May-June 2013

Black ribbon day across the nation

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

The senseless murder of Kaufman County Assistant CDA Mark Hasse, followed by the murders of his boss, Criminal District Attorney Mike McLelland, and his wife, Cynthia, certainly shocked that community. But as in all tragedy we can see the best in people. It started with Richard Alpert’s poem honoring Mark in the last issue of The Texas Prosecutor, and when Richard decided to don a black ribbon on the days of Mike and Cynthia’s memorial service and funeral, virtually our entire nation of prosecutors followed suit in a humbling display of sympathy, unity, and sense of common purpose. Several prosecutor offices from around the country handed out ribbons to their folks, altered their websites with photos of black ribbons, and stood with the good folks of Kaufman County.
    I cannot begin to individually recognize everyone who stood with us on those days—it would literally take pages. But thank you. It meant more than you can know, and we won’t forget it.

Thanks to the leaders of Texas
I want to offer a special thanks to Governor Rick Perry, who made it a point to take a stand for Texas prosecutors in the wake of Mike’s death by attending and speaking at the memorial service for Mike and Cynthia. The Governor’s Criminal Justice Division, led by Christopher Burnett, has been terrific in demonstrating their support.
    In addition, I want to thank former Texas prosecutors who now serve in the Texas Legislature, who donned black ribbons in their respective chambers: Senators Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), and Royce West (D-Dallas); and Representatives Stephanie Carter (R-Dallas), Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso), Joe Moody (D-El Paso), and Gene Wu (R-Houston). Finally, we’ve had tremendous support from Director Steve McCraw and the folks at the Department of Public Safety. Thanks to everyone from your Texas prosecutor offices.

Japan and the death penalty
In February TDCAA had the honor of hosting a delegation from the Japanese Bar Association. The delegation of about 20 lawyers came to Texas to learn about life without parole (LWOP) and how it fits into the Texas death penalty scheme. They made no bones about it; the Japanese Bar Association is seeking to abolish the death penalty in Japan, and they were curious about how LWOP as a policy has impacted the death penalty here in Texas. (Japan carried out three executions last year.)
    As hosts, we brought in the foremost expert on the Texas death penalty, Roe Wilson from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. I think the Japanese lawyers were hoping that there was a direct correlation between the institution of LWOP and the reduced number of death penalties in Texas. In short, Roe was able to inform them that it may be quite a bit more complicated than that. We did learn during our discussion that there are many similarities between the Japanese legal system and the Texas system, and there is no shortage of Japanese lawyer “war stories” very similar to our own. 

Welcome to our newest Criminal District Attorney
On April 10 the governor appointed Erleigh Norville Wiley as the Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney. At the time of her appointment, Ms. Wiley was serving as judge of Kaufman County Court-at-Law No. 1. She is also a former Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Dallas. Congratulations Erleigh; you have a great group of folks there at your office!

Legislative Updates ­coming to a city near you!
By the time this edition of The Texas Prosecutor hits your desk, the 83rd Legislative Session will be in its final month. As we go to print no one can predict the final outcome, but we know that a number of bills relating to prosecutor conduct and the duty to disclose exculpatory evidence had traction this session. Significant changes in pretrial discovery anchored other proposed changes to the State Bar grievance rules, training, and statutes of limitations that will be in play until the very end of the session. Then, of course, there are myriad proposals to change the Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure.
    I guarantee there is going to be a lot to talk about before the new laws take effect September 1, so keep an eye out for the TDCAA Legislative Update regional training near you. We begin our tour in July and will stop in 22 locations around Texas by August 31.

Au revoir to Jennifer Vitera
My heartfelt thanks and bon voyage to our Foundation Development Director Jennifer Vitera, who in May pulled up stakes to live her dream: cooking school in Paris. We have all benefited from Jennifer’s hard work and dedication to our profession, and she has left our Foundation on solid footing. She will be sorely missed!

And happy trails to John Stride
We knew it was just a matter of time, but John Stride, our Senior Appellate Attorney, is moving west. John is retiring from law at the end of May. He has bought a spread in Colorado and is taking his flock with him. John is a great appellate lawyer and will be missed, but we all knew he was a farmer at heart, having been a top hand at a sheep station in Australia. Thanks, John, for your work for the people of Texas. We will miss you!