A Livingston man will spend the rest of his natural life in prison for killing two people and causing life-altering injuries to a third victim in a May 5, 2015, drunken-driving accident in Liberty County.
In a week-long trial that ended Friday, a jury in the 75th State District Court of Judge Mark Morefield found James Dean Shaw, 44, guilty of two counts of murder, two counts of intoxicated manslaughter with a vehicle, one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of intoxicated assault. For each count, he was sentenced to life in prison.
This was Shaw’s sixth DWI arrest. He was convicted of two DWIs in Polk County in the early 1990s, one in Navarro County in the mid-1990s and two in Oklahoma in 2005 and 2007.
During the punishment phase of the trial, jurors learned that Shaw’s extensive criminal history includes theft convictions in Harris and Nacogdoches counties, and convictions for deadly conduct and felon in possession of a firearm in Polk County.
The May 5 accident took place about two miles north of Rye, just inside the Liberty County line and at the entrance to Down South Liquor Store. Shaw was southbound on SH 146 in a 2014 Jeep Patriot when he veered into the path of a northbound 2013 Jeep Wrangler driven by Mindy Beth Richardson, of Hardin, who was eight months pregnant at the time.
One of Shaw’s three passengers, 21-year-old Gerald Lynn Potts Jr., was killed instantly. Another passenger, John Real Jr., 13, was disconnected from life support 10 days later, just six days shy of his 14th birthday. Shaw’s third passenger and Real’s younger brother, 13-year-old Joseph Winkelspecht Jr., suffered a traumatic brain injury and was hospitalized for months. Winkelspecht is now confined to a wheelchair and is learning to talk again.
Richardson suffered broken ribs and a broken sternum, and her son, Cael, now 1, was safely delivered by C-section.
Blood alcohol level challenged:
Shaw’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was 0.281, more than three times the legal limit.
During his trial, Shaw’s defense team, Michelle Merendino and Ciara Tanner, argued unsuccessfully that his blood alcohol level, taken after the accident at Conroe Regional Medical Center, was inaccurate because of pain medication administered by paramedics after the accident.
The defense team also suggested that bacteria in the blood vials may have caused the alcohol in Shaw’s blood to ferment at a quicker rate, thus providing a false reading when tested, and that the accident could have been avoided had Richardson been driving at a slower speed and not been using her cruise control. The black box in Richardson’s vehicle, which captured the five seconds prior to the crash, showed she was driving between 68 and 69 miles per hour in a 65 mile-per-hour zone.
Liberty County District Attorney Logan Pickett challenged the defense team’s assertions, suggesting that their expert was using assumptions to determine the speed of Richardson’s vehicle. The expert claimed Richardson’s vehicle was traveling at 78-79 miles per hour due to her vehicle’s after-market rims.
“This is garbage in and garbage out. An expert is not supposed to get up there and make up whatever they want you to believe,” Pickett said. “Her vehicle was a bright red Jeep that you couldn’t miss if you tried, unless you were drunk.”
After three hours of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts on six of seven counts before sequestering again to determine his sentence. One hour later, the jurors emerged and the sentences were read in court.
Throughout the trial, the family members of Potts, Real, Winkelspecht and Richardson sat clustered together, strangers united by their shared tragedy.
For the Real-Winkelspecht family, the aftermath of the accident caused a family rift, John Real Sr. said.
“This has broken our family apart,” he said. “We don’t hardly see each other these days.”
A couple of times a month, he visits his surviving grandson at the home of Tiffany Cuellar, the boy’s step-aunt. Cuellar was appointed guardian a few months after the accident.
“He was going to be sent to a pediatric center near Dallas and I was afraid he would lose whatever ground he was making in his recovery, so my husband and I agreed to raise him,” she said.
Potts’ father, Gerald Sr., says he is living with regrets. He wishes he had been able to convince his son to stay with him and his wife at their home in Silsbee. He claims he had a premonition the last time he saw his son that the next time he would be dead.
“Gerald was my only child. It’s rough losing a son,” he said. “There are a lot of things I wish I had the chance to do with him.”
Shaw likely to appeal:
Facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, Shaw is expected to appeal, his attorneys said, though they will not be representing him for the appeal.
District Attorney Logan Pickett said the severity of the sentence proves that the evidence against Shaw was clear to jurors.
“It’s not an easy task to be a juror, but when the evidence is clear that the felony drunk driver does something so obviously dangerous to human life, the jury knew what they had to do. The safety of the citizens of Liberty County is very important to us and obviously very important to the jurors in this case,” he said.
“I applaud the investigators, specifically (DPS Special Agent) Chris Cash and (Texas Ranger) Derek Leitner, and everyone else whose hard work made this just result possible. We work as a team on a daily basis with law enforcement and we could not have the success we do without the hard work of many.”
Story provided by Houston Chronicle.
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Tagged Chris Cash, Derek Leitner, District Attorney, Gerald Lynn Potts Jr., Gerald Potts, Houston, Houston Criminal Defense, Houston Manslaughter Defense Attorney, Houston Murder Defense Attorney, Houston News, James Dean Shaw, John Real, John Real Jr., Joseph Winkelspecht, Judge Mark Morefield, Logan Pickett, Potts, Real, Richardson, Tiffany Cuellar, Winkelspecht,