Miss. man’s murder case in Mobile shelved due to 12-year delay

Published 4:37 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Mobile County judge dismissed murder charges against a Mississippi man because prosecutors waited nearly 12 years to bring him to trial for the alleged drunken driving accident that killed three passengers.

Henry D. Finch, who was 25 on Sept. 11, 1995 when the one-car accident occurred a half mile from the Mississippi line, was set to be tried Monday, with witnesses waiting to testify.

Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart threw out the case Monday afternoon before jury selection could begin after Finch’s attorneys argued that prosecutors had violated his right to a speedy trial.

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Finch, allegedly under the influence of alcohol while at the wheel, was the only person to survive when the car left the road, hit a tree and landed in a tributary of Big Creek Lake. Three Mississippi residents in the car died.

More than a dozen of the victims’ family members were in the courtroom Monday.

Prosecutor Ashley Rich told Stewart that the delay before bringing the case to trial was necessary because Finch had been in federal prison almost the whole time serving a sentence for marijuana trafficking.

“If you thought the murder case was important enough to try, you could have gotten him back,” Stewart told Rich.

Defense Dennis Knizley called Stewart’s ruling “courageous.”

“It’s difficult for an elected official to dismiss a triple murder,” Knizley said. “On the other hand, she had a sworn obligation to do what is right and that’s what she did.”

Finch had already served time for trafficking marijuana before the 1995 accident, but his probation was revoked following it, one of his attorneys said. He was freed from federal custody last summer after serving another 11 years, according to court records, but his probation was revoked again for allegedly beating up a girlfriend.

The Mobile County District Attorney’s office arrested him while he was out on bond for that charge and ordered him held without bond for the murder trial.

In the 1995 accident, Toby Lee Crenshaw and Shannon Eugene Waltman, both 20 and from Lucedale, Miss., and Melissa Christine Tanner, 19, of Big Point, Miss., all died at the scene.