(WMC) - The trial of a seven-time drunk-driver whose case has sparked DUI law reforms in two states has been delayed until May 2.
The trial of 32-year-old Melandus Penson of Belden, Mississippi, was originally scheduled to start Monday, March 28. But Mississippi Third Circuit Court District Attorney Ben Creekmore said Penson's attorney requested more time to assemble expert witnesses.
"Part of that was to make it convenient not only for the court and attorneys, but also for all family and interested parties to be able to attend. We are actively preparing for trial," Creekmore said.
On May 31 2014, Penson -- while out on bond for his sixth DUI charge -- ran his vehicle at high speed on Highway 78 near the Marshall County/Desoto County, Mississippi, line into the back of a van carrying Briarcrest Christian School students Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch, both 17. The crash killed both girls and injured two of their friends. Authorities charged Penson with two counts of DUI death. Marshall County deputies are holding him on a $3 million bond.
Criminal records revealed Penson carries five DUI convictions, but each is for a charge of first-offense DUI because three Mississippi counties and one Mississippi municipality never shared Penson's DUI arrest or conviction history with either the Mississippi Department of Public Safety or the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC). That is the national crime record database accessible in virtually every squad car in America. Because his record was missing from the NCIC, officers did not have immediate access to it at the time of his arrests. As a result, they had no choice but to charge Penson with a first-offense DUI each time.
A WMC Action News 5 investigation revealed 18 of Tennessee's 95 counties do not report DUI arrest or conviction records to the NCIC, either.
As a result of the Penson case and our investigations, both the Tennessee General Assembly and the Mississippi Legislature have passed bills that would mandate all county court clerks and law enforcement to report an offender's DUI arrest within seven days and conviction within five days to state authorities and to the NCIC. Both states are also forging ahead with tougher penalties and bond conditions on DUI offenders.
Molly Miller, spokesperson for the Briarcrest grass-roots coalition Report/Enforce/Protect (REP), said, "While we are discouraged about any delay in this trial, we are encouraged at the recent progress that both Mississippi and Tennessee are making in the road to DUI legislation reform. We look forward to the day that the ultimate justice will prevail."