In 2008, we will enjoy the leadership of David Williams (CA in San Saba) as our Chairman of the Board, and Bill Turner (DA in Bryan) as our President. In addition, the membership elected new executive committee members and regional directors: Barry Macha (CDA in Wichita Falls), President-Elect; Scott Brumley (CA in Amarillo) Secretary-Treasurer; Cheryll Mabray (CA in Llano), Region 3 Director; Chuck Rosenthal (DA in Houston), Region 5 Director; Elmer Beckworth (DA in Rusk), Region 6 Director; and Elizabeth Murray-Kolb (CA in Seguin), Region 8 Director.
Congratulations, and thanks for your willingness to serve other prosecutors through the association.
Our members’ generosity
At this year’s Annual, a call for help was answered. Emily Asel, a new prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. She is expecting her first child and has not been with Harris County long enough to acquire health insurance. Conference attendees pitched in and raised $4,356 to assist her and her family during this difficult time. Thank you for your compassion and your generosity.
The luckiest innocent guy in the world?
A few weeks ago while driving to work, I heard a radio broadcast about Ronald Gene Taylor, who had been released from prison in October after a DNA test demonstrated that he had not committed the sexual assault he was tried for in Houston in 1993. What startled me was a quote from someone at an innocence group praising the Harris County DA’s Office for its work in freeing Taylor. I later learned that this particular case was one in which the Houston PD crime lab misinterpreted the DNA test results. The DA’s office agreed to get the proper testing done, and it was discovered that Taylor did not, in fact, commit the crime of which he was convicted. In fact, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal appeared in court and apologized to Taylor for the mistake. As you can imagine, the news media was all over this, with plenty of film footage of happy family reunions.
But the media always seems to leave out the interesting twists. You see, Taylor, a/k/a Bobby Don Lathon, was on parole for burglary and delivery of a controlled substance back when this case was tried, and blue warrants were pending to return him to the pen. In addition, other aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault charges were also pending, and they were dropped when the State secured a 60-year sentence in the sexual assault case (the one at the center of the innocence claims). And as it turns out, Taylor didn’t discharge his sentences for the burglary and delivery cases until July 2007, so he actually did about three months of time purely on the bad case, not 14 years as the media is trumpeting.
Icing on the cake? The statute of limitations has now run on the aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault charges that were pending at the time of Taylor’s wrongful conviction, so the State can’t try him on those charges.
I say none of this to diminish the fact that the State convicted the wrong guy in this sexual assault. I say it to clarify the situation and fill our members in on the rest of the story. And it’s to Chuck Rosenthal’s credit that he kept this information to himself during the hubbub over Taylor’s release.
And there are some solid lessons here. First, it’s a good reminder that prosecutors need to get it right the first time. Second, Harris County prosecutors handled the situation professionally, with a thorough review and a straight-up apology for a mistake.
But I still can’t help thinking to myself that Taylor is the luckiest innocent guy to date.
A Hill County Wrangler hangs it up
Ron Sutton, the 198th District Attorney out of Junction, has announced that he will retire at the end of his term next year. Ron will end his work as the DA for Kerr, Kimble, Mason, McCulloch, and Menard Counties after 32 years, and we are sure going to miss his steady hand.
Ron has had a storied career, and a number of movies have been made about his cases, including the murdering nurse Genene Jones and the Ellebracht slave ranch.
But Ron is truly a renaissance man, and with his many talents I am pretty sure he won’t be bored. After all, he is a gardener, fisherman, pastry chef, disk jockey, and musician. Well, it may have been awhile since he played with the Hill Country Wranglers, but I am hopeful that next time I go to the legendary London Hall, maybe he’ll be playing. Thanks, Ron, and good luck!
Speaking of big-screen glory
With all the horror movies out there today, you should have expected this. You might recall that a few years ago Richard Alpert, an assistant in Fort Worth, tried a woman who hit a pedestrian with her car, then drove home and parked in her garage—with the poor guy alive but lodged firmly in the windshield. The woman and her co-conspirators refused to help the man, and he later died of his injuries. They attempted to cover up the crime, and she eventually ended up in the pen for 50 years.
The movie Stuck has recently been screened at the Toronto Film Festival. Based on this case, with the crime scene moved to Rhode Island and some additional plot twists, the movie was filmed without the approval or contributions of any of the Texas families or others involved. Only time will tell if this nugget of bad taste gets picked up for distribution, but it seems unlikely. As one movie critic observed, this situation “shows that the truth is generally too messy to exploit in a marketable movie.”
A great coming-out party
Many of you learned for the first time at the Annual Criminal and Civil Law Conference in Corpus Christi that Judy Bellsnyder, one of our terrific meeting planners for the last 10 years, retired in August. She did a great job of making sure that your needs were met at our conferences, and we will sure miss her.
But our new dynamic duo, Ashley Myers and Jennifer Matney, took the reins with a month to go and pulled off one of the smoothest Annuals we have ever had. I want to thank them and the entire TDCAA staff, who worked together as one to deliver a great training event.
The highlight reel is always controversial because I may praise a speaker you personally just didn’t care for. For instance, we got overwhelmingly positive reviews of Richard Wintory’s keynote address on prosecutor independence. But a handful of folks thought it was a waste of time and wanted to get to the meat and potatoes right away. We will continue to do our best to balance our presentations so everyone gets what they need, but with that said, we had some great review of some other speakers.
Major George Brauchler from Golden, Colorado, on cross examination, got high praise. And attendees loved the new misdemeanor track. Ironically enough, one of the most popular speakers was a member of the loyal opposition, David Gonzales, a defense attorney from Austin, who spent some time talking about DWI laws from the defense perspective. Your reviews of his comments were very positive, and y’all liked the idea of talking openly about our agreements and disagreements with the defense bar. We hope to continue developing a meaningful dialogue in areas that benefit both sides of the criminal bar.
Back to Padre in 2010
For those of you who were saddened that South Padre Island slipped from our Annual Update rotation for a year, cheer up. Padre is back on the agenda, this time for September 22-24, 2010. It’s never too early to mark your calendar for an annual conference (as those of you who are calling for hotel rooms in Galveston for 2008 are just now finding out).
A real Texas prosecutor
If you were at the Annual conference in Corpus, you got to see some of our award winners up close and personal. But one could not attend. That’s because while we were enjoying the conference, the winner of the C. Chris Marshall Award for contributions to the association in training and education was busy doing what she does so well: trying a gnarly, high-profile capital murder case as a district attorney pro-tem.
I am very proud to tell you that Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner is the 2007 C. Chris Marshall Award recipient. Lisa has been a great contributor to our training programs and a real force in Texas prosecution for many years. During the conference she was picking a jury in the notorious Kentucky Fried Chicken murder case out of Kilgore. It’s one of those cold cases with enough twists, turns, false leads, and different suspects to make any DA want to scream, “Special prosecutor!” And of course, Lisa has stepped up to the plate.
We hope that Lisa is done in time to enjoy our company for a formal presentation of the award at the Elected Prosecutor Conference in Galveston in December. Well done, Lisa, and thank you for all you do!
Carl Dorrough took the helm as the interim DA in Gregg County after Bill Jennings, the DA since 1996, retired from the post. Carl was the first assistant in Longview and will formally seek appointment to the post. Bill ran a good shop during his tenure, and y’all can expect more of the same from Carl.
Go-to Texas prosecutors
In October the Texas Lawyer magazine released its shiny coffee-table publication called “The Go-To Guide: Texas’ Top Notch Lawyers,” which features a handful of Texas prosecutors among the deep-rug suits. Congratulations to Richard Alpert (ACDA in Fort Worth), Dick Baker (AUSA in the Northern District of Texas), Andy Beach (ACDA in Dallas), John Bradley (DA in Georgetown), and Kelly Seigler (ADA in Houston) for their recognition in the state-wide publication!