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Shout Outs - Page 3

Shout Outs

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Michael Mowla successfully stayed the execution of John Hummel on March 18. Michael argued that the panic and concerns related to COVID-19 could impact the courts, the governor, and the Board of Pardons and Paroles making a fair decision when considering final appeals and clemency pleas. Congratulations once again to Michael for fighting for fairness in the criminal justice system!

Daniel Werlinger and Lisa Andrews of Harris County helped get a capital murder charge dismissed for Jeff Wax’s client, Amir Yarbrough, who had been in jail for two years awaiting trial. Werlinger and Andrews argued Yarbrough was not culpable and the state would have difficulty proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt in trial. Way to go!

Lisa Greenberg and Adam Rodrigue got another mistrial for their client accused of capital murder. One of their previous cases, also a capital murder case, was dismissed after three mistrials and two hung juries. Rulings like those are testaments to how outstanding your defense of the accused is!

Clint Broden obtained a rare reversal in the Eastland Court of Appeals for a client sentenced to 68 years imprisonment after a drug conviction.  Court of Appeals ruled the trial court committed reversible error when it refused to give a 38.23 instruction. Awesome work, Clint!

Veronica Veyhl and Phillip Hall obtained a verdict of not guilty on nine counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child in Tarrant County. The case was tried in the 371st District Court and the jury returned the not-guilty verdict within 50 minutes. Way to go, Veronica and Phil!

Shout Outs

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Congratulations to Troy McKinney, who received the Tom Garner Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Named after former TBLS Chairman Tom Garner, the award is given to an individual “who best epitomizes the best ideals of voluntary service by their knowledge, dedication, hard work and integrity.” You’re a rock star, Troy!

Congratulations to Gary Cohen for a great parole victory! Client received a 10-year sentence for intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault. He had a very high BAC after a day of tubing on the river in New Braunfels. After serving five years, this was the client’s first parole review. Gary gave a masterful presentation to the lead voter. He received a favorable vote in less than 24 hours with no counseling provisions. A huge win! Nice work, Gary!

Kudos to Clark Birdsall, whose defense of a permanent-resident woman accused of illegally voting in Texas was the subject of a USA Today article published on February 21! USA Today has an approximate readership of 2.6 million people, so congratulations are indeed in order for Clark for helping to spread the important work he and other Texas criminal defense attorneys are doing!

Shout out to Steven Wright, whose client was on trial for a DWI with a BAC of .18 and a charge for unlawful carry. Because of Steven’s advocation, the jury returned a verdict of not-guilty within 12 minutes on the DWI charge and a dismissal on the unlawful carry charge. Way to go, Steven!

To be featured in our shoutouts, email details to Billy Huntsman at .

Shout Outs

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A big shout out to ALLISON CLAYTON of Lubbock, whose sleuthing on an appointed case resulted in the reversal of a conviction just before Christmas. It seems that D was charged with failure to register as a sex offender based off a 2002 conviction in Oklahoma—for assault with intent to commit a felony (based on an allegation D, then 19 years old, had slept with a 14-year-old). Lady with Lubbock PD said that DPS had found that the OK conviction was “substantially similar” to sexual assault in Texas, which meant D had to register for life. D thought he was long done with the OK stuff and didn’t register—but then was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years TDCJ. Allison went through open records and discovered OK’s “assault with intent” was substantially similar to an attempt offense in Texas but not sexual assault. (Attempt would get 10-year registration, not lifelong.) She then dug into open records again to find out why DPS determined it “substantially similar”—and they said they never heard of the guy. Allison emailed the prosecution about this misrepresentation of material fact leading to the conviction, and they checked into it, discovering the PD lady had essentially done it on her own. A Motion to Reverse motion filed on Monday led to a reversal on Thursday. Fine detective work, Allison. Congratulations.

Kudos to the MIKE WARE LAW FIRM for their latest win—in the case of Lydell Grant, who spent eight years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder. In June, IPTX hired a firm to analyze the HPD’s data, finding another’s DNA under the victim’s fingernails. A search of the FBI’s CODIS database discovered a match, a man tracked down in Georgia where he’d fled after the murder. The suspect confessed to the murder to HPD detectives, and the Harris County DA’s office has charged him with murder. A landmark case, this is the first time an independent party outside of Iaw enforcement—in this case, the Innocence Project of Texas—initiated the use of the FBI’s database to identify the actual perpetrator of a crime. Six eyewitnesses had fingered Grant in a photo lineup, a classic example of mistaken eyewitness identification. The National Registry of Exonerations has said that mistaken eyewitness identification is the most common cause of wrongful convictions. In his tenure with IPTX, Mike has overseen at least 30 exonerations. Congratulations, team, on another blow for justice.

A hat tip to PATTY TRESS and NICOLE STEPHENSON of Denton, who recently received a just and right NOT GUILTY verdict on an Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. D, who is 69 years old, was enhanced to 5–99 years or life in prison. The police officers did not get permission from D to search his garage—instead got it from CW (who did not live there). Patty says in a strategic move they did not move to suppress, as everything there helped in showing D’s version of events. “He cried when the jury read the verdict and is now free after 6 months in jail waiting for trial.” Patty was effusive in expressing her thanks for the team helping her on this: “Thank you Alyssa Jade Piland of Joplin Investigations for all of your hard work. I really could not do it without you. Thank you to Emma Guzman Ramon for helping with my other cases while I was in trial. Thank you to Heather Fisher, Michael Kiesel, Jason Niehaus, Chris Abel, Chris Raesz, Clay Steadman, Sarah Roland for letting me bounce ideas off y’all and helping with the more complex legal issues! It takes a large team to make it work, and I couldn’t do it without y’all!” And thank you Patty and Nicole for your continued good work.

A shout out to MICHAEL YOUNG and the Bexar County PD office for their righteous decision in a habeas case out of the CCA. Parole requires that a final revocation hearing is held within 41 days of an arrest on a blue warrant, but this time is tolled if there are “charges pending.” Michael says their client was arrested in another county and posted bond, but hadn’t been indicted. The issue before the CCA: Were “charges pending” based only on the arrest or is an indictment or filed complaint needed to toll the 41 days. As Michael note: “As of the date of the decision, our client had languished in Bexar County jail for 260 days with no indictment filed on the new case or no final revocation hearing.” The CCA, in a 5–4 decision, ruled this was a denial of due process and ordered the blue warrant be dismissed and D released. Michael also said: “Our office was given the road map on how to file this writ from Dale Heish, a TCDLA attorney in Fort Worth, and we couldn’t have done it without his guidance. Dale was great about sharing his resources and we’d be glad to do the same with anyone who wants a copy of the pleadings we filed.”

Hats off once again to the Waco Wildcat, MARK GRIFFITH, for his recent win for a client charged with two counts of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child. Mark says the prosecutor never produced a Brady notice, but his team retrieved all counseling records and school records and found out the girls accusing the client had a habit of lying—and about big things. There were eight large binders of discovery they found that the DA never took the time to find. Dr. Aaron Pierce was lined up to talk about Reactive Attachment Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, which both children showed signs of. Says Mark: “Makenzie Keene and Sarah Jacobs organized the perfect trial folder, and we showed up for trial and announced ourselves ready—and the DA presented a Motion to Dismiss on both charges. I had, three days earlier, e-mailed the DA and told him I was going to ask for a mistrial if he did not provide an official notice of the more than 200 inconsistent statements made by the complainants. It was a good day for justice and a great day for my client. Keep the trial fires burning.” Way to take it to them, Mark.

Kudos to Senior Lobbyist ALLEN PLACE of Gatesville and Austin, who was successful in obtaining parole for two female clients recently. The first case involved a Harris County case originally resulting in a death sentence but later commuted to life. The second case involved parole being granted after 6 years of incarceration on a 99-year sentence for DWI. Both cases were decided by the Gatesville panel of the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles. Congratulations, Counselor, on your good work.

Send your kudos, katcalls, and/or letters to Editor Sarah Roland at or Billy Huntsman at .

Shout Outs

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A big shout out to appellate adept Keith Hampton for his win in the long-running case of Greg Kelley—finally found innocent in the CCA. All the judges agreed he was innocent, and left undisturbed Judge King’s findings and conclusions regarding Kelley’s other claims of ineffective assistance and due process. His case was sent back to Williamson County, where DA Shawn Dick had no plans to further pursue charges against him. Then District Court Judge Donna King declared Greg actually innocent, making him eligible for a wrongful conviction payout of $80,000 for each year he was wrongly imprisoned. The former Leander football star, who can now entertain college offers, spent three years in jail and has waited another two years to hear the good news. Way to keep battling, Keith. We can now hope that you take your experience and provide a voice for justice on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

And a big shout out as well to Kristin Etter of Austin, whose painstaking efforts have lead to another victim of Williamson County justice under Ken Anderson being cleared of a charge haunting him for decades. D, railroaded in 1993 into a plea of molesting a 4-year-old girl, was hounded from neighborhood to neighborhood by the specter of a sex-offender status originally set to expire after 10 years. After 20 years, he contacted Kristin for help—who in her investigation of the case discovered that evidence not revealed at the time showed that the prosecutors of the time were ready to drop the case for lack of credible evidence. She then approached a district judge with her findings, who took minutes to undo the bogus conviction. This and the Morton case point to the crying need for a thorough review of all convictions during the Anderson era. The details of her efforts can be found in the Austin paper (https://tinyurl.com/shl6srn). Way to go, Kristin! You make us proud.

Kudos to Dean Watts of Nacogdoches, who recently had an Assault Family Violence case dismissed by the state halfway through trial. D was forced to trial in the Class C case because a plea would lead to immigration problems. The prosecutor would not change or reduce the charge despite the fact that an affidavit of non-prosecution had been signed by D and the victim asked several times that the charges be dropped. As Dean notes: “At trial, the victim did not show up. Undeterred, the prosecutor tried to use only the police officer to convict the defendant. After I objected to the State trying to offer inadmissible hearsay statements and a videotape without the proper predicate being laid, the State finally dismissed the case mid trial.” Congrats, Dean, for a righteous win.

Hats off to Dana Williams of Livingston for her recent win in Polk County. D, a 62-year-old man, was accused of 2nd-degree felony Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. State alleged that D entered CW’s yard and swung a machete at him, a paraplegic, and his family. Dana said D had complained earlier that day about CW’s loose pitbulls terrorizing anyone who passed on the street. Records showed over 20 complaints about the dogs. State called witnesses to back up CW’s story, but they admitted to taking the machete from D, almost severing his arm, before they kicked and beat him and left the scene. Officers tased D within 30 seconds of arriving, saying he was “resisting arrest”—even though video showed D to be compliant. Officers also admitted they never considered the statements of two independent witnesses, who called 911 because D was being severely beaten and testified that they never saw D enter CW’s yard or swing the machete at anyone. D was the only person injured, requiring 21 stitches after the incident. The DA argued “consciousness of guilt” due to D’s inability to return from out-of-state, resulting in his failure to appear. The jury returned a verdict of NG after an hour and 15 minutes. Congratulations, Dana, on a good win.

A shout out to Mark Griffith of Waxahachie for his latest win but in a different venue. Dallas client was charged with Sexual Assault of a child. The State gave discovery that did not have near enough in it, says Mark: “We got the rest and all was full of Brady. I had never met prosecutor until that day. She then spent an hour talking to complainant. She still did not know what she was doing, so I told her I had never lost a sex case without a confession.” Some 20 minutes later the case was dismissed. Mark says that Sarah Jacobs and Makenzie Zarate were co-counsels and deserve most of the credit. Great work, team, in the big D.

Kudos to Amber Vazquez of Austin for a recent Facebook post with a lot to say about the defense lawyer’s life: “Today I witnessed a great act of mercy and watched another client get sentenced to a long prison sentence—both events will forever change many lives. In the first, Judge Cliff Brown offered my young client another shot at redemption, even though he did something bad and reckless. This young man was truly remorseful, and I had the good fortune to work with Jeremy Sylestine as the prosecutor, who was fair and kind. My client’s parents cried with joy, as did my client afterwards. It’s amazing what one act of grace can do in changing a person’s path forever.
 “Then, this afternoon in a different court, I had a father of five children, one of whom is special needs, sentenced to longer than he deserved for an act borne out of desperation. My team and I had fought so hard to keep him free, so it was incredibly heartbreaking.
 “I never forget the heartbreaks and the humans that I could not save, but I know it’s the losses that make me a better lawyer, not the wins. It always makes me think of this passage from the Velveteen Rabbit about becoming real:
 “‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’”

Shout Outs

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Kudos to ex-prez Randy Wilson for an impressive victory in Federal Court in hometown Abilene. D, charged with Possession of More than 5 grams with intent to deliver, had 2 prior drug convictions and faced 10 years to life. Undisputed evidence showed that while the D was being arrested, he was patted down twice before the officer discovered over 11 grams of meth in the pocket of his shorts. The defense charged that the Abilene PD planted these drugs because D had been arrested over 50 times, knew he was about to be arrested, and would not have come out of the house with any contraband—which was surrounded at the time by the Abilene Police Department Special Operations Unit and a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Randy convinced the jury that his client, a convicted drug dealer, did not have this meth in his possession. D testified that he was cuffed when he exited the house, then searched at least two times before being placed in the vehicle for transport to jail. He further testified that the person who found the methamphetamine in his pocket was the commander—after he was placed in the officer’s vehicle. The jury took two hours to return the big NG verdict. Quite a job there, Randy. Congratulations.

Kudos also to Greg Westfall of Fort Worth for his efforts in winning a new trial for his client in the First Court of Appeals. The decision reads as follows: “Molina contends the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of contraband the State conceded belonged to his passenger. Concluding that the probative value of the evidence of the passenger’s contraband was significantly outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, we conclude the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the evidence. We further conclude that the admission affected Molina’s substantial rights and warrant reversal.” Way to go, Greg.

A shout out to Wade B. Smith of Houston, who won a recent Motion to Suppress in a DWI case. D was pulled over by a 36-year veteran officer of the HPD after he said he almost hit him and “kind of” ran a stop sign. D, who speaks little English, stopped and got out. Cop grabbed and searched him, cuffed him, then put him in the cruiser. DWI unit conducted SFSTs, though D refused blood draw. A warrant lead to a .237 alcohol content. At the hearing, Wade put the officer on the stand and crossed him on the absence of signs of intoxication, using the officer’s own body-cam recording. A portion showed the officer tell the DWI unit he thought he was intoxicated because he almost hit him in the parking lot. He told the unit that he didn’t see red, glassy, or bloodshot eyes, notice any issues with D’s balance, or smell alcohol. Through the officer’s testimony and the video, Wade established that the only facts officer relied on for his believing D was intoxicated was the driving behavior and what he called slurred speech. The judge herself said she couldn’t determine if the speech was actually slurred or if it was due to his difficulty with the language. And without something more than the driving facts, she said, there was no reasonable suspicion to expand the stop into a DWI investigation, granting the motion to suppress. Congratulations, Wade, on a good win.

Tip of the hat to Sean Hightower of Nacogdoches for his recent win in a big case. He notes that the state’s offer was 16 years in prison on “the largest drug case they’ve ever had.” Sean called on all his lawlerly skills, concluding, “Judge granted probation—after yours truly begged, pleaded, rolled my eyes, cursed under my breath, and talked about common sense.” Whatever works, counselor. On another note, Sean rates another congratulations for being selected a 2020 Rising Star, another TCDLA lawyer in ascendance.

Kudos to Mark Thiessen for his work in a recent case not always within his purview. As he explains: “Today was a nice closure for a young man who I have spent almost 2 years getting back on track. Charged with Aggravated Robbery for stealing a truck by point a gun to a stranger’s head, a judge gave him a second chance at life today. It was truly eye-opening to see what can happen if your child falls in with the wrong crowd. Had loving parents and never a problem until his senior year in HS. Then fell in with the wrong crowd and in 3 months confessed to 7 other Aggravated Robberies. Not a case for trial. So instead, I got this young man back on track and begged for mercy and compassion from the Court. Judge showed tremendous compassion and mercy and gave this man a second chance to get his life back. Walked in looking at 5 to 99 years. And he walks out with deferred adjudication. I look forward to seeing him at the end and how far he has come. This horrible charge and 3 months may just be the thing that saved his life and transformed him. Big THANK YOU to Judge.” And to you, Mark, for caring about him.

Shout out to David Mee of Allen, who just watched a client walk with a full dismissal in Montague County from a charge of First-Degree Arson. “Great expert out of Lubbock,” says David. “His report and my motion to dismiss seems to have carried the day. Thanks to Michael Payne out of Wichita Falls for letting me come in for some late briefing and bullpen help! Michael did the first three years of work. Happy to share any good results! First post in a dozen years from a former prosecutor.” Congratulations to both of our members for a job well done.