Courts & Crime

Texas judge banishes rape defendant from trial after threats

FORT WORTH — A rape defendant who threatened to kill state District Judge Elizabeth Berry, her family, his defense attorney and eight sheriff's deputies last week was banished from the courtroom Tuesday.

After disrupting pretrial proceedings last week, Jeremy Dontae Craft wore leg irons and a shock belt during his trial in connection with the May 29, 2008, aggravated sexual assault of a 20-year-old family friend.

For the first day and a half, Craft seemed docile after retired visiting Judge Phillip Vick, who was assigned to try the case, warned him that he would be further restrained if he didn't behave.

Craft, 23, didn't visibly react when his alleged victim, now 22, testified that Craft, armed with a bat and a kitchen knife, threatened to kill her. She said he struck her in the face before raping her in the home where he was staying with her and her mother.

During Tuesday's lunch recess, however, Craft began screaming and broke the smoke detector in the holding cell behind Criminal District Court No. 3, triggering the sprinklers and flooding the cell. Deputies brought him into the courtroom, where Vick tried to calm him down before the jury returned.

That's when Craft repeatedly shouted obscenities at prosecutor Christy Jack, accusing her of performing sex acts on Vick in exchange for his overruling defense attorney Ronald Couch's trial motions. Craft's rants Tuesday were similar to ones he made during a hearing last week after he flooded his cell the first time.

His Thursday rants included threats to, among other things, cut Berry's heart out, bite her throat out and kill her entire family, according to a motion introduced by the state. During jury selection Friday, Craft also made harassing remarks to Jack and Magistrate Matt King, prosecutors said.

Those threats were included among about 100 prior crimes and bad acts Jack and co-counsel Nelda Cacciotti may present during the punishment phase of Craft's trial, if he is convicted.

Couch asked Vick to postpone the trial to seek a sanity evaluation of Craft. Vick denied the request, noting that Craft had been found competent to stand trial as recently as last week.

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