|San Jacinto News Times - Local News
Copyright 2012 - Polk County Publishing Company
Faulkner pleads no contest; waives right to jury trial
COLDSPRING – Fredrick Eugene Faulkner Jr. entered a plea of no contest and waived his right to a jury trial Monday for a second-degree charge of manslaughter. The plea came after about 100 had been summoned to the San Jacinto County Courthouse as prospective jurors. “We have a larger jury panel than usual because the defendant is well known in the community and we thought a larger jury panel was necessary for fairness,” Judge James Keeshan told those in the courtroom. Keeshan was assigned to hear the case by Regional Judge Olan Underwood. Keeshan is a retired district judge from Montgomery County who said he has been on the case for nearly one year. Explaining the case, Keeshan said it relates to a collision which occurred May 11, 2011. “It’s a manslaughter case due to bad driving resulting in the death of one and injury to another,” he said. “The defendant has the right to a trial by jury,” Keeshan told the jury pool, adding, “Before it gets to jury it’s been decided to try and work it out without a trial. Occasionally a defendant pleads guilty or no contest and punishment is set by the judge.” Keeshan introduced Faulkner’s attorney, Mike Davis of Coldspring and two prosecutors from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office, Chief Prosecutor Tyler Dunman and Trial Division and Vehicular Crimes Section Chief Warren Diepraam. “We haven’t entered into a plea bargain at this time although they negotiated one,” Keeshan told the jury pool. “After I excuse you, the defendant (Faulkner) will enter a plea and a punishment hearing will be set,” he said. He extended an invitation for anyone who wanted to stay after being excused to do so. Once the jury pool was dismissed, Keeshan asked Faulkner, Jr. to approach the bench and his attorney made a formal announcement to the judge of Faulkner’s plea. As Keeshan talked to Faulkner Jr. about his education and establishing his competency Faulkner fidgeted nervously, swinging his arms, twitching his hands and starring at the ceiling. Faulkner told Keeshan that it was his decision to change his plea to no contest and that he does not contest the allegation of manslaughter. Keeshan then set the punishment phase of the case to Feb. 19, 2013, saying it will probably take at least two days because the defense plans on calling a substantial number of witnesses. Among witnesses expected to be called by both the defense and the state are police officers and reconstruction experts. Faulkner Jr. is the son of San Jacinto County Judge Fritz Faulkner Sr. He was indicted for manslaughter last year, following a head-on collision on Hwy. 156 with another vehicle near Coldspring. A 52-year-old mother, Terry Thomas, was killed in the accident and her 46-year-old passenger Ruphley Earl McKinney hospitalized. Following an investigation by the Department of Public Safety a press release concerning the Mother’s Day head-on fatality was issued. According to the report, the accident happened about 6:34 p.m. when Faulkner Jr. was northbound on Hwy. 156 and Thompson was southbound. Both units collided near the center strip. Faulkner, then 24, was not injured. He was driving a Dodge Ram 2500 truck. Thompson was driving a Saturn, according to the press release.