‘An interest in telling the truth’

February 9, 2013

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The final tally came down to this: one man’s life – a regimented but well-liked Army veteran who ran a business – in exchange for less than $2,000 taken during a January 2012 robbery at T.J.’s Private Club and Cafe near Oak Trail Shores.

District Attorney Rob Christian asked the jury in 355th Judicial District Court during his closing summation to consider if the case showed that the value of a human life in Hood County was only worth “between $1,500 and $2,000.”

Last week’s capital murder trial of 24-year-old Justin Wade Ragan brought to light a case in which the use of and addiction to methamphetamine appears to have led to a senseless death. Ragan admitted to Texas Rangers in Meridian that he was high on meth at the time.

POOL OF BLOOD

The victim, Gene Sabin, wasn’t 100 percent himself at the time Ragan forced his way into the club in the early-morning hours. The employee who found Sabin lying in a pool of blood testified that only three days before that he had suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak. A note was found on the bar inside T.J.’s, and investigators believe he was trying to write the word “stroke” on a note so that Ragan would understand why he wasn’t responding verbally.

Most of the money was recovered, and now Ragan is headed for prison, with a life sentence and no possibility of parole. Jurors sorted through the evidence and decided that a lesser crime – “felony murder” – wouldn’t serve justice.

“When people say meth possession and delivery is a victimless crime, they overlook cases like this one,” said Christian, who elected not to pursue the death penalty in the case, or in the upcoming separate trials of the two other defendants.

Law enforcement and medical personnel testified along with DPS evidence experts. Ordinary people also took the stand – as key prosecution witnesses. Some of them admitted to being users of the illegal substance known as methamphetamine.

Christian said that although not everyone questioned by investigators would agree to talk, some of them wanted to either because they knew Sabin or knew who he was.

“Nobody was offered anything to testify,” Christian said. “Some of these people are criminals. I believe that even the criminals had an interest in telling the truth. Even the criminal element didn’t like the fact that they killed (Sabin).”

Christian’s point about the criminal element was driven home by the fact that one key witness – whose first name is Mike – testified in handcuffs and a prison jumpsuit. He testified he has been incarcerated for almost six months in a behavioral modification program in a SAFP (Substance Abuse Felony Punishment) facility as a condition of his probation. He was arrested on a felony charge of possession of a controlled substance, more than 4 grams/less than 200 grams. Mike testified he was not offered deals or consideration “of any kind” for his testimony.

He and one other person testified to hearing Ragan say he shot someone. The other one was a woman from Meridian who said she had dated Ragan off and on for about a year before the murder took place. She took the stand in an advanced state of pregnancy, and seemed to grow increasingly uncomfortable as the questions from prosecutors touched on more crucial topics. In response to a question from Assistant District Attorney Patrick Berry, the 32-year-old woman said she has five children – and a sixth one on the way. She admitted having her 1-year-old daughter at Mike’s house with several people she didn’t know who were using meth – where Ragan had asked to wait for him because he had “things to do.”

“What was everybody doing there?” Berry asked, referring to Mike’s house.

“Drinking, partying and smoking meth,” the woman said, including herself in the mix.

When she finally left Mike’s house hours later, she testified she saw Ragan as she was leaving the back entrance to Oak Trail Shores, picked him up and drove him to Meridian.

During the trip, she said that Ragan told her where he put the two bags of money taken from T.J.’s.

“He told me to bring it to him,” she said. “I was pretty scared and nervous and upset.”

They rented a motel room in Meridian, but later the woman drove back to OTS to get her phone because she’d left it at Mike’s house. When she got back to Mike’s, she said he encouraged her to gave a statement to the authorities to help with the investigation – which she did.

She testified that she told Ragan he should turn himself in, but he told her, “he could take care of himself.” As it turned out, the Texas Rangers took care of Ragan in the interview, providing him with a cigarette and a soft drink – while also getting him to admit to murder during their 90-minute session shown to the jury.

“I would like to commend the Texas Rangers for the work they’ve done, and Patrick Berry has worked for several months with the Rangers,” Christian said. “(Ranger) Danny Briley has done a lot of work since the case was originally submitted, and we’re still working on it.”

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