By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
Two felony trials in Liberty County ended Thursday with probation for both defendants.
Brenda Uhunmwangho, 36, of Houston, convicted of Money Laundering, received a 10-year probated sentence in the 75th State District Courtroom of Judge Mark Morefield, and Darwin Jermaine Taylor, 38, of Liberty, convicted for Manufacture and Delivery of a Controlled Substance, was ordered by 253rd State District Judge Chap Cain to spend up to 180 days in a state-run program called Intermediate Sanctions Facility.
“The ISF program has cognitive thinking and substance abuse classes. After Mr. Taylor is released, he will be routinely drug-tested and wear a GPS ankle monitor for six months,” said Liberty County District Attorney Logan Pickett. “He has 10 years of probation after that.”
Both cases were first-degree felonies that could have carried much stiffer sentences, but Pickett said the judges treated them as second-degree felonies.
Uhunmwangho was arrested in 2016 by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office along US 59 in the Cleveland area.
“They asked questions about her travel because they had run her plate previously. She told them she had been in Memphis, Tenn., for three or four days previously,” Pickett said. “They said, ‘Well, your car was run through the license plate reader earlier today. That was a quick trip to Memphis.'”
During trial, Pickett explained how $160,000 was found in a secret compartment of the vehicle Uhunmwangho was driving. While no drugs were found, the presence of such a large amount of cash was evidence that she was involved in drug trafficking.
“She told the law enforcement officers that her job was to drop off the car and someone else was supposed to pick it up. She gave the name of someone in Tennessee, but they never arrested the guy,” Pickett said. “They were on the side of the road so long trying to get her to cooperate. When you make shipments like that, you are on a time schedule. They are watching the drop location. They know when you should be there. If you are 2-3 hours behind, they are going to leave because they know you aren’t going to show up.”
Uhunmwangho’s criminal history was brought up during trial. She was arrested in 2006 in Panola County and got caught up in a federal investigation after a pound of cocaine was found in her vehicle.
“She got federal supervised release, which is like federal parole,” Pickett said. “She also went to state jail for a theft charge in Harris County.”
Her defense to the most recent charge, the DA added, is that she claims she didn’t know what she was hauling.
“We argued for penitentiary time because of her previous charge for trafficking. That amount of money – $160,000 – is worth about eight kilos of drugs. It was a huge case,” Pickett said.
In Taylor’s case, he was arrested on April 4, 2016, after he sold drugs to an undercover officer with Liberty County Pct. 4 Constable’s Office, according to Pickett.
“He wasn’t considered a habitual offender but the charge was enhanced. He had five prior felonies – four for drugs and one for evading,” Pickett said.
If Taylor fails to comply with the terms of his probation, he is subject to a sentence of 5-99 years, or life, in prison.
“Judge Cain, and I understand his logic, said that we could put him in prison and he would come out and do the same thing again, or we could put him on probation and try to help him change his behavior permanently,” Pickett said.
While Pickett had hoped for stronger sentences for the defendants and knows that many people might disagree with the sentencing, he said it is proof the the courts’ systems of checks and balances works and is fair to all parties.
“One of the reasons it works is because the judges and prosecutors do not always agree. I don’t fault juries or judges on the decisions they make. It’s part of our system,” Pickett said. “This system works well because of and not in spite of varying opinions. Defendants are entitled to theirs, as are juries, judges and prosecutors, and we respect all of them.”