Shout Outs


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 ( 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.’”

Previous Story

Current Issue: November 2019

Next Story

Federal Corner: Sentencing Juvenile Defendants After Miller

Latest from Columns