A Hall County man who has been arrested 36 times in the past two decades got a lengthy prison term Tuesday for an armed home invasion.
Saying he believed Terrance Dante Shields tampered with witnesses in his trial, Hall County Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller gave Shields an 18-year prison sentence for burglary, aggravated assault and attempted armed robbery.
"It’s unfortunate when the court sees the very heart of our criminal justice system attacked," Fuller said.
Shields, who could serve most of his sentence as a repeat offender, also must serve 12 years probation upon his release from prison and is banned from Hall County.
Fuller believed that at least two witnesses, Brenda Harris and Crystal Lipscomb, lied on the witness stand during Shields’ trial last month and that the defendant influenced their testimony. Harris and Lipscomb were victims when Shields and another person forced their way into a Flowery Branch home in February 2007. Shields went from room to room demanding money at gunpoint. During a struggle, the gun was fired, going off within inches of Lipscomb’s head. Four children younger than age 7 were in the house at the time.
Both women initially identified Shields as the gunman, then recanted on the witness stand during his trial in September. According to court testimony, Lipscomb was later seen driving Shields’ 1995 Chevrolet Impala.
Shields was recorded during a phone call made from the Hall County jail asking the brother of a witness, "you got it under control?"
Harris and Lipscomb denied that Shields influenced their testimony, but the judge didn’t believe them. Fuller has not ruled out sanctioning the witnesses for contempt of court.
Fuller called the witness tampering "an extreme action that attacks the integrity of the justice system."
"Perhaps a culture has developed that says we’re just not going to rat anybody out," Fuller said.
Despite the reluctance of victims to identify Shields in court as the assailant, a jury still found him guilty.
"We’re lucky the jury saw through it," said Assistant District Attorney Lyndsay Burton, who asked Fuller for a prison sentence of 30 years.
"I think the citizens of Hall County and the officers of Hall County deserve a break from Dante Shields, so they don’t have to constantly be dealing with him, as they have done since he turned 18," Burton said.
Several people testified on Shields’ behalf Tuesday, asking the judge for leniency.
"I believe if you give him a chance, he’ll be able to turn his life around," said Marcus Dixon, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church.
Shields, while addressing the judge, admitted that he had frequently run afoul of the law.
"Everybody knows I have a bad history," Shield said. "I’m not going to argue with that."
"I wish I could turn back the hands of time, but I can’t," Shields told the judge. "I have a lot of work to do, I know."
Fuller said the recorded phone conversation was the most severe evidence that Shields had tampered with witnesses, and that to claim otherwise would "insult the intelligence of the court."
The judge also noted Shields’ long history with law enforcement.
"To be arrested 36 times, and to be convicted 21 times, to be 34 years old, that pretty much says it all," Fuller said.
After the judge rendered his sentence, Shield mumbled his displeasure as he was led out of the courtroom by deputies.
"Eighteen years is a long time," Shields said.