A Greenfield man was found guilty by a jury on Friday of his first felony offense, but he is not scheduled for sentencing until next month.
Jerry L. Souders, 43, was charged in a November indictment with failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer, a third-degree felony.
After the guilty verdict on Friday, Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss ordered a presentence investigation and scheduled sentencing for April, and in the interim he ordered Souders held in jail.
According to testimony, on Oct. 5, 2015, Greenfield Police Department Patrolman James Leeth observed Souders in Greenfield driving a silver Monte Carlo.
Leeth said he knew Souders didn’t have a license and attempted to pull him over, but Souders allegedly fled, going out SR 28 into Ross County and reaching speeds of at least 115 mph.
Leeth said he saw the Monte Carlo lose control some at a sharp turn, then observed the vehicle heading onto secondary roads. The officer said he saw “fresh” track marks in fields by the roads, including one place where the fleeing driver had possibly jumped an embankment. Photos of these tracks were submitted as evidence.
While Leeth said he had “backed off” due to the high speed, especially on the secondary roads, he was attempting to keep track of where the vehicle was going.
The Monte Carlo and its driver were never apprehended, but when asked by Highland County Assistant Prosecutor Jim Roeder if Leeth was “100 percent positive” that who he saw operating the vehicle was Souders, he said, “I am.”
On cross examination by defense attorney Lee Koogler, Leeth said it was known that the owner of the silver Monte Carlo was Souders’ sister, and that it was also known that Souders did not have a driver’s license.
Koogler called Souders’ sister to the stand and she testified that the car was parked where her brother was staying at a residence on Miami Trace Road. She also testified that there were mechanical issues with the vehicle and that it was inoperable. She said she communicated that to the GPD when she called them after she had heard that there had been a high speed chase and that police suspected her brother and her car had been involved. She also testified that she inspected the vehicle after hearing this, and found no damage. She said she sold the vehicle less than two weeks later and that the new owner towed it away.
When Roeder questioned her, she said she had not allowed her brother to borrow her car since 2014.
Souders was called to testify and said he was not in Greenfield on Oct. 5 and he did not leave the residence where he was staying on that day. He said he could not remember the last time he had drove his sister’s car because it had been so long.
Under the state’s questioning, Souders said he was “positive” he was not driving the Monte Carlo on Oct. 5. He said he had not had a license for “15 years probably.”
He testified that he recognized officer Leeth as well as GPD officer Jennifer Lowe, who later in the trial served as a rebuttal witness for the state. Roeder asked if the two officers would recognize Souders and he said, “They should.”
Lowe said she was dispatcher on Oct. 5 and that she spoke to Souders’ sister the three or four times she called the department. But during those conversations Lowe said the sister did not speak to the inoperability of the vehicle.
Lowe testified that she had previously seen Souders driving his sister’s vehicle in Greenfield “quite often.”
On questioning by Koogler, the officer said there was at least one other time she was aware of that “(Souders) was able to evade” Greenfield officers.
Koogler asked Lowe why the police department had not pulled Souders over if he had been seen driving many times and officers knew he did not have a license. She said officers had tried to pull him over.
In closing, Roeder began by asking jurors why the defense did not call the person with whom Souders was living at the time to testify, the person who could corroborate his alibi of never leaving the residence on Oct. 5.
“That ought to have some weight,” he said.
Roeder said Souders “placed multiple lives in danger” as he eluded police in his attempt to avoid the misdemeanor offense of driving without a valid license. Roeder said people were “driving off the road” to get out of the way of the potentially dangerous situation.
Koogler said that he was “not certain” that Leeth was “certain” about his identification of Souders. He said all humans are subject to not remembering something correctly, and while he would like to think that a police officer always gets it right, that is not always the case.
He said Souders and his sister testified that while the defendant had previously had access to the vehicle, it was not operable on the day in question.
The jury deliberated the matter for about an hour before returning with a guilty verdict.
Upon hearing the verdict, Souders placed his head in his hands and remained that way for several moments.
After the trial, Souders was taken into custody by the Highland County Sheriff’s Office to be held until his April sentencing.
Coss said Souders was to be held at the jail “due to the nature of the offense” and because of what had been testified to about Souders’ past behavior. “The court has reason to believe that you may flee prior to sentencing,” he said.
A request by the defense for a bond was denied.
“Although I don’t agree with, and am disappointed by the jury’s decision, I respect it,” Koogler said following Friday’s trial. “My client has always contended that he was not in Greenfield or driving that vehicle on that date, and evidence was presented to that fact, but at the end of the day I think it came down to a credibility issue for the jury.”
Roeder said, “The state appreciates the jury taking the time to review the evidence and the testimony. I believe they came to the right decision.”
Souders is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 1.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.