(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
A jury will decide whether Darren Winans, 21, Jasper, is guilty of first degree murder in connection with the stabbing deaths of Bob and Ellen Sheldon, owners of The Old Cabin Shop of Carthage last October.
Those who watched local news programming or read the Joplin Globe last week know about the arrests of Winans and Matthew Laurin, 19, of Springfield by the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department.
What no one has been talking about is the series of events that enabled Winans, a convicted felon who has repeatedly violated the requirements of his probation, to remain free, a series of decisions by judges that appears to have cost the Sheldons their lives.
When Winans has his preliminary hearing later this month it will before Jasper County Circuit Court Judge Richard Copeland, the same man who let him walk on a probation violation in May 2008.
Court records indicate that on March 13, 2008, Copeland approved a plea bargain with Winans that reduced a felony drug crime, committed while Winans was on probation, to a misdemeanor charge of use of drug paraphernalia, and allowed him to have unsupervised probation. The arrest in the case was made by the Jasper Police Department.
The unsupervised probation was “unsuccessfully completed,” according to court records.
After the slap on the hand from Judge Copeland, Barton County Judge Charles Curless revoked Winans’ probation and sentenced him to five years in prison, subject to 120-day callback on March 21, 2008.
After the four months in prison, Judge Curless ordered Winans released. Less than three months later, Robert and Ellen Sheldon were dead.
Even after the murders, Winans provided ample reason for a judge to revoke his probation.
The Jasper County Sheriff’s Department finally arrested Winans July 1 on the theft charge that eventually broke the murder case open, but Winans could have been nailed for another probation violation in May, according to court records.
On May 27, another Jasper County judge, Stephen Carlton, issued a protection order against Winans under the Child Protection Act. While that does not necessarily mean Winans committed a crime, the fact that he was on probation for a felony would indicate it was well worth looking into.
So far, the fact that the brutal murder of Robert and Ellen Sheldon may have been committed by a man who should have been behind bars long ago seems to be being swept under the rug, both by Jasper County authorities and by the media.
Is Darren Winans an exception to a smoothly run judicial system or is this just business as usual?