Willie Smith Ward of Waco, TX was sentenced to 50 years for tucking a rack of ribs under his shirt inside of a local grocery store in September 2011. The jurors in Waco’s 19th State District Court were less than impressed with 43-year-old Ward’s previous five felony convictions for burglary, attempted robbery, aggravated assault, leaving the scene of an accident and possession of cocaine and four misdemeanor convictions. The jury recommended that Ward be sentenced to 50 years in prison as a habitual criminal.
Jurors took two minutes on Wednesday to convict Ward on robbery charges and about an hour to decide his punishment, according to a local news website. His conviction for stealing the $35 ribs was considered a robbery after he threatened a store employee who followed him out to the parking lot and interrogated him about the bulge in his shirt. The employee testified that he asked Ward what was under the shirt and the slab of ribs fell to the ground. He asked Ward what else he was hiding and Ward said, “I got a knife.” The employee added that Ward further threatened him by stating: “If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll show you what I got.” At that point, Ward ran off.
“This verdict shows that the citizens of this county will not tolerate a continued disrespect and disregard for other people and their property,” said Assistant District Attorney J.R. Vicha, who prosecuted Ward with Chris Bullajian. “People who choose to do so will be dealt with seriously and appropriately.” Ward’s sentence and conviction comes just months after the U.S. Sentencing Commission released a report revealing that Black men received sentences that were a whopping 19.5 percent longer than white men found guilty for similar crimes between December 2007 and September 2011.
In Texas’ neighboring state, Oklahoma, a 17-year-old Caucasian kid decided to consume alcohol and drive home. Unfortunately, he struck a tree and killed his 16-year-old passenger and best friend. The judge sentenced him to 10 years of church every Sunday for his DUI manslaughter conviction. This will not be the outcome for Dallas Cowboy player Josh Brent, who killed his teammate in a car crash while under the influence, nor will it be for any other young Black boy or man under the influence.
The mass incarceration of our Black men is evident, especially in racist states like Texas. We can not allow Ward’s punishment to go unchallenged.