Covington Co. jury finds Luverne man guilty of theft charges

Published 1:25 pm Thursday, February 2, 2023

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A Covington County jury convicted Derek Lee Cartwright, 42, of Luverne, of first degree theft of property after a one-day trial.

Derek Lee Cartwright

The seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated only a matter of minutes before finding Cartwright guilty of stealing a gooseneck trailer. Circuit Judge Benjamin M. Bowden presided over the case.

According to the Covington County District Attorney’s Office, the evidence at trial showed that, on Nov. 12, 2021, John Cleveland Henderson had parked his gooseneck trailer in the parking lot of the old Green’s Barbecue on Highway 29. Henderson testified that he put a skid steer in front of the trailer to deter theft; however, he testified that the trailer was gone from Green’s Barbecue the next day.

Gantt Police Chief Ken Harris investigated the theft and by reviewing surveillance video cameras at various locations from Gantt to Luverne, determined that Cartwright was a suspect. Harris spoke with Cartwright at his Luverne home and Cartwright initially denied having committed the theft, saying his truck had not left his residence for days or even weeks. After Chief Harris confronted Cartwright with the video evidence, Cartwright then said he had been hired to move the trailer by a man he identified only as “David.”  Cartwright claimed he had moved the gooseneck trailer sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. as instructed by “David.” He did not provide a last name or address for “David,” and while he did give Chief Harris “David’s” phone number, no one ever answered the dozen or so calls Chief Harris made to the number. A few days later, Cartwright returned the gooseneck trailer to Chief Harris, alleging that he had happened upon it somewhere in Coffee County. The VIN sticker and another identification sticker from the manufacturer had been removed from the trailer.

After finding Cartwright guilty of the trailer theft, the jury heard evidence pertaining to sentencing from Cartwright’s probation and parole officer, Amanda Poole. Officer Poole testified that, at the time he committed the theft, Cartwright was on probation for convictions out of Jefferson County and on parole for a conviction in Ohio. After another short deliberation, the jury found that Cartwright had committed the theft while on both probation and parole for other crimes.

Court records reveal that Cartwright has at least three prior convictions, including convictions for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and possession of a controlled substance.

After the verdict, District Attorney Walt Merrell praised Chief Harris.

“From start to finish, Ken Harris’ investigation into this theft was solid,” Merrell said. “Chief Harris’ diligence in finding and watching hours of surveillance video led him to Derek Cartwright and — ultimately — led to the recovery of Cleve Henderson’s trailer.”

“This trial, too, highlights the team that makes up the District Attorney’s office. Initially, this case was assigned to one prosecutor, but when she began trying another, older case this trial term, Cartwright’s case was shifted to Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter for trial. Grace did a great job stepping in at the last minute, but that’s one of the great things about her. She is always willing … no matter the fight. All our staff worked hard last week for justice. Really, though, that kind of teamwork is an everyday occurrence for us,” Merrell added.

Judge Bowden remanded Cartwright to the custody of the Covington County Sheriff’s Office pending his sentencing hearing. First degree theft of property is a Class B felony, and under the Habitual Felony Offender Act, Cartwright faces a minimum of 20 years imprisonment.