Criminal Justice Effects of COVID-19: Several DC Homicide Defendants Jailed 3+ Years Still Await Trial, Data Shows

As the DC Superior Court continues to face the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on operations, many homicide defendants await jury trials from DC Jail, where data shows some of them have been held for more than three and sometimes four years.

Aside from juvenile and reopened cases, 64 of the people who were charged with a homicide offense from the beginning of 2016 to the end of 2018 are pending trial, according to D.C. Witness data. As of April 29, when the data for this story was finalized, 49 of the defendants were being held in jail while they wait for their trials, not including one defendant who is held on other charges.

Sixteen of those 49 defendants have been there more than three years, and four have been there more than four years.

One of those defendants is 31-year-old Clinton Womack. He is charged with first-degree murder while armed in the shooting of 45-year-old Terry Crutchfield on the 1500 block of Olive Street, NE, on Dec. 6, 2016. Womack was arrested two weeks later. 

On April 28, a judge scheduled Womack to have his jury trial in July of 2023. By then, he will have been detained for more than six years.

However, the court is reportedly keeping a list of the trials they have scheduled, so, when more courtrooms become available, those trials could potentially be rescheduled for an earlier date.

Former Chief Judge Robert E. Morin suspended jury trials in March due to the pandemic.

Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring authorized them to resume in April, with safety precautions in place. According to the court’s website, there are to be no more than one case for trial each day, and no more than two trials will be scheduled each week. With fewer time slots available, defendants can find themselves having to wait longer to go before a jury. 

“We are scheduling first the trials of those who have been detained the longest and are balancing their rights to a fair trial by a jury of their peers with our ability to hold jury trials safely,” Chief Judge Josey-Herring said in a statement to D.C. Witness.

Also among those who have recently had trials scheduled is 31-year-old Antonio Upshaw. He and his 33-year-old co-defendant, Gabriel Brown, are charged with first-degree murder while armed in the shooting of 24-year-old Tyrone Johnson during an alleged robbery gone wrong on March 10, 2017, on the 2300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. 

“Arrested over three years ago for an incident that happened over four years ago,” his attorney, Ronald Resetarits, said in a hearing last March, “I would like to lock in a trial date.”

During that hearing, a judge scheduled the co-defendants to have their trial in November 2022. 

However, in some cases, including more recent ones, judges have put off scheduling jury trials in the hopes that there will be more courtroom availability by the time defendants have their next hearing.

Like many homicide defendants who have spent years in pretrial detention, Womack and Upshaw previously had trial dates set for them, but they fell through for various reasons.

“Many defendants had already been in jail awaiting trial when COVID struck, some for longer times than others, and for a range of reasons, including some whose attorneys had requested continuances,” Chief Judge Josey-Herring stated.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) has increased the amount of credit eligible detainees can receive for good time served in response to the COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020, according to the website. However, this would only be relevant if a defendant was convicted and sentenced.

As of April 29, 14 of the 64 homicide defendants charged from the beginning of 2016 to the end of 2018 have been put on pretrial release. Three of them are released on their promise to return to court with orders to report to the Pretrial Services Agency (PSA). The rest of them are released under the High Intensity Supervision Program (HISP). 

Judges can decide whether to hold or release a defendant when they’re first brought before the court for their initial hearing. A person charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder or assault with intent to kill is treated in accordance with the pretrial release rules outlined in DC Code § 23–1321 unless the judge has reason to believe that “no one or more conditions of release will reasonably assure that the person will not flee or pose a danger to any other person or to the community” (DC Code § 23–1325). 

About 73 percent of the detained defendants have jury trials scheduled, compared to 14 percent of the released defendants, as of April 29.

D.C. Witness data also does not include cases undergoing competency proceedings, because a person cannot stand trial if they are incompetent to do so. 

“Jury trials are a top priority in the Superior Court and the Criminal Division leaders along with court management and external stakeholders have worked together to move trials forward,” Chief Judge Josey-Herring stated.

Sarah Gebrengus and Andrea Keckley and wrote this article. Alaina Provenza contributed to this article.