JACKSON, MISS– The bond for former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps has been revoked.
U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate ordered Epps to remain in custody until his scheduled sentencing in May.
The judge re-entered the courtroom after a brief recess following closing arguments. Epps, shackled again at the hands and feet wearing a bright, neon yellow jumpsuit was escorted into the courtroom again. As Wingate took the bench, Epps’ wife cried silently as she waited for the ruling.
During closing arguments, Attorney Darren LaMarca, who will also serve as the prosecutor in Epps’ bribery case, called for the revocation of the bond as there was probable cause to believe he’s committed a crime on a local, state, and federal level “while on pre-trial release, and is ulikely to abide by those release conditions.”
“He willfully went back,” said LaMarca. “There were ‘no trespassing’ signs… (but he) goes under the garage door..”
LaMarca said that when Epps was explaining to the police what he had been doing, he knew that he should not have been there to begin with.
Epps’ attorney John Colette argued that since Epps had up to this point been compliant, he should be given other regulations.
“There’s electronic monitoring or house arrest,” said Colette. “Then he couldn’t leave the driveway. He’s not a flight risk.”
When the judge revoked the bond, Colette asked for a two-day extension so that Epps could transfer his retirement funds over to his wife. Judge Wingate sought the counsel of LaMarca, who said Epps would not have to be physically present to make those transfers, so he should be placed into custody immediately.
While the question of whether or not the bond would be revoked was put to rest, the judge had another question.
“The question on the minds of all us…” said Judge Wingate. “What could have compelled Mr. Epps to enter that house that night?”
Judge Wingate expressed a theory of money being hidden in the electrical panel, a question that Colette told media was brought on by the coverage of the events.
“The box… is because all you people,” said Colette. “Whether its true or untrue doesn’t matter it sells paper.. you’ll print it.”
He declined further comment.
Epps will remain in jail until his sentencing, scheduled for May 25.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate heard arguments Thursday in the case of The United States Government versus Christopher Epps.
Epps is charged with burglary, after returning to his federally forfeited home in Flowood on Thursday, October 27th, to retrieve four flood lights and a curb light.
That home was forfeited to the United States Government through the services of the U.S. Marshal’s Asset Forfeiture Division as part of the many forfeitures Epps made at that time. He was to be out of that home by May 9, 2016.
Witnesses were examined and cross-examined by Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca and Epps’ defense Attorney John Colette.
Flowood Detective Eric Zetterholm was the first witness. He claimed to have been assigned to the case on Monday, October 31. Zetterholm said he interviewed the new homeowner (who filed the complaint of the missing lights), neighbors, and Epps himself before taking Epps into custody.
He explained that when he arrived at the house in question, an “electric control panel was taken, and wires were cut at the wall.”
Zetterholm told Attorney LaMarca that he had found evidence of the wires being cut on the outside of the home as well, and that neighbors told him Epps had said he was getting those lights on the night of October 27.
“A neighbor said they had seen Mr. Epps Thursday night in a black Tahoe,” said Zetterholm. “They said he got out of the Tahoe, flipped a rock over, opened the mailbox…and told the neighbors he was there to get the lights.”
The detective also claimed that Epps told him he had taken the lights from the home when he investigated Epps’ current residence.
“Epps pointed out the lights,” said Zetterholm. “He was very cooperative.”
Getting the lights from the forfeited house, according to forfeiture laws, violates the order to turn over that asset. The defense of the U.S. Government claimed that this also violated the conditions of his bond. Epps has been out of custody since he pleaded guilty to the bribery and kickback schemes in April 2015, and was expected to stay that way until May, which is when he is scheduled for sentencing.
Deputy Tremaine Sullivan with the U.S. Marshal’s Asset Forfeiture Investigation Unit spoke to the forfeiture process and the terms thereof. The final notice to vacate the home was given on March 25, 2016. Epps signed the paperwork which certified he accepted the conditions. He was not to return to the house,and was not granted permission to return on October 27.
After the witnesses, Epps–against the counsel of his lawyer–made his way to the podium, escorted by two U.S. Marshals, with the chains that shackled his ankles together and the chains that shackled his wrists to his waist jingling as he made his way up to the bench.
Judge Wingate explained the weight the burglary charge could bring upon Epps. Burglary, Judge Wingate stated, included breaking and entering without consent, trespassing and larceny.
“Anything you say here,” said Judge Wingate to Epps. “could be held against you here, or in state court.”
Epps still wanted to testify.
“I just wanted to tell you what happened,” said Epps. He apologized for a broken voice as he said he was struggling with a cold.
Epps said the thought of taking the lights came to him as he prepared for Halloween.
“Me and my wife were putting up Halloween decorations,” said Epps. “When I realized I forgot the flood lights.”
Epps said without putting much thought into it, he went to get the lights from his old home.
“I went up there, in my Tahoe,” said Epps. “I told them (the neighbors) I came to get my lights. Four floodlights and a curb light.”
Epps said he arrived around 5:15pm. It was still daylight, but getting dark by the time he left. He said he entered the code for the garage, and it opened, but not all the way because of a lock put in place by the U.S. Government.
“I just bent over, went over there and took the panel off the wall and cut the wire,” said Epps. He claimed he had the necessary tools to cut the wires because he keeps a toolbox in his truck.
The former MDOC commissioner told Judge Wingate he did not think about the time limit of returning to get items from the forfeited home.
“I made my biggest mistake,” said Epps. “I forgot about the time limit.”
Epps claimed he did not believe he was violating law, and that he did not realize he was doing anything wrong on Thursday night until he was approached by the Detective on Tuesday.
“I didn’t go over there to steal stuff,” said Epps. “That’s not in my character.”
Attorney Colette asked Epps why he did not just call and ask for legal counsel before going to the house.
“I wish a million times I did,” said Epps. “I just wasn’t thinking. I’ve done everything I know to do to make this right.”
Colette asked Epps about his feelings, given the fact that this could possibly get his bond revoked.
“I was in corrections 33 years,” said Epps. “This ain’t my first time before Judge Wingate.”
He began to weep.
“If I get another chance,” said Epps. “I won’t mess this up.”
Judge Wingate has ordered that both LaMarca and Colette gather evidence to speak to Epps’ sobriety the night he went back to the house. The hearing will resume Friday at 3pm.
News Mississippi will continue to update this story.