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Man jailed on probation violation after leaving court to reach sick son

NEW PORT RICHEY — Gregory Hicks walked into court on time but worried.

He had a hearing for a fraud charge, and he had violated his probation, which meant he could be headed back to jail.

While he waited with his wife for the judge to call his name, a bailiff said there was an emergency. His son was being rushed to the hospital with a severe respiratory issue. Zachary, 16, was born prematurely and has cerebral palsy, paralyzed vocal cords and a tracheotomy tube. He requires 24-hour care.

Hicks, 49, offered to stay but was told he could leave.

When his name was called, his lawyer explained the situation.

"I don't think he should be held responsible for leaving on this case," Assistant Public Defender Monica Grey told Circuit Judge William Webb.

"You think not?" Webb replied. "Wrong."

Webb noted that Hicks had an outstanding warrant for violating his probation and ordered him arrested on the charge. He tacked on a charge for failing to appear in court.

Hicks was never picked up. A month later, he went back to court ,where another judge undid Webb's orders. But the next time Hicks stood before Webb, he sent Hicks to jail, where he is now, held without bail.

• • •

Hicks acknowledges he has made some poor choices in his life. From behind a glass partition at the Land O'Lakes jail this week, the lifetime Pasco County resident with daylong stubble and heavy eyes told his story.

He went to Gulf High School and loves to fish and be outside. He met his wife at a pizza restaurant — he was a cook, she a waitress. They've been together for 24 years. In 1996, when she said she was pregnant, he was thrilled to start a new chapter in his life.

But Zachary was born so severely disabled he has required constant medical attention. The stress, Hicks said, has been hard to bear.

In the early 2000s, Hicks had several surgeries that led to a pain killer addiction and a "rough ride." He started getting arrested in 2003, for scheming crimes. In 2009, he got three years of probation, which was extended after he didn't pay restitution. He said the experience opened his eyes.

"I now see my obligations and responsibilities for what they are," he wrote to a judge at the time.

Regardless, he fell back. In March, he stole his mother-in-law's credit card and was arrested again. In May, he said he joined an addiction recovery program and started to glue the pieces back together. But he knew he'd face trouble for the arrest.

• • •

While Zachary was at All Children's Hospital, Hicks didn't leave his side for six weeks. Even when he knew about the arrest warrant.

"I don't want to sound like I'm being arrogant or disrespectful," he said, "but I wasn't going to leave my son. I called my probation officer. I wasn't hiding."

His next hearing was before Circuit Judge Mary Handsel. Grey brought in documentation from the hospital, and Handsel withdrew the warrant and reinstated Hicks' original bond. She released him on his recognizance on the violation of probation charge.

"I thought I was in the clear," Hicks said.

On Wednesday, Webb had the case again. Grey reminded him about the emergency from months before.

Webb said he thought Hicks must have been released by mistake.

"No, no, your honor," Grey said. "(Judge Handsel) intended to do that, your honor."

"I'm setting that aside," he said. "I view that as an error."

He set a future hearing for October. Hicks was put in handcuffs and led away.

Grey said she's appealing Webb's decisions and hopes a higher court will uphold Handsel's ruling.

Webb declined to comment for this story.

Hicks' wife, Melissa, said she was hesitant to speak out against Webb because of the potential consequences it could have on her husband's case. She works full time, she said, and it's difficult enough to juggle everything without her husband around. She just wishes Webb showed more compassion.

"No one should have that much power," she said. "He's supposed to be a judge and give fair treatment, and he's not doing that."

Editor's Note

This story has been changed to reflect the following clarification: Gregory Hicks, who was the subject of a story about his leaving a court hearing to be with his ill son, was arrested and jailed on his existing violation of probation charge. The story was not explicit on this point.

Jon Silman can be reached at (727) 869-6229, Jsilman@tampabay.com or @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.

Man jailed on probation violation after leaving court to reach sick son 08/30/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 2, 2013 3:11pm]

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