OTTUMWA — Judge Lucy Gamon denied requests from some defendants in high-profile cases for their release from jail but granted others for inmates who said the COVID-19 outbreak posed an unreasonable risk to their health.
A look at the rulings for Kelsie Thomas and Son Nguyen, who were denied release, and Joshua Sprague, who was allowed to leave the Wapello County Jail, shows the line courts have to walk.
In the time in custody between arrest and trial, a defendant is neither entirely free nor convicted of a crime. Their movements can be restricted, and the courts keep a close eye on their activities leading up to trial.
For those in jail, there are clearly more restrictions. But the fact the defendants have not been convicted means they may be allowed more freedom if they can post bond. With Iowa’s known COVID-19 cases rising rapidly, and concerns about the outcome if it were to show up in correctional facilities high, the attorney for Thomas, Nguen and Sprague asked the court to allow their releases.
Gamon’s order releasing Sprague, who faces charges of possession of stolen property, ongoing criminal conduct and theft, shows how the courts may balance the demands of safety for defendants and society.
“There is no evidence that conditions in the Wapello County Jail are currently unsafe,” Gamon wrote. But jails “by their very nature have a high concentration of people in a confined space,” which offers opportunities for a disease to spread.
Sprague is not charged with violent crimes, Gamon noted, nor has he been convicted of violence in the past. That’s not the case for Thomas and Nguyen.
Thomas faces a charge of first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Cloe Chandler. Nguyen faces multiple counts of sexual abuse and lascivious acts with a child. All are considered violent crimes under Iowa law, and Gamon denied the release petitions.
In other area cases:
• Roger Watsey pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and failure to possess a tax stamp. His sentencing was set for June 8.
• William Forney entered a written guilty plea to charges of assault on persons engaged in certain occupations and interference with official acts.
• The numerous charges filed against Darian Gideon in connection with a series of burglaries have been consolidated into a single case. Gideon faces a 38-count indictment which includes charges of ongoing criminal conduct, second- and third-degree burglaries, second- and third-degree thefts, and 16 charges of burglary from a motor vehicle.