TALLADEGA COUNTY -- A Talladega County jury found three “aggravators” applied to the case of a habitual offender charged with possession of cocaine and illegal possession of a firearm.
Garrick Demetrice Clopton, 38, of Sylacauga, will be sentenced by Circuit Judge Bo Hollingsworth on Oct. 11. Depending on which set of applicable guidelines Hollingsworth opts to use, Clopton will face either 18 to 97 months in prison or 15 years to life in prison.
According to Assistant District Attorney Christina Kilgore, the state Legislature created a list of offenses that involve a worksheet that takes a wide range of factors into account. The results of the worksheet are put into a computer, and a sentence range is produced.
The worksheets were first introduced in 2000, and their use became mandatory in 2012. Kilgore said the list of presumptive worksheet offenses includes fraudulent use of a credit or debit card, forgery, theft of property, breaking into and entering an automobile, possession of a controlled substance, manufacture of a controlled substance, distribution of a controlled substance, distribution of marijuana and possession of marijuana in the first degree.
The law does allow for the state to present aggravators to the jury, however. If the jury finds these aggravators apply, then the judge may consider sentencing under the nonworksheet formula, which will lead to a longer sentence.
“This is really the first time, other than in capital cases, where the jury is involved in the sentencing process at all,” Kilgore said. “The sentence is still up to the judge, where it should be. It gives the judge some discretion back. And no one is better suited to make those decisions than a judge that people elected.”
The process in these cases is different from the sentencing phase in a capital case, however. In a capital case, the jury is asked to weigh aggravating vs. mitigating factors, then make a nonbinding recommendation to the judge as to whether the defendant should be sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole.
In cases like Clopton’s, the jury only considers aggravators. The defense will present any mitigating circumstances directly to the judge before sentencing.
Clopton has three previous felony convictions and was out on bond for three counts each of distribution of a controlled substance and distribution of marijuana when he was arrested on the possession and gun charges at issue this week.
Kilgore explained that the aggravating circumstances offered by the state included that Clopton was out on pretrial release (bond) at the time of his arrest, that he had repeatedly engaged in the same conduct and that the community had been negatively affected by his activity. Before the trial began, Clopton had entered guilty pleas to the drug possession and gun charges, meaning the jury was considering only the aggravators, not his guilt or innocence of the underlying charges.
Defense attorney Bennett Webb argued that the 15-year minimum was too long for someone suffering from the disease of addiction.
Also in court this week:
-- A jury convicted James Michael Kelly, 48, for burglary in the third degree; and
-- Another jury convicted Jennifer Nichole Sullivan of theft of property in the second degree.