By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
A 54-year-old man, Timothy Leroy Cornell, of Rye, was sentenced in absentia to 67 years in prison after he failed to show up for sentencing Wednesday, Feb. 13, in the 75th State District Courtroom in Liberty County.
Cornell was tried for Possession of a Controlled Substance after an arrest in December 2016 and was found guilty of the crime on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
His subsequent arrest for Possession of Marijuana in August 2018 and a previous criminal history dating back to 1988 meant that Cornell is considered a habitual offender with a mandatory 25-year prison sentence for the drug possession charge.
Cornell’s attorney, William Cheadle, told Judge Mark Morefield, outside the presence of the jury, that Cornell sent a text message trying to justify his absence.
According to the attorney, the message read, “I am in fear for my life,” with no further explanation.
When the jury was reassembled for the sentencing hearing to continue, Prosecutor Tami Pierce used the railing in front of the jury box to lay out court documents for each of Cornell’s previous convictions.
“If you follow the law, it starts at 25 years and goes up from there,” Pierce said.
Cornell’s convictions included a burglary in 1983, two counts of Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle from 1985 and 1988, possession of a controlled substance in 1988, possession of cocaine in 1991 and evading arrest in 2008.
Cheadle asked the jury to remember that the charge against Cornell was a “simple possession case,” which was enhanced only by the previous convictions.
In creating an enhanced punishment for persons repeatedly convicted of crimes, the Texas Legislature meant to strengthen the punishment for violent and dangerous offenders, not drug addicts, Cheadle argued.
“He is not a threat to society. He needs rehab, not prison. None of us are perfect people. I ask that you have leniency for Mr. Cornell. Send a message to our Legislature,” Cheadle said. “The minimum of 25 years would be fair. In this instance, that would be appropriate.”
Pierce rebutted Cheadle’s claim that Cornell is not a threat to society, reminding the jury that smaller crimes like drug possession often lead to more violent crimes like theft, robbery and murder.
“That’s where it all begins,” she said.
Using a graphic to show the middle point of 25 and 99 years, she asked the jury to consider 62 years as a fair punishment.
“You have to ask yourself, where does he fall in this range? By his absence, he has told you how he feels about your verdict,” Pierce said.
After a lunch break and deliberation, the jury returned with a sentence of 67 years. At this time, Cornell’s whereabouts are unknown.
In a statement released Wednesday night, District Attorney Logan Pickett explained how Cornell was determined to be a habitual offender.
“Cornell is classified by the legislature as a habitual felon because he has two or more sequential TDC (Texas Department of Corrections) trips prior to the commission of this offense. Habitual offenders may be sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment for Life, or not more than 99 years or less than 25 years,” Pickett said.
The DA said Cornell will be formally sentenced after he is arrested for the bond forfeiture warrant.
“Despite the long sentence, parole laws in Texas call for Cornell’s eligibility for release to begin in seven years, though this does not guarantee release,” Pickett said.