By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Eric W. Gregory entered a guilty plea to a charge of accessory after the fact in the case of a fatal crash that killed two and seriously injured another on Jan. 25, 2008.
Gregory was charged with assisting Ryan Crick, a former Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks officer, with leaving the scene of an accident on Oktoc Road that killed Matthew Gaskin, 23, of Aberdeen, and Jessica Burks, 27, of Starkville. Heather Kay McMillian, 26 at the time of the wreck, of Maben, was also injured in the accident.
Crick was driving a Jeep that belonged to Gregory and was intoxicated at the time of the accident. He called Gregory to come and get him following the accident.
According to Gregory’s statement to police, it took him nearly an hour to get to the scene from Louisville. He said he drove past the accident, where ambulances and law enforcement were already on the scene, and found Crick hiding behind a tree. He said he then took Crick back to his house in Louisville, where he allowed him to shower and change before taking him to Crick’s father’s house.
Crick eventually turned himself in approximately six to seven hours after the accident. He pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated DUI and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
In Jan. 2010, Gregory’s attorney, Thomas E. Royals, filed a motion to enforce an agreement stating Gregory cooperated with the investigation and prosecution in the case against Crick. According to the motion, Gregory did so because the state agreed it “would treat the Defendant favorably with respect to any potential charges he may subsequently face.”
The state later said it would not recommend any form of leniency if Gregory entered a guilty plea. There was no written agreement of the plea deal because, according to the motion, the Office of the District Attorney refuses to enter written plea agreements with defendants, but the state “typically will let it be known that Defendants will be rewarded for their cooperation.”
The motion goes on to say that this practice is used to deceive defense attorneys who could use these deals against a witness during cross-examination.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Jackson previously stated a plea agreement was never made to Gregory. Judge Lee Howard overruled the motion in October 2010.
Royals called two character witnesses to the stand during Monday’s hearing. Joey McGinnis and Charlie McCorkle both said Gregory was a trustworthy family man and although he may have made a mistake, it was a tough situation to be in. McCorkle said it would likely make a bad situation worse if Gregory was to be put in prison and taken away from his two young sons.
Maria Ball, the mother of victim Jessica Burks, however, said she felt Gregory deserved the maximum sentence. Burks left behind two young children. Ball said she felt Gregory and his attorney had worked to prolong the court process.
McMillian also testified as the only surviving victim of the crash. She said Gregory chose to drive past the scene of the accident and help Cricks instead of helping the three victims. She asked the court show no more mercy to Gregory than he had shown to she and the other victims.
Laura Gaskin, the mother of victim Matthew Gaskin, said because Gregory had assisted Crick in fleeing the scene, her family was led to believe that Matthew was the driver — thus the cause of the accident — for several hours.
The minimum sentence would be a $1,000 fine, while the maximum would be five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
The sentencing hearing was tentatively scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, however it may have to be postponed until Thursday morning.