A Chetopa woman asked for probation or a shorter prison term and a judge gave her a break, but he still sentenced her to prison for more than four years.
Vanessa R. McWhirt Martin, 38, was sentenced this week in Labette County District Court for trafficking contraband (drugs) into a correctional facility, possession of methamphetamine, both felonies, and two misdemeanor counts, theft and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Because of McWhirt Martin’s criminal history, she faced a prison term under Kansas Sentencing Guidelines, the law that determines a defendant’s sentence. She was on felony bond when her newest case came up, so that invokes a special sentencing rule that could lead to consecutive prison terms. McWhirt Martin could have received a much longer prison term plus jail time potentially for the misdemeanors.
She and her attorney, JoAnna Derfelt, asked for a shorter prison term or probation.
McWhirt Martin testified about her addiction to meth, her history of mental health issues and her physical health challenges. She said she was in a car accident in 2008 and suffered a traumatic brain injury, which led to memory loss.
In October 2018, she got into an argument with a man she was traveling with in a car and left the vehicle. The man shot her and drove off. The shooting happened Oct. 13, 2018, at Quincy and Rouse streets in Pittsburg. McWhirt Martin underwent surgery in Pittsburg and was transferred to the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, for further surgery and treatment.
The driver of the car, Eric J. Cravey, now 36, was arrested in Hill County, Texas. He was convicted in Crawford County of attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault. He is in Norton Correctional Facility and will be eligible for parole in November 2023, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections website.
McWhirt Martin testified that she lost her right kidney because of the shooting. She testified that her family is back in her life now, including her daughter, son and grandson. She hoped to continue these relationships. She testified she’s been seeing a therapist at Labette Center for Mental Health Services.
Her mother, Connie Pursley, and her daughter, Shelby Pursley, also testified. Her mother testified that McWhirt Martin’s attitude has changed and she’s willing to accept help. She saw that change in her the last time her daughter was in jail (McWhirt Martin was released about two months ago). She said her daughter suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from the accident and the shooting. McWhirt Martin’s daughter testified that she doesn’t recognize her mother when she’s using drugs. She got to spend time with her mom in the last couple of months and she’s been the mother she remembers before drugs were in the picture. She said she would turn her mother in if she sees her use drugs again.
After testimony, Derfelt asked Judge Fred W. Johnson to grant probation for McWhirt Martin or a shorter prison term. Her client is getting the help she needs and has family support.
Deputy County Attorney Mandy Johnson noted McWhirt Martin’s crimes in 2015, 2016, 2017 and two cases in 2018. The current case is not a border-box case, where probation is possible. McWhirt Martin is supposed to get prison for the charges based on her criminal history score of C, which puts her on the upper range of possible sentences in Kansas. Johnson argued that substantial and compelling reasons were not presented to allow a shorter prison term or probation. Johnson agreed that McWhirt Martin has been doing well since her release from jail in September.
Judge Johnson denied the request for probation. He did, however, order the sentences to run at the same time instead of back to back, which shortened the prison sentence for McWhirt Martin. He sentenced her to 57 months in prison on the trafficking charge, making that the controlling term. He also granted her credit for 250 days in jail while her cases were pending.
In other cases:
— Steven E. Jones Jr., 26, of Parsons received probation rather than prison for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, a mid-level drug felony, and possession of meth, a low-level drug felony. Judge Jeffry L. Jack sentenced Jones to 69 months in prison on the charges but accepted a recommendation from Jones’ attorney and the prosecutor to depart from sentencing law. The judge suspended the prison term and placed Jones on probation through community corrections for three years. Jones will be required to get a drug and alcohol evaluation and follow recommendations, even if in-patient treatment is recommended. Failure to complete treatment could result in Jones having to serve his prison term. Jones’ evaluation appointment is Dec. 18. Jones’ criminal history score is G, which is on the lower range of possible sentences in Kansas. Jones also received 164 days credit for time served in jail and he was released this week. “Mr. Jones, I wish you good luck. I hope you’re able to get a handle on this,” Jack said.
— Jarnell G. Webb Jr., born in 1970, Topeka, pleaded not guilty to making a false information, obstructing the official duty of an officer, both low-level felonies, and three traffic-related charges. A trial is scheduled for March 4 and 5 as a backup to another trial. April 14 and 15 is the firm trial date. A hearing on pretrial motions will be Feb. 10. The judge also lowered Webb’s bond from $25,000 to $15,000.