Repeat DWI Offender Sentenced to 7 Years

Day 4, January 14

A Wichita County judge sentenced 59 year old Joe Mercer to 7 years behind bars. Today, the courtroom heard about Mercer's record, including 3 previous DWI convictions, 2 Public Intoxication Arrests, and 1 Federal Conviction for Credit Card Fraud. This week, a Wichita County Jury convicted Mercer of his 4th DWI.

Attorneys for both sides have spent the last two days preparing for a pre-sentence investigation to compile witnesses and Mercer's record.

The Defense started the day by calling 25 year old Whitney Skierski to the stand. She testified that Mercer has been living with Skierski and her family since April 2010 when Skierski's house caught on fire. She claims Mercer was "pulled out dead" and was revived. She said he was in a coma for 14 days and stayed in the hospital for a month.

The next witness for the defense was Skierski's husband, John. He told the court that Mercer had "trouble with alcohol in the past" but now lives alcohol free.

Finally, the Defense called the defendant himself, Joe Mercer to the stand. Attorney Rick Bunch asked his client "are you an alcoholic?" To which Mercer replied, "Yes."

Mercer said that he decided to quit drinking because he "got tired of being sick and tired." He spoke about his multiple medical problems and the life altering experience of being pulled out of a fire barely alive.

Under cross examination, the prosecution detailed the criminal history of Mercer. Mitchell spoke about the 3 previous DWI's, 2 public intoxication arrests, and a Federal credit card fraud conviction in 1986.

When asked about his alcohol problem, Mercer said, "I've never been a steady drinker." However Mercer admitted, "I've always quit for long periods of time."

The prosecution called one witness, the arresting officer for Mercer's public intoxication arrest in 2009. She stated Mercer was laying in the middle of 13th street when she apprehended him.

Under questioning from the defense, the officer stated Mercer was in the hospital when he left on foot. The hospital called the police and they tracked down Mercer.

The state then presented their closing arguments to the judge. "Probation is not applicable,"said Mitchell. He said Mercer was "obviously was on probation in Clay County when he was drinking."

Defense attorney Rick Bunch slowly started to make his closing arguments. "Sometimes things happen in life that change a person," he says. "Mr. Mercer has a problem, but he is more concerned about living."

Bunch continued. "He's just trying to get better, he's trying to live."

He then started pleading with the court, "He has no chance in prison...I don't think he will survive."

Gesturing to the defendant he added, "Any sentence will be a life sentence."

In closing he said, "I'm asking the court for mercy."

Mitchell didn't seem phased by the compassion. "Don't forget the offense when your looking at the punishment," he says. "He showed that he had the option to change, he hasn't changed."

The prosecution finished by asking Judge Mark T. Price for 5 years.

"It's a sad situation because Mr. Mercer is a wasted life, " said the Judge. "My greatest concern is for the defendant."

Then the Judge became passionate. "I thank God there was no accident," he said. "We repeatedly have this problem."

At 10:10 am, the Judge sentenced Joe Mercer to 7 years in prison. Friends of the defendant openly sobbed as the shackled man heard his fate.

After the sentence was read, Mitchell said he was pleased with the decision by the court. "I think it was a fair sentence. The Judge is sending a message to the community that driving while intoxicated is not tolerated," he explained.

John Gillespie, the Chief Felony Prosecutor with the District Attorney's office was also pleased with the decision. "When you drink and drive in Wichita County, you will be prosecuted. You will face significant stiff legal penalties for that," said Gillespie.

He goes on to say that Mercer's sentence should stand out in the minds of many. "We want people to think about that when they choose to drink and drive and have that deprived indifference to human life on the roads. That there are significant consequences to it. We will catch you, we will prosecute you," he said.

Gillespie also heads up the Intoxication Prosecution Unit with the District Attorney's Office. "We want to target these repeat offenders that endanger our families and our friends," explains Gillespie, "I want to send the message and I think Judge Price did today that we will strenuously prosecute them and seek strong sentences against them."

Rick Bunch plans to appeal the sentence. Until then, Joe Mercer will be behind bars.

Day 3, January 13

Attorneys compile documents for pre-sentence investigation.

Day 2, January 12

A Wichita County jury took over an hour to return a guilty verdict in Joe Mercer's repeat DWI case. When Mercer heard the verdict, he closed his eyes, before being taken into custody.

Court resumed Wednesday at 9 a.m. Defendant Joe Mercer stared silently while Judge Mark Price outlined the instructions for the jury on what constitutes a DWI conviction.

The lead prosecutor, Richard Mitchell then began the closing arguments. He said that Mercer is a "dangerous" driver with two prior DWI convictions. The prosecutor said "there is no excuse for driving while intoxicated." He even told the jury "your job today is not complicated."

However when the defense attorney, Rick Bunch, began his closing arguments, he was much more somber. "I didn't get much sleep tonight because I'm worried about a friend of mine going to prison," he told the jury. Bunch said, "the law is black and white. We are not black and white."

The defense said Mercer was working late the night of the alleged incident when he decided to have a couple of beers. The defense said Mercer was hurt and had two rags soaked with blood. "It's obvious he's heading to the hospital," said Bunch.

The defense attorney then claimed the arresting officer was in the wrong, not Mercer. He said the officer "lacked compassion and concern." Bunch also said the officer was just looking to make an arrest, not to help a bleeding man. "All he wanted was that mark, that arrest," said Bunch.

Then, the attorney turned it back to the personal relationship of his client. "I hope you understand the gravity of the situation," he said. "He's my friend, before this case started, and he's still my friend."

The prosecution finished closing arguments saying, "Do you think you want to be on the road with this person?"

He closed by saying, "We are not dealing with a sober person, you are dealing with an intoxicated person."

The jury began deliberating the fate of Joe Mercer at 9:32 am. At 10:44 am, they reached the guilty verdict. After the verdict was read, the jury was released.

Day 1, January 11

Tuesday, the state presented its case against 59-year-old Joe Douglas Mercer. Mercer is accused of driving while intoxicated on February 28, 2009 in Wichita Falls. He has 2 former DWI convictions, one in Clay County on March 6, 2002 and another in Montague County on January 18, 2005.

The 5 men and 7 women jury heard testimony from Officer Anderson, with the Wichita Falls Police Department. Officer Anderson explained Mercer was incoherent the night of the alleged incident. He said Mercer had a gash on his head and was covered in blood, but didn't know how the man became hurt. Officer Anderson told the court that Mercer's injury looked like a 'flesh' wound. Mercer was placed under arrest at 2:56 am.

The prosecution then called another officer with the Wichita Falls Police who is certified in performing tests to judge whether a person is intoxicated. Officer Rogers testified he placed Mercer in a room and video taped the testing proceedings.

The jury then saw a video of Mercer in a white T-shirt, stumbling and rambling. The video was taken at 3:44 am the night of the alleged events. On tape, the jury heard Mercer explain he was a volunteer firefighter.

On tape, Mercer complained about bleeding and he said he had blood on his hands, face, and shirt. The courtroom heard Officer Rogers ask Mercer to put on gloves, to prevent more blood from being spread around the room. The jury heard Rogers ask "Do you know how to put on gloves?" Mercer scoffed and said "I'm a volunteer fireman, I know how to put on gloves." Then he fumbled with the gloves, and couldn't match his fingers. In the courtroom, Mercer lowered his head.

The jury also heard Mercer on tape complaining that he sustained a back injury. Officer Roberts then asked Mercer to complete mental tasks. Mercer was not able to recite the full alphabet and he was also unable to count backwards from a certain number. When confronted by the Officers about the mistake, Mercer said "Even when I'm sober, I cannot do the test."

Several times throughout the morning, proceedings were interrupted by Mercer's coughing.

The Court recessed until 1:30 PM.

Once back from recess, the state rested. The defense called it's only witness, defendant Joe Mercer, to the stand.

Joe Mercer told the jury he was living in his computer repair shop and all he wanted to do was work. He told the courtroom that he was behind and he planned to work through the night.

After having about a 6 pack of beer, he said he was hanging metal shelving. He explains something snapped, and all the shelving fell on top of him, causing a gash on his forehead. Mercer told the jury he knew he was intoxicated but "Didn't want to bleed to death."

Mercer continued to justify his actions to the jury saying, "Streets were pretty dead, so I thought I could make it to the ER."

Under cross examination, the prosecution asked Mercer why he didn't go to a nearby business, such as McDonalds and Taco Bell to get help. Mercer just shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't know."

The prosecution also asked Mercer about his cut. He said that the gash had to be sealed by glue and he was not admitted to the hospital.

After Mercer's testimony, both the state and defense rested.

Closing arguments are expected at 9 am Wednesday.

Newschannel 6 took an in-depth look at the repeat DWI problem in Wichita County. You can read that story here.

Newschannel 6 will bring you up to the minute updates on this trial on our live twitter feed.

Mary Moloney, Newschannel 6