updated 8:24 PM UTC, Jan 23, 2020

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Paulette sentenced to life without parole

Paulette

 

By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – A Hillister man was convicted of a 2018 murder last week and will spend the remainder of his life behind bars.

Christopher Blake Paulette, 35, was found guilty by a Tyler County jury for the murder of 64-year-old Susan Morris of Onalaska in the courtroom of District Judge Delinda Gibbs-Walker. Paulette’s trial began last Monday and ended on Thursday.

Babin said that the death penalty was off the table for the capital murder case, and explained that seeking a life without parole sentence, was to save the taxpayers money. Babin added that Paulette still faces other felony charges in Tyler County.

The jury heard from 20 different witnesses and saw 40 exhibits during the trial. Babin and assistant DA Pat “Hawk” Hardy made the case against Paulette, one that included the kidnapping and torture, and eventual murder of Morris. Paulette caused her death by stomping her face and neck repeatedly with steel-toed boots.

“The evidence showed a pattern of kidnapping and torturing,” Babin said.

Tyler County Sheriff’s Office deputies Haiden Hughes, Josh Robison and James Cloyd, were all on the scene at Paulette’s residence on Dec. 21, 2018, when the investigation began, and testified as to what they saw. In the morning hours on that date, TCSO deputies responded to a panicked 911 call, which referenced a man being held against his will at Paulette’s Hillister residence.

Not only did the deputies find a man whose hands were bound, but they also found Paulette, armed with a loaded pistol equipped with a homemade silencer, and later, Morris’s body, which was hidden in the attic.

Jurors heard testimony as to the condition of the body, which was covered with attic insulation and blankets. Her hands had been bound to a support beam and her body showed evidence of trauma, with bruises and several burns.

Babin said the jury was attentive to the details of the case, which he was thankful. He also expressed gratitude to Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford and TCSO deputies, as well as the other agencies who took part in the investigation, including the Texas Rangers, the ATF and the Beaumont Fire Marshal.
“East Texas is safer today now that Mr. Paulette has been removed from society,” Babin said. “Without their efforts this would not have been possible.”

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A-C tribe ‘hopeful’ for Naskila’s future

File photo LEGISLATION ADVANCES – Legislation that would allow the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe to continue operating their Naskila Gaming center in Polk County is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate. (File Photo)File photo LEGISLATION ADVANCES – Legislation that would allow the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe to continue operating their Naskila Gaming center in Polk County is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate. (File Photo)

 

By Chris Edwards
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LIVINGSTON – “Definitely hopeful” is how Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Chairwoman Cecilia Flores sees the future of Naskila Gaming and the bill that will clarify the tribe’s ability to conduct gaming on its land.

Flores has been speaking to groups around the state about the gaming center and the tribe’s fight to keep it open. “We are trying to get the word out, trying to tell our story, and tell how important this is to East Texas,” she said.

Since it opened in June 2016, Naskila has had a positive impact on the regional economy, Flores said, and she predicts that effect will continue if the tribe is allowed to keep the venue in operation. At present, a bill concerning Class II gaming, is awaiting movement in the U.S. Senate.

If passed, House Resolution 759, which was authored by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Woodville) will allow the tribe to offer bingo-style gaming at Naskila and will “clarify that without any doubts that the tribes fall under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Flores said.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, passed in 1988, allows Native American tribes to operate bingo games and to seek compacts with their respective state governments in order to host other types of gaming. H.R. 759 would not only protect the Alabama-Coushattas, but the Yselta del Sur Pueblo tribe of El Paso (also known as the Tiguas) who also operate a gaming facility on tribal land.

The tribe has until the end of the year before the clock runs out on the bill. Flores said that with the bill pending in the Senate, she is hopeful both Texas senators will come to support it. She said that although presentations on Naskila and H.R. 759 have been well-received, and the public has been “overwhelmingly” supportive, there has been opposition from Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We have repeatedly requested meetings with the governor and have not gotten any word back; we’ve just been ignored,” Flores said.

As far as movement in the Senate goes, an October missive from Senator John Cornyn was met with disappointment by the tribe. Cornyn wrote to the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee to request postponing any hearings regarding H.R. 759 until state government and the A-C and Tigua tribes have reached a resolution or agreement.

Cornyn’s letter referenced concerns posed by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton about the bill. Flores said that she spoke with Cornyn at a fundraiser held in Tyler County last May, and that he said he would support the bill if it passed the House of Representatives, but added that she and the tribal representatives would have to “work on the governor.”

Flores and tribal representatives are traveling throughout the state to educate the public about their situation and hope to gather more support. Presentations such as a recent one before the Nacogdoches Chamber of Commerce at their “Eggs and Issues” breakfast was well-received, Flores said.

“We have made presentations to more than 50 organizations, from county commissioners courts and city councils to businesses and political groups,” she said. “We are also looking to go further north with the presentations.”

An economic impact study conducted in 2018 by the Texas projected an aggregate impact of $139.6 million in activity for the region. At the end of 2019, that figure had increased to an excess of $150 million. Along with the activity pumped into the regional economy, the Alabama-Coushattas have been able to make additions to programs on tribal land, such as its HeadStart and USDA food programs. They were also able to add a full-time physician, something Flores said the tribe has not had in 20 years.

“For centuries the federal government has said ‘become self-sufficient’, but now we’ve figured out a way to do that. We are just asking for equal and fair treatment for our efforts,” said Flores.

Flores noted the positive infusion into the East Texan economy since Naskila’s opening. “That includes gas taxes and hotel taxes, and our employment numbers are up. We hopefully will maintain a positive impact for East Texas,” she said.

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Hillister man given 45 years by Brazos County jury

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By Chris Edwards
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Deggs MugshotBRYAN – A Hillister man was sentenced to 45 years without parole in a Bryan courtroom last week for a rape charge.

Kevin Wayne Deggs, 40, was handed down the sentence last Thursday by Judge Travis Bryan III of the 272nd District Court. The sentence came after a jury found Deggs guilty of the charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14.

Following the sentencing, assistant district attorneys Kara Comte and Gretchen Connick, who prosecuted the case on behalf of the state, made a statement. “This verdict and sentence will protect young women in the future from this predator,” it reads.

The two prosecutors also stated that three witnesses who testified during Deggs’s trial are “heroes” for bringing him to justice.
The testimonies were from three individuals who were abused by Deggs, including one whom he victimized in 1998 when she was 12 years old. The jury deliberated for about an hour before rendering the guilty verdict.

Deggs was first arrested on a sex crime charge in 2016 in Tyler County, when a 12-year-old girl reported that he had sexually assaulted her. Following a forensic medical exam of the girl, Deggs was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child. While he was out on bond, in 2017, an 11-year-old Brazos County girl told her mother that Deggs had touched her inappropriately.
Deggs was initially charged with indecency with a child when arrested in Brazos County, but that charge was upgraded to continuous sexual abuse of a child when the charges from both counties were combined, according to a news release from Brazos County District Attorney’s Office.

The Brazos County DA noted that by law either county could have prosecuted Deggs on the updated charge, but both offices agreed for Brazos County to take the lead.

“The Tyler County Sheriff’s Office and the College Station Police Department were instrumental in investigating these cases and bringing Deggs to justice,” the DA’s news release stated.

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