Texas farm standoff enters second year

The Dallas Morning News/March 23, 2001
By Scott Parks

An anti-government fugitive wanted in the assault of a Texas highway patrolman has rejected a plea bargain and remains holed up with relatives on his Henderson County farm.

The low-intensity standoff between law officers and John Joe Gray has entered its second year with no end in sight, according to those close to the negotiations.

Mr. Gray, 52, his family's patriarch, is wanted on two felony charges in which he is accused of biting a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper and attempting to disarm him during a traffic stop on Dec. 24, 1999. He faces two to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine on each charge. Mr. Gray retreated to his property near Cedar Creek Lake last spring and never showed up for hearings or to stand trial.

Warrants for his arrest were issued last May but were never served. Eddie Miers, a former police officer and negotiator in the case, said Monday that Mr. Gray has emphatically rejected a plea deal that would require authorities to drop one felony charge and bring him to trial on the other.

"That's the best deal he's gonna get," said Mr. Miers, a Henderson County businessman who has known Mr. Gray for several years. "But he's made it clear that he doesn't intend to turn himself in at all."

In the mid-1990s, Mr. Gray was active in the Texas Militia, a militant anti-government group. Militia units sometimes trained on his property, according to police.

While Gray family members scoff at government authority, they also profess strict Christian beliefs based, they say, on the Bible.

Last October, television actor Chuck Norris heard about the standoff and visited Mr. Gray and his family for two or three hours. Afterward, Mr. Norris said he believed the family needed legal assistance and agreed to provide lawyers for free.

Mr. Norris' attempt to intervene didn't work, Mr. Miers said. "The lawyers he got for them pretty well backed out when they saw that he didn't intend to go before the judicial system in any event," Mr. Miers said. Police believe nine relatives are living with Mr. Gray on their 47-acre farm: his wife, two sons, two daughters, a son-in-law and three grandchildren.

Mr. Gray's wife, Alicia, and their sons regularly patrol their property with pistols and rifles. On occasion, police see them visiting with sympathizers across a fence that separates their farm and a county road.

Henderson County Sheriff Ronny Brownlow said the courts, district attorney and the Texas Department of Public Safety have left the case up to him, and that he has no intention of raiding Mr. Gray's property to arrest him.

"He's got no criminal history, no close neighbors in danger and he's hiding behind women and kids," Sheriff Brownlow said. "I think he'll wear out." Last year, the electric company cut power to the Gray farm for nonpayment of bills. Mr. Miers said the family maintains a small generator to power a pump for their water well. They tend a vegetable garden and chop wood for heat and cooking, he said. They also spend time trying to keep an old Jeep and a tractor running.

"They just basically piddle," Mr. Miers said. "But they seem content with life out there."

At least one Gray family member regularly leaves the farm to get groceries and other supplies. None of the family members holds a job, Mr. Miers said.

"People give them things, but I don't know if they have a source of money for themselves or if people give them that, too," he said.

The Grays also don't believe in seeing doctors or dentists, Mr. Miers said. Already, they have endured an outbreak of the flu, he said. "Hygiene is certainly an issue," Mr. Miers said. He concluded, "They are not a threat to society. Eventually, everything will work out."

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