Cruel and Usual Punishment

Like thousands of Americans, Sharanda Jones faces life in prison for a nonviolent drug crime.

Cruel and Usual Punishment
Ellen Weinstein

The man from California who called himself Old School seemed like a legitimate customer because he actually smoked the crack he purchased. That was Earnest Jones' test to make sure he wasn't selling to an informant. "He made quite a few buys from me," says Jones, who was a street dealer in Terrell in the late '90s, just as the feds were setting their sights on the town.

It wasn't much of a test, as Jones learned later when he found himself in jail in Kaufman County facing U.S. Attorney William McMurrey and Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Robert Crawford. They had photos of Jones and Old School, who was an informant after all. "I said, 'Tell him congratulations and he did a good job,'" Jones recalls.

Jones already had a record that included marijuana possession, burglaries and assault. To avoid a trial he was ready to admit he sold crack. But Jones' little deals weren't enough. The feds were running a major conspiracy case, the kind usually reserved for major kingpins, and Crawford and McMurrey wanted Jones to name his suppliers. In fact, they already knew the names they were after. They showed him a diagram on a white board, mapping out their case. The name of his sister Sharanda Jones sat at the top of the circle.

Details

"I told them the only drug dealer in my family is me," he says.

Jones went back to jail, where he sat until September 1998, when his mother, Genice Stribling, received a call from Agent Crawford telling her that her son and investigators were coming to pay her a visit. Stribling was bedridden, paralyzed from the neck down for most her adult life, and depended on her children and boyfriend to do everything for her.

Crawford, accompanied by several Terrell police detectives, brought Jones into Stribling's bedroom and sat him on the edge of the bed, his feet and hands in shackles. Her son was in trouble, Crawford told her.

"How much time can Earnest get?" she asked.

"Earnest can get from 99 years to life," she recalled Crawford telling her, in testimony she later gave in court.

That wasn't all, Crawford warned.

"Ms. Stribling, back in 1995 you sold drugs to a young lady," he said.

Stribling denied it. She had never been arrested or charged in connection to that alleged sale, and three years had passed since.

"I said, 'No, I have never sold drugs to no one in 1995," Stribling testified. "Mr. Crawford asked me, 'Would I sign this statement?' And I told him no."

But authorities were undeterred. Earnest Jones, his sisters Sharena and Sharanda, their paralyzed mother and her boyfriend had been snared in a massive roundup of crack-heads and dealers in Terrell that began in 1997. More than 120 people in a town of 14,000 would be arrested. Informants were thick on the ground. Earnest Jones was the only member of his family caught selling, and no drugs or drug money were ever recovered from his mother or sisters. But other crack addicts and dealers pointed their fingers, and based on their testimony, prosecutors insisted that Sharanda, a single mother who ran several businesses and had never been charged with a crime before, was the leader of a major crack ring that distributed 23.92 kilograms of cocaine base.

Stribling, convicted by a jury of possession with intent to distribute and aiding and abetting in 1999, was sentenced to 17 years. She died in prison in 2012. Earnest Jones pleaded guilty to the same charges and was called as a witness against his family but tried to defend them on the stand. He was sentenced to 18 years and will be free in 21 months. The younger sister, Sharena, portrayed by the government as having a minor role in the conspiracy, pleaded guilty and received an eight-year sentence.

Sharanda Jones may never be free again. Facing aggressive prosecutors and extremely harsh sentences for crack offenses, Jones received a life sentence.


"She was an upstanding person, she never got in any trouble, she minded her own business, and to hear that she got any real time, especially like life?" says Joi Bass, a younger cousin who used to spend weekends and holidays with Stribling and her children. "Nobody expected that."

Now, a source close to the investigation acknowledges that Jones' drug deals weren't really what put her away — prosecutors wanted her to give up the names of other people who trafficked drugs. There was one friend she had in particular, a Dallas cop, the source says, who investigators insisted accompanied her on drug deals, but Jones refused to snitch on her friend or admit guilt herself. "She could have given up everything but the cop, but she still wouldn't have gotten that sentence," says the source, who asked to remain anonymous. "For the small place of Terrell, Texas, that [Jones' dealing] was probably the biggest game in town ... but in a place like Dallas? No, she wouldn't be a big drug person."

Today, Sharanda Jones' only chance to avoid dying behind bars like her mother rests in the hands of President Obama, and her hopes are riding on a young corporate attorney in Dallas who has made her mission to free people cast into prison under outdated crack laws that were too harsh even for the federal government to stomach.

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3 comments
sargesgiftshop
sargesgiftshop

Poor old lady.... if she had done it in China she'd face a firing squad...

Do the crime...do the time....nuff said

drjeff0001
drjeff0001

Something tells me we have not heard the whole story here

bulldurham48
bulldurham48

I am feeling sorry for the old lady, but if she was dealing drugs she did deserve punishment as did all involved. What I detest is the governments way of getting arrest/convictions. Even small local country prosecutors do the same thing. Around here they will catch a teen with drugs and then let him off and protect him from prosecution on anything else, even non drug charges trying to get a bust. Letting criminals dodge charges is wrong regardless of the reason. It is so bad I have even seen a prosecutor lie out right to a judge in court to protect a drug informant from other charges even though the informant has been outed prior to the court hearing. When our law systems allow our prosecutors to out right lie to judges just for a informant we need to take a long look at what we call justice. In this case I cannot get even the Commonwealth Attorney [elected] to see me about the problem. This leads me to believe either he doesn't want to be bothered with such matters[lying prosecutors] or he is aware of it and doesn't want to have to lie himself by being ask about it. If I cannot end up seeing him I guess I will have to see the Federal folks and then file a civil rights suit for being denied my right to my day in court. And the Republican party calls itself the party of the law, well it seems only if justice suits their needs at the time. Remember justice delayed is justice denied.

 
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