Local Judicial Circuit's first criminal trial since March conducted in Okaloosa County

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — The record will show that on Tuesday, Oct. 6, Craig Calloway, 42, of Crestview, was found guilty by a jury of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

What could go unnoted will be that Calloway's was the first criminal case to be tried in Florida's First Judicial Circuit since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Calloway, who is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 10, could face 30 years in prison if he is sentenced as a habitual felony offender.

Getting his case to court with necessary precautions taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus was an ordeal, but Assistant State Attorney Clifton Drake, who did not try the case but attended the one-day trial, said everything seemed to go as planned.

Okaloosa County Courthouse in Crestview

"I'm surprised at how smooth it went," Drake said. "There were a lot of precautions taken, but it all flowed very well."

The trial began with jury selection from a pool of 19 candidates. Typically, the number would be about 50, but it has been determined the maximum number of potential jurors to be 19. 

Jurors were spaced 6 feet apart and seated in every other row of the courtroom bleachers, Drake said. Additional jurors were housed in a separate holding area to wait in case they were needed.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the prosecution and defense were able to select a seven-person jury from the 19 original prospectives, Drake said. 

Each juror was given a face mask to wear. About half wore not only the face shields, but also a mask. Some wore face shields and no mask and others masks and no face shields. Drake said he sat in the gallery with a handful of other spectators. All were required to wear masks.

Prosecuting attorney Angela Liles and the defense lawyer in the case wore face shields. Drake said the face shields apparently allowed them to speak clearly enough for everyone in the courtroom to hear because there were no complaints about muffled speech or questions from jurors about what was being said.

Witnesses also wore masks. 

The only one who didn't wear a facial cover was Circuit Judge Michael Flowers, who explained to the jurors he was sitting far enough away that one would not be required. Flowers also was separated by plexiglas from the witness stand on the left side of his bench and from the court clerk who sat to his right.

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Calloway, who, according to a State Attorney's Office news release has 33 prior felony convictions, was arrested March 15, just days before the state locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Officers took him into custody following a traffic stop after noticing an empty gun holster and ammunition in the vehicle.

"Officers found a loaded handgun, more ammunition, and a spent shell casing while searching the vehicle," the release said. "Calloway told officers he used the empty gun holster for his phone."

Among Calloway's previous convictions are two others for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, nine burglary convictions and a robbery conviction. He also has been convicted of battery on a law enforcement officer, 19 other theft-related felonies and 15 misdemeanors.

Drake said the case was tried in a courtroom set up to seat 14 jurors, as would be selected for a felony murder trial. Chairs were removed from the jury box to allow five jurors to sit in the altered box while two jurors sat in front of the box. 

Calloway's case was not specifically chosen to be the first one tried in the First Judicial Circuit, according to Drake, but his was among those for which it was felt a trial could be reasonably conducted. 

Cases requiring more jurors or for cases in which attorneys are able to "strike" more jurors from the list of potentials could be more difficult to bring to court under current conditions, Drake said. Presently, each jury pool can be no larger than 19 people, and arranging for whole new pools to be brought in for each day the selection process continued could prove time consuming. 

It still could be awhile before some of the judicial circuit's more prominent felony cases can be tried, Drake said.

"Jury selection has the potential to take a very long time," he said.