Judge recuses herself after dodging defendant’s flung feces in Harris County courtroom
Judge Te’iva Bell marched into the inmate holdover room Thursday to garner a guilty plea from a defendant being isolated to minimize contact with others.
The prosecutors and court reporter joined her as part of a last minute attempt to prevent the defendant, Jaccorick Nwigwe, from getting too close to the judge or anyone else in the ceremonial courtroom because of an earlier incident. That incident happened Tuesday when Nwigwe asked visiting Judge Belinda Hill if she liked peanut butter, officials said.
He then chucked his feces at Hill in an apparent attempt to feign incompetency. The fecal matter spattered the bench and plopped onto Hill’s phone, according to photos of the aftermath. She managed to dodge the flung dung, Bell disclosed in court.
“We’re doing the plea in there in case there’s a surprise,” Bell said.
The guilty plea resulted in a 20-year prison sentence with credit for time served.
The previous courtroom stunt prompted Hill, who was overseeing the emergency relief docket, to recuse herself from Nwigwe’s pending cases, two of which stemmed from his July 2018 arrest on charges of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and evading arrest. Additional charges related to clashes with fellow Harris County Jail inmates and detention officers — some of which also involved his feces — have since been stacked on, according to court documents.
Bell noted in court that she was the fifth judge to take on Nwigwe’s cases. According to court records, Judges Hilary Unger and Danilo Lacayo recused themselves in 2020 because of death threats that Nwigwe made against them.
The plea this week followed a truncated attempt at trying Nwigwe on the charges a day prior. Jury selection and trial testimony began on Wednesday.
Nwigwe then refused to change out of his yellow jumpsuit and into non-jail clothing before prospective jurors entered the courtroom on Wednesday. Prior to jury selection, Bell encouraged the 26-year-old defendant to keep his shackled hands below the table and out of sight of jurors — an attempt to give him the best shot at due process.
“It’s time to try the case,” Bell told him. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
He groaned loudly as Bell recounted details of the fecal toss for the court record.
“Are you mad?” Nwigwe asked, going on to shout out that he has Tourette syndrome — a neurological disorder that can cause unwanted movements and vocal sounds called tics.
The lawyers ultimately picked a jury and began calling witnesses. By Thursday morning, Nwigwe had decided to abandon the jury trial and accept a plea deal.
Defense attorney Dennis Smith said on Thursday that Nwigwe had undergone multiple competency exams and was found competent each time. An independent reviewer did not diagnose him incompetant to stand trail. This led the court to conclude that he was malingering — pretending or exaggerating incapacity or illness.
“Based on doctor’s reports in the court’s file, I believe he is competent,” Smith said during the plea signing on Thursday.
Smith later said he suspected that Nwigwe’s behavior in court stemmed from a mental health issue that did not rise to the level of incompetency. The plea agreement, Smith continued, was the “correct ending to a very long process.”