Wichita County courtrooms busy with backlogged cases post-COVID

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WICHITA COUNTY (KFDX/KJTL) — In-person jury trials have been back in full swing in Wichita County since August, and officials said there is no sign of them slowing down.

District Attorney John Gillespie said it took 18 months for the court cases to become backlogged, so it’s probably gonna take even longer to get case numbers back to normal.

“I think that we’re gonna be very busy, and we should be very busy,” Judge Charles Barnard of the 89th District Court said.

From March 2020 to August 2021, in-person jury trials were unavailable in Wichita County, but with the courtrooms back to full again, judges like Barnard are seeing as many as 90 cases on their dockets in one day.

“We’re trying to move as many cases as possible; we wanna see that justice is done,” Barnard said. “But it’s very important that we proceed and try and have cases plead to see that justice is done.”

The district attorney’s office has tried eight trials in three different courts since August.

With six of those trials being child sexual abuse cases and four of those trials ending with life sentences, the whole office is attacking cases with great fervor.

“So many important cases that have readied to go for trial. We tried Michael Corey a couple weeks ago in the 30th; he was a psychopath,” Gillespie said. “Sex case after sex case, so we’ve been really rolling up our sleeves and really getting after the backlog.”

Barnard said he has to move some times for when they jury comes back for trials to make room for other cases on his docket, but one of his concerns is for the crimes that have not been reported yet because of the pandemic.

“I think that’s gonna keep our dockets full for a long time,” Barnard said. “These cases involving child sexual assaults, they’re not disclosed for months, sometimes years later. We don’t know what the pandemic’s affect on criminal behavior will do.”

Gillespie said young prosecutors are getting plenty of chances to try cases because of the backlog. He knows that getting cases done now helps victims that have been waiting for justice.

“Victims in the Michael Corey case, they’ve been waiting for a number of years for that trial. When they heard that he was convicted, he was locked up, that starts the healing process for them,” Gillespie said. “So it is very important for us to get in court and be able to try these cases, to start clearing that Covid backlog.”

The courts will stay full, bringing relief to victims and keeping the courtrooms busy as the local judicial system has a busy few years ahead.

Barnard added that he is still encouraging social distancing in his courtroom along with masks.

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