A veritable host of TCDLA members and allies showed up at the SOAH hearing to voice opposition to a proposed rule change. This included—but was not limited to (as many others gave their time and support to other speakers)—Andrew Forsythe, David Frank, Bennie Ray, Gary Trichter, Betty Blackwell, Armando Peña, Bradley Hargis, and John Armstrong in Austin; Charles Stanfield, Grant Scheiner, Doug Murphy, Tyler Flood, Wes Rucker, Jon Stephenson, Michael Peña, Bo Hoppman, Justin Harris, Lisa Shapiro, Darla McBride, Damon Parrish, Patricia Cantu, Ron Morgan, Todd Leffler, Mark Metzger, and Ruth Meschall in Houston; Larry Boyd and Chris Hoover in Dallas; David Guinn and Charles Mayes in Lubbock; John Fox, Leah Bates, and Robert Pickens in San Antonio; Dustin Trammell in Fort Worth; and many more whose names weren’t recorded. A big kudo on this united effort to thwart bad law.
Kudos to the foursome of Bobby Mims, Jason Cassel, Gerry Byington, and Melinda Carroll, a capital team that has been together for more than 10 years. They pled John Grimes V to a 35-year sentence for murder. The state waived the death penalty in August and at the beginning of voir dire waived capital and settled for 35 years (State of Texas v. John Grimes V, Cause 007-0188-14 in Smith County). Bobby asserts that it was an awesome investigation on facts by investigator Carroll and thorough and complete mitigation investigation by Byington, insisting the lawyers “just held their hand.”
Nicole DeBorde sends along kudos to Nancy Bunin, who is representing a client pro bono in the civil commitment court. Despite being threatened by the AG with criminal prosecution for having the audacity to represent the accused, Nancy first prevailed against the AG’s challenge to her “authority” to represent her client, then prevailed in having the judge recused from the case. Nicole says that the evidence in the recusal hearing consisted of a video Nancy obtained, along with newspaper articles, quoting Seiler making some shockingly biased comments about his perceived role. Nicole also notes that special thanks are due to Nick Hughes for providing amicus briefing and argument on behalf of TCDLA; the Strike Force, which was given the opportunity to be heard concerning the threats against Nancy; Bill Savoie, who testified; and Josh Zeintek, who showed up in support of Nancy. Thanks to all involved for their commitment to justice.
Carlos Garcia passes along information on credit due in El Paso to attorneys Joe and Josh Spencer (father and son) and Luis Gutierrez, who won a major victory for their client, Daniel Villegas. Mr. Villegas was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting deaths of two persons in 1993. He was 16 at the time. His case was overturned on IAC grounds. Although not a death penalty case, of interest is Mr. Villegas’ contention that his confession was coerced, including physical violence and threats. Four psychologists who examined Villegas after his arrest all determined he gave a false confession because he was tired and “told them what they wanted to hear.” A district judge agreed and suppressed the confession produced during the interrogation. According to an article in the El Paso Times, district attorney Jaime Esparza is moving forward with the case. Kudos to Joe, Josh, and Luis for their efforts seeking redress after nearly 20 years.
Kudos go out to Heather Barbieri and Darlina Crowder, who after a one-week trial in Collin County on a Continuous Sexual Assault of a Child heard the two-word verdict on all counts. Their client, facing 25 to life in prison, was also acquitted of the lesser-included offenses of Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child and two charges of Indecency by Contact. D was a stepfather who required a stepdaughter to be punished more than she thought was appropriate, which led to the outcry (she later recanted, then re-affirmed). Good work by our TCDLA stalwarts.
Kudos also to the SMU Dedman School of Law, recognized by the Texas Access to Justice Commission with the with the 2014 ATJ Law School Commitment to Service Award for its “truly extraordinary” longstanding legal assistance to the poor. The school was “unanimously selected” for “actively educating its students about access to justice issues, carrying forward one of the finest traditions of the legal profession in Texas,” said TAJC executive director Trish McCallister.
Ken Murray, Capital Trial Project Director, sends along high praise for the Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases, which had, as he noted, a very good week (“and that is an understatement”). They obtained plea agreements in multiple capital murder cases and waivers in two others: Congratulations go out to Dennis Reeves and his team in the Richard Carr case out of Yoakum County (involving 2-year-old victim), to Maxwell Peck and his team in the Adriana Perez case out of Wheeler County, and to Maxwell Peck, Rob Cowie, and the entire Andrew Johnson team, who obtained a plea to LWOP. Kudos also go out to James Drummond and to Anna Jimenez, Keri Mallon, and their RPDO team for obtaining a waiver in the Tashawna Caldwell case in Atascosa County. As Ken says: “That is 3 pleas and 2 waivers in a matter of days. The RPDO is doing something right!” Great work by all involved.