved without the loss of life, so in that respect, I'm happy." 

After 14 years, before leaving office as DA, Lowe decided to drop the charges against Gray.

"I felt [Gray] had been in self-imposed exile or house arrest for 14 years, which was longer than I could ever give him for the charges that he's been accused of," said Lowe. "It would have been a good resolution for Gray to turn himself in and answer the charges against him, but he didn't do that."

Lowe said the district attorney's office is under no requirement to notify a defendant when charges are dismissed, and Gray was not represented by an attorney.

"We filed the papers, we had the judge sign the dismissal, and beyond that, that was the end of our responsibility," Lowe said. 

Nutt said he hasn't had any problems with Gray, and hopes things will remain that way. 

"Now we don't have a tense situation where something bad could happen," said Nutt. "I just hope they go on with their lives and do right." 

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