LITTLEFIELD, Texas — Ronnie Eugene Sanders, 64, originally of Jasper, Texas, entered a plea of no contest on Tuesday in Lamb County District Court. He was charged with violation of civil commitment.
More specifically, Sanders was accused of forcibly breaking the ankle strap on his GPS monitor. Having been convicted twice – once for sexual abuse of a child and once for indecency with a child – he was under a court order to wear the GPS monitor.
“He asked the Court to defer a finding of guilt in his case and order him to be placed on deferred adjudication (community supervision),” a statement from prosecutors said.
A judge found him guilty, and because of his previous record, the minimum sentence was 25 years.
The following is the full statement from the Lamb County & District Attorney’s Office:
A Littlefield man pled “no contest” Tuesday morning, January 21, to a charge of Violation of Civil Commitment Requirement, a third degree felony. The charge stemmed from the man’s removing his court-ordered GPS ankle monitor on March 22, 2019, while he was a resident at the Texas Civil Commitment Center (“TCCC”).
Ronnie Eugene Sanders, 64, originally of Jasper, Texas, entered his plea to the charge, and pleas of “not true” to enhancement paragraphs before District Judge Felix Klein of the 154th District Court. The pleas from Sanders came after jurors had assembled for what was to be the start of the trial, but before the proceedings got underway Tuesday morning.
Once the Court received Sanders’ plea, it admonished him about the possible ranges of punishment available going forward. In its indictment, the State alleged Sanders had twice previously been sentenced to consecutive penitentiary terms, classifying him as a habitual offender. TEX. PENAL CODE §12.42(d). If the Court were to find both paragraphs true, the range would increase from two to ten years’ confinement (third degree felony), to twenty-five to ninety-nine years or life imprisonment (habitual offender enhancement). After finalizing the plea hearing, Judge Klein called the 12 jurors who’d been empaneled Monday afternoon into the courtroom; once he notified them of Sanders’ plea, he informed them their service was no longer needed.
Instead of giving opening statements, prosecutors Scott Say and Rickie Redman of the Lamb County & District Attorney’s Office, along with Defense Attorney Jim Shaw of Lubbock, moved into the punishment phase of the trial. Redman began by offering two State’s exhibits, which proved true the punishment enhancements stemming from Sanders’ prior penitentiary sentences: one, a three year sentence out of Harris County in 1981; the other, an eight year Jasper County sentence Sanders received in 2010. The convictions were for Sexual Abuse of a Child and Indecency with a Child—Sexual Contact, respectively. Next, Redman called Texas Civil Commitment Office Case Manager Kirsten Johnson to the stand.
Johnson provided testimony regarding the civil commitment process: what qualifies a sex offender for civil commitment, and generally what is required by law and TCCC policy of civilly committed persons. She gave testimony to the Court regarding Sanders’ behavior during civil commitment, noting he entered an Agreed Judgment in his civil commitment case in February 2016. Redman introduced into evidence documents proving Sanders was a civilly committed sexually violent predator (“SVP”), and showing he’d received itemized rules warning him criminal prosecution could result if he chose to alter, tamper with, obstruct, modify, remove, or otherwise manipulate the monitor.
Johnson spelled out for the Judge what happened on the night of March 22, 2019, when Sanders forcibly broke the ankle strap on his GPS monitor. She also told of the importance of use of the monitors with the SVP population, especially for the safety of the community. Following Johnson’s testimony, the State rested.
Shaw called Sanders to the stand as the sole defense witness during punishment. Sanders told the Judge about his frustration with the TCCC and the reasoning behind his choice to remove his court-ordered GPS monitor. He asked the Court to defer a finding of guilt in his case and order him to be placed on deferred adjudication (community supervision) to allow him to return to the TCCC and continue his SVP treatment program. On cross-examination, Redman inquired of Sanders about his criminal history and the fact that he knew he was committing a crime when he removed the monitor.
Both sides made closing arguments to the Court, after which Judge Klein found Sanders guilty of the offense, and further found both punishment enhancement paragraphs were true. When he pronounced the sentence, Judge Klein reminded Sanders that by choosing to have the Court assess his punishment, instead of entering into a plea agreement with the State, he subjected himself to a higher range of punishment. Klein continued in saying that because the law tied his hands in mandating no lower than a twenty-five year sentence, that was what he would impose. Sanders was remanded to the custody of the Lamb County Sheriff’s Office to await transportation to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Institutional Division to begin serving his sentence.
The Lamb County & District Attorney’s Office is thankful to the Lamb County residents who took time away from their lives to respond to their jury summons Monday, and especially to the twelve who were selected to serve in this case. Ultimately, they hope the verdict sends a strong message to others who might choose to violate their civil commitment requirements in Lamb County.