Bud Kennedy

Standoff II? East Texas man says he’ll do it again

After a 15-Year standoff, John Joe Gray is ready to do it again

Gray is asking for help and more time to pay back taxes, and says he and his family will take up arms if officials try to seize his Henderson County ranch.
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Gray is asking for help and more time to pay back taxes, and says he and his family will take up arms if officials try to seize his Henderson County ranch.

A week after a 15-year police standoff formally ended, former fugitive John Joe Gray has not left his backwoods hideout and said he will resist officers again.

“There will be a standoff,” Gray said Thursday, saying he and his family will take up arms if Henderson County officials try to seize the 47-acre ranch over $34,618 in taxes.

Gray, 66 and legally free after learning last week that officials in adjacent Anderson County dropped a 1999 felony assault charge, said he is afraid to leave.

The county sheriff encouraged him to seek donations, Gray said, telling him to start paying by Jan. 31 or “he’d have to do something we both might regret.”

Sheriff Ray Nutt, a former Texas Ranger who let Gray confine himself to avoid endangering deputies or Gray’s wife, Alicia, and his now-grown children, said Friday he told Gray to ask for help “before something happens.”

“I don’t want us to get back in the same situation,” Nutt said: “We won’t unless we get an order from the court.”

I hate to think what might happen if anybody tried to take it away.

John Joe Gray, 12 years behind on taxes on his Henderson County compound

Gray said he would defend his property “I hate to think what might happen if anybody tried to take it away.”

At 66, Gray appears eligible for a legal delay.

A Texas law passed in 1979 and simplified in 2003 allows homeowners with a senior-citizen exemption to put off paying taxes, including any owed, until the property is transferred or sold.

Gray has a homestead exemption, but has never applied for a senior exemption or filed the paperwork to defer taxes, Henderson County tax assessor-collector Peggy Goodall said Friday.

His criminal problems are over as far as I know.

Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt

“He’d have to go to the appraisal district office for that,” Goodall said.

“He hasn’t paid since 2004. That’s what attorneys look at.”

Since January 2000, Gray and his family have lived in isolation and worshiped as the Embassy of Heaven Church on the wooded ranch in the Trinity River bottom.

They raise and grow their own food, and rely on limited solar power. Long in communication with the outside world only by shortwave radio, they now have a cellphone.

‘Ready to wake up’

Free to leave for the first time since he jumped bail on a charge of biting a state trooper restraining him during a traffic stop, Gray and family members invited Star-Telegram staff members for interviews and greeted them inside the barbed-wire fence and cattle guard.

“This has been like a dream, and I’m ready to wake up,” he said.

He gets along with the sheriff, he said, but won’t leave because “I don’t know whether the feds want something.”

Nutt said he does not know of any agency seeking Gray: “His criminal problems are over as far as I know.”

Nutt said he did not know older homeowners can defer taxes but “he needs to check on that.”

Gray gave a post office box address in nearby Trinidad.

“I always paid my taxes before, and I want to make good,” he said

He had never asked for donations, he said, but “I’m asking if people can help this from being a standoff again.”

“God tells us we have the right to protect ourselves and our family,” he said.

The longest running police standoff ended last week after 15 years, but John Joe Gray doesn't want to leave his east Texas ranch.

The Grays’ address

Box 366

Trinidad TX 75163

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