He has been to prison more than once and sitting in Eighth Judicial District Court Tuesday afternoon with his wife, who is pregnant with his fourth child, and three children sitting in the rows behind him, he now faced the possibility of 25 years to life for his fourth DWI. However, Eric Wydell Tilley was given a second, second chance when Judge Eddie Northcutt pronounced what he called the toughest decision he has had to make in the just over three years he has been on the bench. Tilley was sentenced to 10 years deferred and be required to wear an ankle monitor that would detect alcohol content of his body from sweat. The deferred sentence means he is on probation for 10 years but will have to serve the sentence should he fail to keep the terms of his probation.
Tilley had been to prison for robbery, burglary, retaliation—threatening to kill a police officer–burglary again, and after his third DWI probation was revoked. His third DWI probation was his first second chance given by then District Judge Robert Newsom. Northcutt referred to the first second chance given by Newsom and had State’s Exhibit 20, which he held in his hand, as he pronounced the struggle he had with the sentencing. State’s Exhibit 20 was a compendium of charges and sentencing that Tilley had faced in the past as compiled by Assistant District Attorney Clay Harrison, who was seeking the maximum penalty in the sentencing phase of the trial.
Harrison has spent a great deal of time in discovery and called a number of witnesses to confirm Tilley’s previous difficulties with the law. Harrison called Sulphur Springs Detective Sgt. David Gilmore to prove all Tilley’s prior convictions using fingerprints. Corporal Michael Russell with SSPD testified that in 2013, he was arresting Tilley for assaulting his wife after she tried to stop him from drinking and driving. Tilley also resisted arrest at that time and tried to kick out the window of the patrol car. Jail Administrator Kenneth Dean played jail calls from July, 2016 when Tilley told his wife to “…put Officer Moon on blast.” He was referring to SSPD Officer Eddie Moon who had made the arrest for the fourth DWI.
In his decision, Northcutt stated that he had decided the sentencing in three murder trials, several aggravated sexual assault cases, and a number of other matters but none compared to the difficulties he had faced in deciding this sentence. He commended Harrison and Defense Attorney Frank Long for their outstanding work in presenting their case. He stated that he had personally prayed for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding in deciding the sentence. Noting that he had changed his mind several times over the past days while making the decision, Northcutt said he was firm in the decision he presented Tuesday.
Northcutt had looked into the legality of his decision questioning if the enhanced punishment due thanks to the multiple charges could be ignored. He found that it could be ignored. He did ignore the enhancement in the sentence given.
Northcutt spoke directly to law enforcement and the public as the said he was painfully aware of decisions made in district court that carry impact on the community. The judge affirmed his confidence in the law enforcement officers involved in the case and their work. He said that if this was a first time offense, that would be one thing but this circumstance was not a first time. He said he remembered as an attorney sitting in court as Judge Newsom assessed the first second chance punishment. He stated that Newsom had given a lesser penalty in 2000 shortly after Tilley had been released from prison where he had served a 1998 sentence of three years for retaliation.
In State’s Exhibit 20, Northcutt had noted the information given regarding the 10 years’ probation, a chance given, and the arrest on January 1, 2003 for evading arrest and intoxication which broke parole and sent him to prison. Northcutt noted that Tilley served the time and then completed his supervised release. Northcutt called the 2001 chance “…that a Golden Opportunity that didn’t last.”
Northcutt stated that the phone conversation between Tilley and his wife reflected statements of retaliation and did not fall in line with Tilley’s statements of life change brought about by being in church and possessing a changed nature. The judge called Tilley an alcoholic, even if he thinks he isn’t one. The judge noted that Tilley could hold his alcohol better than others when it came to blood tests.
Noting the struggles of Tilley’s wife and her work ethic, the judge said she continues to struggle to pay utilities. However, the judge also noted Tilley’s work history calling it impressive. He stated that Tilley was able to get a job and hold it even with the lengthy past record. He called Tilley a good provider for his family. Northcutt stated that if Tilley’s children thought society, the court, the police, or ethnicity is a reason for his convictions “… you have failed.” The judge affirmed that Tilley himself had created the circumstance that brought him before the court.
Northcutt did not levy a fine citing the cost of the ankle monitor that Tilley must purchase and wear. He gave him credit for the 35 days served in county jail and released him from custody Tuesday.
Tilley turns 50 years of age Thursday, August 18, 2016. He will not be in prison but with his family. Northcutt told him to make the most of this second second chance.