Redemption appears right on course for a defendant who once pleaded guilty but later got a second chance after he caused a 2018 traffic accident that changed the lives of a Stratford couple with debilitating injuries.
During a recent hearing in a Garvin County courtroom it was Austin Johnson, 25, who took the next step toward a sentence that is more about recovery than punishment.
Johnson has admitted being under the influence of alcohol and drugs when the pickup truck he was driving failed to stop at a traffic sign and slammed into a vehicle carrying Chris and Regina Dilbeck as they traveled on U.S. Highway 177 back to their Stratford home.
The accident on July 7, 2018 left both Dilbecks in the hospital for nearly a month and needing help from others ever since for simple daily things.
Johnson took a plea deal in March 2020 that resulted in him receiving a 20-year term with five of those years in prison.
Claiming an understanding of the court process Johnson two months later asked to withdraw his plea and have the case return to the early stages.
His request got the blessing of a judge as the Dilbecks and their family members all expressed forgiveness and requested the young man get another chance with a punishment that included rehabilitation and not prison time.
After that both sides worked to finalize a restitution amount and the terms of a new plea deal.
During a brief hearing Jan. 3 it was Johnson’s defense attorneys who waived his right to a jury trial, which had been on a docket this month in Garvin County District Court.
Making a plea arrangement with state prosecutors a done deal is next up as a hearing has been scheduled in March.
Court records show Johnson has no Native American connections, while the status of the Dilbecks has not been announced.
That’s important because a 2020 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, known as the McGirt ruling, determined that most of Oklahoma and all of Garvin County are still legally considered tribal reservation lands.
Last week a Lindsay man received a three-year prison term with another 17 years suspended after he pleaded no contest to domestic assault by strangulation and kidnapping charges.
Just three days later Jimmy Dale Headrick, 43, submitted a letter to a judge asking to withdraw his no contest plea.
“I get credit for time served or I would like to respectfully pull my plea and continue on to a jury trial as per my legal rights,” Headrick stated in the letter filed in his case.
Headrick’s case dates back to March 9, 2021 when Lindsay police responded to the call of a woman collapsed in a residential yard.
The woman said she had gotten into an argument with Headrick, who was her boyfriend at the time.
According to the woman, she tried to leave the residence when Headrick grabbed her, put his arms around her neck, started to choke her and pulled her back inside by her shirt.
A court hearing last week resulted in an Elmore City woman moving toward a plea deal in an embezzlement case.
A March plea hearing was set for Ilene Cain, 49, who is accused of embezzling nearly $85,000 over a five-year period using a credit card belonging to her employer at the time, Venture Pipe and Supply in Lindsay.
The state’s case against Cain accuses her of increasing the fraudulent charges almost every year from nearly $4,000 in 2016 to $7,400 in 2017, nearly $18,000 in 2018, $34,300 in 2019 and around $20,600 in 2020.
The accused embezzlement was for purchases that included vacation trips to Las Vegas, a youth football camp in Iowa, University of Oklahoma football tickets, medical marijuana, make-up, golf cart rentals and home delivered furniture.