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May 13, 2022 - A Shelby County jury returned two guilty verdicts and one not guilty verdict on May 11, 2022, in the trial of Zenas Montre Whitaker. Whitaker was charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Aggravated Kidnaping, and Aggravated Sexual Assault. The case was tried in the 273rd Judicial District Court, Judge Jim Payne presiding. Testimony began Monday afternoon and continued throughout Tuesday and part of Wednesday with both the State and the Defense presenting witnesses. After deliberating a little over an hour, the jury returned guilty verdicts for the charges of the Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Aggravated Kidnapping. The jury returned a not guilty verdict on the Aggravated Sexual Assault. That same jury, after hearing more evidence about Whitaker’s criminal history in the Punishment trial, assessed punishment for the Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon at 60 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, and a $10,000 Fine and 45 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division for the Aggravated Kidnapping. Zenas Whitaker was represented by Marshall, Texas attorney Craig Fletcher, and the State of Texas was represented by Karren S. Price, Shelby County District Attorney, and Lynda K. Russell, Assistant District Attorney along with the assistance of Shawna Walker, Legal Assistant to the District Attorney.

On July 7, 2020, Whitaker broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home about noon and proceeded to beat her with an aluminum bat from which the end had been broken, creating jagged and sharp edges on the fat end of the bat. He also kicked her and even bit her. She was in the home with five children, all under the age of six, and all of this occurred with the children in the room watching. The photos of the crime scene were very graphic as there was blood everywhere, all over the floor, on the walls, on the furniture and even on some of the children. After beating her, per his testimony, he took their daughter who was two years old and the bat and headed to Nacogdoches County where he had lived most of his life. He further testified he left the baby’s mother there, believing she was not going to live, and knowing that he had also left four children there with her under the age of six, one of them being an infant. The victim reported that he had taken her cell phone which prevented her from being able to call for help.  He testified that while he was driving through the Martinsville area, he threw both his cell phone as well as the victim’s out the window in an attempt to keep the police from finding him.  

The Center Police Department reached out to law enforcement in Nacogdoches County and an Amber Alert was issued for the missing child who was only two years old. The Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Office, the Nacogdoches Police Department, the Texas Rangers and the FBI all assisted in the search for the child and Whitaker. Whitaker was located in Cherokee County, Texas. When the Nacogdoches County SWAT team had the home surrounded where they believed Whitaker to be, he came out of the home after they requested on a bullhorn that he surrender.  The child was returned to her mother’s family as her mother was in the hospital being treated for the severe beating she had taken at the hand’s of Whitaker.

District Attorney Price proved that only a few weeks prior to the beating that occurred on July 7, 2020, Whitaker had sent multiple texts to the victim, threatening her, to the extent that the officer said it was obvious he was going to try to kill her. Both Ms. Price and Ms. Russell presented evidence that indicated Whitaker had been in trouble many times because of his violent nature. In fact, he was only 11 years old when he was charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. Over the years after that, he was in trouble numerous times in Nacogdoches County for various crimes, several for which he was convicted, again involving assaultive behavior. Ms. Price told the jury that Shelby County would not tolerate this type of behavior in our community and that we were going to do something about it. She also said that law enforcement had done their job, her office had done theirs, and that the efforts had been made by all up to this point and now the outcome of those efforts were in the hands of the jury. She was very thankful that the jury took her words to heart and returned the verdicts that sent the message she wanted “Shelby County Will Not Tolerate This Type Of Behavior.”

Price contributes the verdicts to the hard work of the officers at the Center Police Department, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, the Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Office and Police Department, the Texas Rangers and the FBI and their ability to all work together to try to protect the citizens of Shelby County. 

May 13, 2022 - A Shelby County jury has convicted Zenas Montre Whitaker Wednesday, May 11, of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; and kidnapping following a three day trial regarding the July 2020 assault of a Center woman.

The trial was held in the 273rd Judicial District Court with Judge James Payne presiding.

After Karren Price, 123rd Judicial District Attorney, and Lynda K, Russell, Assistant District Attorney, and Craig Fletcher, criminal defense lawyer, each rested their case the jury convened as they considered three separate charges against Whitaker.

Following an hour of deliberation, the jury found Whitaker not guilty on the first charge of aggravated sexual assault.

The jury found him guilty on the charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, first degree felony, and aggravated kidnapping, first degree felony.

The jury recommended 60 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Correctional Institution Division and $10,000 for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon conviction and 45 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Correctional Institution Division and no fine for the aggravated kidnapping charge.

Upon sentencing, Judge Payne agreed with the jury recommendation and sentenced Whitaker with the jury's decision. Both sentences for Whitaker are to run concurrently.

Over three days, the jury heard testimony from medical professionals and law enforcement officers involved in the case which resulted from the June 7, 2020, attack.

A doctor from the Shelby County Emergency room, where she spent a couple hours following her attack, indicated the many injuries the victim had and a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) testified as to her interview with the victim later that night in the hospital. 

The victim was beaten with a broken aluminum baseball bat, which was presented as evidence for the jury to view, and approximately eight inches of the end of the bat was missing. This created a menacing jagged end with sharp edges to it.

Jurors saw police body cam video during the trial depicting a bloody scene throughout the house, and the victim testified about her blood covering one of the children as that child was behind her on the couch in the living room during the assault.

Ultimately, when Whitaker was on the witness stand in his defense, he took full responsibility for the beating and the main part that differed relating to the bat was the prosecution argued he brought the bat with him while alternatively Whitaker claimed the broken bat was already in the house when he arrived.

"I can't give y'all any excuse about that day, what happened between me and [the victim]," said Whitaker. "Ever since I have been incarcerated and I have sat there and I have wondered myself why I would do something like that."

He stated he was truly sorry he had done that.

There was a Child Protective Services (CPS) case involving the victim, Whitaker and their child and she had been through a drug rehab program after which she stayed with her sister.

The victim was babysitting several children, as well as her own child, when the attack occurred. It began in the kitchen of the home where Whitaker began striking the victim with the bat and the assault then continued to the living room where the children were.

The beating with the baseball bat continued there, and at some point the victim ended up with her child in her hands and that's when she says Whitaker bit her hand when he went to leave and take their child. She related it was a common occurrence when they were in a relationship for Whitaker to bite her hands.

"The beatings have always been bad, but this was the worst time and I really thought this was the end for me, I really did," said the victim.

Related articles:
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May 12, 2022 - The jury that has been summoned for Monday, May 16, 2022 for the 273rd District Court Honorable James A. Payne, Jr. presiding has been cancelled. All cases have been resolved or passed.

Anyone receiving a summons for that day is released from jury service until they receive a future summons.

Thank you,
Lori Oliver
District Clerk
Shelby County, Texas

May 11, 2022 — In honor of National Police Week, United States Attorney Brit Featherston will recognize the service and sacrifice of federal, state, local, law enforcement. This year, the week is observed Wednesday, May 11 through Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

“This week, we gather to pay tribute to the law enforcement officers who sacrificed their lives in service to our country,” said Attorney General Garland. “We remember the courage with which they worked and lived. And we recommit ourselves to the mission to which they dedicated their lives. On behalf of a grateful Justice Department and a grateful nation, I extend my sincerest thanks and gratitude to the entire law enforcement community.”

“Without the rule of law, the pillars of Constitution will not stand.  At its most basic human level, the officer on the street is and must be the protector of the people, the one we turn to when danger or wrongs occur,” said U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston.  “Encounters on the street with a police officer is often where the justice system is initiated and where our citizens (victim or accused) begin their journey to protect their life or property from harm.  Today, honoring those in blue who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we are also honoring what they stood for.  They stood for, at its most basic level, that to live in a free country under our Constitution, that society only remains free when the rule of law is enforced.  Those brave men and women, at its core, selflessly died while giving aid to their fellow citizens and their communities.  Their lives and memory give us confidence that our free way of life will continue, and their sacrifice will forever not be in vain.”

In 1962, President Kennedy issued the first proclamation for Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Police Week to remember and honor law enforcement officers for their service and sacrifices.  Peace Officers Memorial Day, which every year falls on May 15, specifically honors law enforcement officers killed or disabled in the line of duty. Based on data submitted to and analyzed by the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), 472 law enforcement officers died nationwide in the line of duty in 2021.  Of that number, 319 succumbed to COVID-19.  Four officers have died in the line of duty in the Eastern District of Texas.

Additionally, according to 2021 statistics reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) through the Law Enforcement Officer Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) Program, 73 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in 2021 were killed as a result of felonious acts, whereas 56 died in accidents.  Deaths resulting from felonious acts increased in 2021, rising more than 58 percent from the previous year.  In 2021, unprovoked attacks[1] were the cause of 24 deaths significantly outpacing all other line of duty deaths resulting from felony acts and reaching the highest annual total in over 30 years of reporting.  Additional LEOKA statistics can be found on FBI’s Crime Data Explorer website for the LEOKA program.

The names of the 619 fallen officers added this year to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial will be read on Friday, May 13, 2022, during a Candlelight Vigil in Washington, D.C., starting at 8:00 PM EDT. Those who wish to view the vigil live online, can watch on the NLEOMF YouTube channel found at The schedule of National Police Week events is available on NLEOMF’s website.

May 11, 2022 - The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a theft that occurred at approximately 4 a.m. on May 4, 2022 in the 3000 block of 96 North in Center.

A 2018 white GMC Denali pickup truck, a blue Polaris Ranger XP with an enclosed cabin, and a 2021 16-foot tandem axle utility trailer (Texas Trailers make) were removed from a building on the property.

Stock images and not actual vehicles.

Property owners in this area are asked to review any security surveillance footage around this time frame. If you have footage of the vehicle, trailer or Ranger, or if you have any information regarding this theft, please contact Sergeant Investigator David Haley at 936.572.0667. 

May 11, 2022 - Sabine N.F. – Compartments 134 (Fairmount RX) Block B & C only. Burn unit is located in the Fairmount Community, off State Highway 87, (Fox Hunters Hill) and Farm Market 3315. Burn Unit will be 1170 acres, with Helicopter Support and Winds are predicted from Southeast at 5-8 MPH.

May 10, 2022 - Officials with the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas, Sabine National Forests, have advised a prescribed burn today locations.

Sabine N.F. – Compartments 134 (Fairmount RX) Block A only. Burn unit is located in the Fairmount Community, off State Highway 87, and Farm Market 3315. Burn Unit will be 927 acres, with Helicopter Support and Winds are predicted from South at 6-10 MPH.

Please drive with caution. Also, we advised and long range drift SMOKE may affect some of the areas.

May 11, 2022 - The Shelby County Commissioners granted the purchase of a new Chevrolet Tahoe for the Sheriff's Department Wednesday, May 4, 2022, during their meeting.

Shelby County Sheriff Kevin Windham presented two purchase options to the commissioners for consideration.

"I'm no more pleased to stand before the Commissioners' Court today than any of y'all are to have me standing here once again coming before the court asking for a patrol unit," said Sheriff Windham. "As you well know, we lost another one of our patrol units in a pursuit."

He elaborated further on the Tahoe which was totaled being one of the older units in the fleet and that no one was injured during the incident. According to Sheriff Windham, the insurance settlement to be received on the totaled Tahoe was $17,700.

One quote presented to the commissioners was for a 2022 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD from a dealership in Houston in the amount of $36,327.37 with an additional cost of $8,234 to install the vehicle with the necessary equipment for a patrol unit. Sheriff Windham said the total projected amount would then be $44,940. The offset with the insurance would then be $27,240.12.

The Tahoe would take around three weeks to be outfitted.

A quote for a Ford F-150 4WD police pursuit vehicle came to $39,500, not including equipment installation. The installation of equipment to the truck was projected at $8,000, which doesn't include a camera.

Roscoe McSwain, Commissioner Precinct 1, confirmed with Sheriff Windham the equipment in the totaled vehicle was being stripped out for later use.

Tom Bellmyer, Commissioner Precinct 4, asked if there is a preference in vehicle and Sheriff Windham did say that would be the Tahoe, because they make a better patrol unit overall. Jimmy Lout, Commissioner Precinct 2, asked if the 4WD would be necessary, and Sheriff Windham said it wouldn't because the county roads have come a long way.

"And I'm not saying that to gain any points," said Sheriff Windham, as the courtroom erupted in laughter.

He said 4WD really used to be more of a necessity; however, there are enough units on the fleet with 4WD that if it's needed they have several which could be utilized.

A motion carried to purchase the Tahoe taking $27,240.12 from the Covid-19 fund coupled with the $17,700 from the insurance.

"This is out of that $907,000 we got from this, nearly $600,000 has been invested in law enforcement in the last year and a half since we've had it," said McSwain. "We've tried to make sure every bit of that money went back to where we got it from."

McSwain explained the county has been very conservative with the funds and that money will eventually be gone. He remarked the court has been more than generous in helping the Sheriff's Department upgrade its units and anything it has needed in helping to get the jail in better standards.

"On behalf of the Sheriff's Department, we are very, very appreciative of what the court has done," said Sheriff Windham. "Some things are beyond our control, but I do want the court to know that we really appreciate what y'all have invested in us."

McSwain further stated how blessed the county has been to have the Coronavirus funds to facilitate helping.

Lori Oliver, Shelby County District Clerk, spoke with the commissioners on the use of funds for the purchase of a laptop for the District Clerk office.

Oliver explained the laptop that is normally used by the District Clerk staff won't stay charged unless it remains plugged in. A Surface which they also use has crashed and their computer technician has gotten it running tentatively; however, he said that it would cost more to fix it than to just buy a new one.

"The reason why I asked for this fund, because normally I'd just pay it out of my records management, is because of the way they have changed the fees and the way we collect them on civil and criminal," said Oliver. "It affected criminal in January 2020, it affected civil January 2022. There's not going to be anymore money to speak of added to this account anyway."

According to Oliver, the funds are available for expenditures such as the laptop and it's required for the commissioners' court to approve such expenses.

"They called it District Court Technology Fund, which that is dedicated to just the purchase of computer items," said Oliver. "On the civil side it was a $10 fee, and on the criminal side it was a $4 fee, on the civil side that $10 could only be used for the restoring or the restoration of old records. On the criminal side it can be used for the purchase of computer technology."

A motion carried to take the funds as allowed by Code of Criminal Procedure 102.0169.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:55am.

Agenda items approved during the meeting include:
1. Pay weekly expenses.
2. purchase of a new patrol vehicle for the Sheriff’s Office.
3. Extend the date to bid on renovating the Adult Probation building.
4. Extend the date to bid on updating the records building.
5. Expend approximately $1,500 in funds out of the District Court Clerk Technology Fund/Records Archive Account for the purchase of a new laptop for use by the District Clerk's Office in Court.
6. Adjourn.

Agenda items tabled during the meeting include:
1. Darin Borders to address the Court regarding a new subdivision on CR 3736.

May 10, 2022 - The U.S. Marshals and the FBI are alerting the public of several nationwide imposter scams involving individuals claiming to be U.S. marshals, court officers, or other law enforcement officials. They are urging people to report the calls their Local FBI office and file a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, which has the ability to detect patterns of fraud from the information collected and share that data with law enforcement. During the latest series of calls, scammers identifying themselves as “Deputy John Garrison” (the name of the actual U.S. Marshal in the Eastern District of Texas) attempt to collect a fine in lieu of arrest due to a claim of identity theft, failing to report for jury duty, or other offenses. They then tell victims they can avoid arrest by withdrawing cash and transferring it to the government, purchasing a prepaid debit card such as a Green Dot card or gift card and read the card number over the phone to satisfy the fine, or by depositing cash into bitcoin ATMs. Scammers use many tactics to sound and appear credible. In many instances, scammers provide information like badge numbers, names of actual law enforcement officials and federal judges, along with courthouse addresses. They may also spoof their phone numbers to appear on caller IDs as if they are calling from a government agency or the court when they actually are not. If you believe you were a victim of such a scam, you are encouraged to report the incident to your local FBI office and to the FTC. Additionally, The Department of Justice launched the National Elder Fraud Hotline, which provides services to seniors who may be victims of financial fraud. Case managers assist callers with reporting the suspected fraud to relevant agencies and by providing resources and referrals to other appropriate services as needed. The hotline’s toll-free number is 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311). 

Things to remember:

• U.S. MARSHALS WILL NEVER ask for credit/debit card/gift card numbers, wire transfers, or bank routing numbers, or to make bitcoin deposits for any purpose.

• NEVER divulge personal or financial information to unknown callers.

• Report scam phone calls to your local FBI office and to the FTC.

• You can remain anonymous when you report.

• Authenticate the call by calling the clerk of the court’s office of the U.S. District Court in your area and verify the court order given by the caller.

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at

May 10, 2022 - Sheriff Kevin Windham reports Leray Afton Phillips has been located in Houston. Phillips is in good condition.

Sheriff Windham stated he appreciates everyone that assisted in searching for Phillips and Constable Cheatwood who put a lot of work into this effort.

November 23, 2021 - The Shelby County Sheriff's Office is seeking the whereabouts of Leray Afton Phillips. Phillips is describes as a white male, 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs approximately 240 pounds.

Phillips was was seen approximately one month ago at the Quick Stop in Joaquin. Phillips is often seen in the vicinity of the Logansport bridge and is normally seen riding a bicycle.

If you have any information on his whereabouts or if you have seen him recently, please contact the SCSO at 936-598-5601.

May 8, 2022 - Both Texas Constitutional Amendments passed locally and statewide and both Center ISD Bonds passed during Saturday's Election Day with the following results:

Constitutional Amendment Election:

State of Texas Proposition 1 - “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the reduction of the amount of a limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for general elementary and secondary public school purposes on the residence homestead of a person who is elderly or disabled to reflect any statutory reduction from the preceding tax year in the maximum compressed rate of the maintenance and operations taxes imposed for those purposes on the homestead.”
For - 917 (Statewide 86.91%)
Against - 129 (Statewide 13.09%)

State of Texas Proposition 2 - “The constitutional amendment increasing the amount of the residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation for public school purposes from $25,000 to $40,000.”
For - 876 (Statewide 84.82%)
Against - 168 (Statewide 15.18%)

Center ISD Bond Election:

Proposition A - “The issuance of $8,000,000 of bonds by the Center Independent School District for the purpose of constructing, renovating, acquiring, and equipping school buildings in the district to wit, a multipurpose gymnasium/auditorium and the acquisition of land and levying taxes in payment thereof. This is a property tax increase.”
For - 294
Against - 259

Proposition B - “The issuance of $4,000,000 of bonds by the Center Independent School District for a multipurpose covered athletic practice facility and levying the tax in payment thereof. This is a property tax increase.”
For - 282
Against - 266

May 7, 2022 - Saturday was Election day for two Shelby County schools and two cities along with a Texas Constitutional Amendment Election and a special Bond Election for Center ISD.

The results of the Constitutional Amendment Election and the Center ISD Bond election will be added once they are available.

The election results for the cities and schools are below with the underlined candidates winning.

Shelbyville ISD (3 trustee positions)
Joey Lawson - Early Voting 113, Election Day 124, Total 237
Arvis (Sneaky) Moore - Early Voting 90, Election Day 134, Total 224
Chris Koltonski - Early Voting 96, Election Day 104, Total 200
Bryan Swindle - Early Voting 80, Election Day 113, Total 193
Keni Bradshaw - Early Voting 58, Election Day 85, Total 143
Carriston Hendricks - Early Voting 66, Election Day 67, Total 133

City of Tenaha (Mayor)
O’Neal Jones, Jr. - Early Voting 9, Election Day 49, Total 58
Michael D. Baker - Early Voting 12, Election Day 42, Total 54

City of Tenaha (Council Place #2)
Linda Vickery - Early Voting 13, Election Day 49, Total 62
Lee Gibbs - Early Voting 7, Election Day 45, Total 52

City of Tenaha (Council Place #3)
Durand Steadman - Early Voting 9, Election Day 43, Total 52
Florance Adams - Early Voting 7, Election Day 39, Total 46
Megan Hodge - Early Voting 5, Election Day 16, Total 21

Tenaha ISD (2 trustee positions) Total votes cast - 430
Aaron Roland - Early Voting 72, Election Day 70, Total 142
Eugene Bowden - Early Voting 72, Election Day 56, Total 128
David G. Fallin - Early Voting 9, Election Day 49, Total 58
Orinthia Johnson - Early Voting 10, Election Day 45, Total 55 

City of Timpson (2 council positions) Total votes cast - 108
Teri Alexander - Early Voting 15, Election Day 22, Total 37
Kenny Walker - Early Voting 15, Election Day 20, Total 35
Tuffy Green - Early Voting 8, Election Day 15, Total 23
George Grace - Early Voting 6, Election Day 7, Total 13

Two schools didn't have to hold elections due to candidates running unopposed. Those results are:

  • Joaquin ISD - Candidates elected unopposed were Jason Harvey, Matt Lawson, and Jeff Cater.
  • Timpson ISD - Candidates elected unopposed were Cody Beckham and Justin Timmons.