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Eye on local court

Truck theft, fifth DUI and sex crime

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Shonda Ladale Watwood 

Watwood, 27, of Gardendale, Ala., could have been free of legal restraints—if only she’d reported to her probation officer. She’ll now spend nearly four years behind bars. 

She pleaded guilty in 2017 for her involvement in the attempted theft of two Ford pickup trucks from Shelbyville Auto Sales on Nov. 7, 2016. Her codefendants in the case were Alabama residents Charles Rickets and Johnnie McCormick. 

Watwood was sentenced on three felony charges: theft of property, $10,000 to $60,000; attempted theft of property $10,000 to $60,000 and conspiracy in theft of property valued at between $60,000 and $250,000. 

In a plea deal, Watwood was sentenced to four years supervised probation. In the four years since she was convicted she failed to report to her probation officer and she was back in Bedford County Circuit Court Sept. 17 to answer for violating her probation. If she had reported to her probation officer her sentence would have been completed this month but instead she is now sentenced to serve the four year sentence in prison. She must serve 30 percent of the sentence before she will be eligible for early release. According to media reports, Watwood was also arrested in October 2019 for shoplifting at the Adamsville, Ala. Walmart. 

Benjamin Timothy Ashton 

Ashton, 24, of Murfreesboro pled guilty, Sept. 17, to being a felon in possession of a handgun. Ashton was also up on drug charges but those charges were dropped as part of a plea deal. Ashton was arrested in Bedford County on June 6, 2020, during a traffic stop. After observing a defective brake light a deputy pulled over the vehicle Ashton was a passenger in. A law enforcement canine detected drugs and a subsequent search of the vehicle revealed the presence of buprenorphine (an opioid), ecstasy and Xanax, a sedative. 

Ashton had three prior felony convictions in Arizona: theft (involving a credit card), reckless endangerment and felon in possession of a handgun. As part of the plea deal on Bedford County case, Ashton was sentenced to serve 2 years and 3 months in prison. He will serve 35 percent (9 months) of the prison time before he becomes eligible for early release. 

Jesus Ezequiel Sebastian 

Sebastian, 31, of Shelbyville pled guilty to driving while intoxicated—both a fifth offense as he was arrested the second time before the first one was adjudicated. On Oct. 24, 2020, Sebastian was found by police passed out at the wheel of his Chevy pickup in the parking lot of the Shell Quik Mart on Lane Parkway in Shelbyville. The vehicle was running. 

Police found several empty Wild Turkey whiskey bottles in Sebastian’s vehicle. While he was out on bond for that case, Sebastian was driving a vehicle that ran off the road into a ditch on West Jackson Street. In both incidents, Sebastian’s blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit. Sebastian had also been charged with DUI, a 4th offense, in 2020. 

The sentence for a 5th DUI ranges from 150 days up to 12 years with a fine of up to $15,000. As part of the plea deal, Sebastian was sentenced to serve 2 years and 1 month for each DUI, the sentences to be served consecutively (resulting in an effective sentence of four years and two months behind bars). He must serve a minimum of 30 percent of the sentence before he will be eligible for early release. He was ordered to pay an $8,000 fine and his license was revoked for 8 years. 

Off to DUI school 

Sebastian was also ordered to attend a DUI school and undergo an alcohol abuse assessment. 

Judge Wyatt Burk had this to say to Sebastian: “My wife and children drive on these roads. This puts many people at risk. A fifth DUI is wholly unacceptable…. There is no doubt the streets of Bedford County will be safer without you driving.” 

✓ The records below are from District Court, Sept. 20, with Judge Forest Alexander Durard, Jr., presiding. 

Kenneth Alonzo Amos 

Amos, of Madison, pled guilty to aggravated robbery, possessing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and evading arrest in a motor vehicle. Amos was sentenced to a total effective sentence of 18 years. His cohort in the crime, Chris Brown, died in February 2020. 

Amos and and Brown broke into a home on Sunset Drive in Shelbyville on Nov. 25, 2019 and threatened five people with firearms, demanding drugs. Brown and Amos were dressed in black clothing and black ski masks and black gloves. After the residents of the home told Amos and Brown that they had no drugs and pointed out a house nearby where they could likely find drugs, Amos and Brown left taking nothing. Amos and Brown fled the scene in a black Nissan Sentra belonging to Brown. 

Police were called and an officer observed the Nissan in the area where the crime had occurred. As the officer was pulling over the vehicle he reported seeing the driver (Brown) removing a dark “mask-like” garment. After initially pulling over, Brown and Amos fled in the vehicle south on Highway 82 toward Flat Creek. 

Near Woodland Drive, Brown pulled off to the right and fled on foot. An officer caught Amos but Amos fought with the officer and was able to get back into the Nissan and flee. But Amos lost control of the vehicle and ran off the road and hit a fire hydrant, knocking it off its base. Police and had to forcibly remove Amos from the vehicle. 

Brown was later captured. 

Jonathan Julian Vandergriff 

Vandergriff, 20, of Collier Avenue in Shelbyville, pled guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual battery. He was originally charged with two counts of rape of a child and a single count of contributing to the delinquency of a child. Vandergriff admitted to two incidents involving sexual contact with a young girl. 

The victim in the case reportedly had run away from home; her mother called police on Nov. 10, 2020. After some investigation, police were told she could be found at Walmart. 

Police interviewed her and initially she denied that there was any sexual activity with Vandergriff but subsequently admitted they had engaged in sexual intercourse and another sex act. 

Registered for life 

As part of a plea deal, Vandergriff was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison with no possibility of early release. He will have to register for life as a sex offender and will be under supervision for the rest of his life.

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