Former Palestine City Tax Assessor/Collector Vickie Wesson was sentenced to eight years probation and ordered to spend 120 days in the county jail by a visiting judge Monday afternoon.

Last month, a 12-person Anderson County jury found the 47-year-old Wesson guilty of bribery, a second-degree felony punishable by two-to-20 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000. Having never previously been convicted of a felony, she was eligible for probation.

After hearing closing arguments from attorneys representing both sides, Visiting Judge Jerry Calhoon sentenced Wesson to eight years probation, with a stipulation that she serve 120 days in the Anderson County Jail beginning Monday, May 1.

The judge also ordered Wesson to perform 500 hours of community service and make $10,000 restitution to the City of Palestine.

If Wesson fails to meet the terms of her probation, she could be required to serve a portion of her eight-year sentence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Following the imposition of Wesson's sentence, both attorneys in the case — Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe and defense attorney Dick Swift — declined comment on the punishment, citing a "gag" order issued by the court.

Wesson, who worked for the City of Palestine for approximately 20 years prior to her January 2004 resignation, still faces the charge of misapplication of fiduciary property between $1,500 and $20,000.

The state could, however, ultimately elect not to prosecute that case.

During the state's closing argument Monday, Lowe had asked the court to sentence Wesson to prison time.

"I think it's a very serious crime Mrs. Wesson has been convicted of," Lowe said to the court. "The Legislature says it's a second-degree felony."

Lowe said many citizens become discouraged and angry when they believe another member of society is being given special consideration.

Throughout last month's trial, the state successfully argued that Wesson accepted $1,000 as a benefit from 75-year-old Glinnis "Utah" Thompson on March 7, 2002, after making two adjustments totaling almost $15,400 to the man's city utility accounts on the same day.

Testimony during the trial showed that Thompson owns multiple pieces of low-cost rental property throughout the City of Palestine and Anderson County and also has multiple utility accounts with the city.

Thompson has also been indicted on a bribery charge in relation to the same incident, but has yet to be tried.

"When they realize you can buy a favor — or buy something other people don't get — it makes them mad and it makes me mad too, judge," Lowe said during his closing argument.

Local attorney Dick Swift, who represented Wesson, described his client as a "very adequate and proper candidate for probation," pointing out she had already suffered greatly due to the publicity and stress of her case.

"We live in a small community," Swift told the court. "She's been branded, it's never going away...We're just simply asking for a probated sentence."

Perhaps bolstering Wesson's plea for probation were multiple letters of support written on her behalf by a pair of former Palestine mayors, Jack Selden and Bob McKelvey; former Palestine City Attorney Charlie Nichols; and former state representative Cliff Johnson.

During his imposition of sentence, Calhoon made reference to the "outpouring" of support for Wesson "from very influential members of this community."

Wesson, who did not testify during the guilt/innocence phase of last month's trial, took the stand Monday, testifying through tears at times. During direct examination, she told the court her family would suffer negative consequences if she was sentenced to prison time.

"Without my salary, they would have to move and they would probably lose their vehicles and our home," testified Wesson, who is currently working in another county leasing oil and mineral rights.

Wesson indicated she understood she must accept the court's judgment, but did not admit any wrongdoing under cross examination by Lowe.

"In my heart, I'll always know I didn't commit the crime," Wesson testified. "...I regret I extended help to Mr. Thompson above and beyond. My only intention was to help Mr. Thompson, not to give special benefits."

Approximately 30 people attended Monday's sentencing hearing — many of whom were Wesson's family members and supporters.

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Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at pstone@palestineherald.com

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