On the eve of a hearing at which two Twin Peaks shootout bikers were seeking to disqualify McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna from prosecuting their cases, Reyna instead decided to dismiss one of those cases and recuse his office in the other.
Reyna’s office has also notified 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother that it intends to dismiss engaging in organized criminal activity charges against five other bikers arrested after the May 2015 shootout at Twin Peaks.
Strother said Wednesday evening he will grant the motions to dismiss the charges and recuse the DA’s office Thursday morning.
Reyna did not return phone calls Wednesday.
Strother had scheduled a hearing for Thursday afternoon at which Fort Worth attorneys Brian Bouffard and David Conrad Beyer, who represent bikers Jorge Salinas and Billy McCree, both Cossacks, intended to seek to disqualify Reyna from prosecuting the cases on a variety of grounds.
That hearing, already rescheduled from Jan. 22, will be canceled. Prosecutors from Reyna’s office asked Strother to postpone the Jan. 22 hearing. When Strother declined to put the hearing off, Reyna’s first assistant, Michael Jarrett, countered with a motion from Reyna to recuse Strother from the two cases.
A visiting judge declined to remove Strother from the cases after a hearing Feb. 2, and Strother set Reyna’s disqualification hearing for Thursday. The decision by Reyna to dismiss the charges against Salinas and to recuse his office in McCree’s case again cancels a hearing at which several of his current and former employees, a retired police detective and others had been subpoenaed to testify.
Bouffard and Beyer said last month that Reyna’s last-second motion to recuse Strother was an attempt to postpone the disqualification hearing until after the March 6 primary election. The attorneys said testimony at the hearing would show that Reyna took over the Twin Peaks investigation out of political opportunism, dismisses cases for friends and donors, and has close friends implicated in illegal gambling operations.
Reyna is opposed in the Republican primary by Barry Johnson, son of longtime McLennan County Judge Joe N. Johnson.
“Mr. Salinas, his family, and I are very happy that the case against him has been dismissed by Abel Reyna on the eve of a hearing into Mr. Reyna’s misconduct,” Bouffard said Wednesday evening. “Jorge is a strong and resilient young man who has lived under this unjust shadow for almost three years now, and he’s conducted himself with honor, courage and grace in that time, like the exemplary Marine combat veteran he is.
“I could not be more proud to be Jorge’s lawyer, and his friend. And while it’s true that justice delayed is justice denied, and that so many of these men should obviously never have been arrested to begin with, it’s now time for Jorge and his family to take a deep breath and let it sink in that this ugly, politically driven nightmare is now, for him, over.”
While Salinas would be the first of the 154 Twin Peaks defendants to have his case dismissed, documents sent to Strother’s court Wednesday evening by the DA’s office indicate the state also will dismiss charges against bikers Boyce Ray Rockett, Narcisco Luna Jr., Mario Alberto Gonzalez Jr., Clifford Lee Pearce and Andrew Raymond Stroer.
The documents also state that, while the DA’s office is dismissing those cases, it still believes probable cause exists. Prosecutors have decided to re-evaluate the facts of the cases and concentrate on defendants with a greater degree of culpability, according to the documents.
The DA’s office intends to recuse itself in McCree’s case “in the interest of justice” and because Reyna may be called as a witness, the motions state.
Strother said he will appoint a special prosecutor to handle McCree’s case.
Johnson, Reyna’s Republican opponent, said many anticipated Reyna would find a way to avoid the disqualification hearing and facing testimony from his former first assistant, Greg Davis. Davis has said he resigned because Reyna operates a “two-tiered system of justice” and dismisses cases for political gain.
“He is just ducking and hiding,” Johnson said. “I think he is doing what everybody anticipated because Abel Reyna is not doing his job. He is hiding from the voters because of the bad job he is doing. He doesn’t want them to know what he is doing before the primary. He doesn’t want to answer for his actions and it is ultimately going to cost the taxpayers even more money to hire outside prosecutors. He is playing games and trying to hide until after the primary.”
Bouffard had subpoenaed Davis, former police detective Sherry Kingrey, former prosecutor Brittany Scaramucci and current assistants Michael Jarrett, Amanda Dillon and Sterling Harmon to testify at the hearing Thursday.
“Mr. Reyna has called most of these witnesses liars in the press and in his campaign rhetoric — disparaging them and much of the press as ‘fake news’ to anyone still impressed by that — so Mr. Reyna will also be called to the stand tomorrow to testify, under oath and under penalty of perjury, why he thinks they’re the ones doing the lying. We welcome his testimony and the opportunity to examine him under oath,” Bouffard said in a statement Wednesday before the hearing was canceled.
“We intend to make three things crystal clear to the court and to those citizens of McLennan County who are paying attention, (1) that Mr. Reyna made himself a material witness in the Twin Peaks cases by choosing to act as an on-scene police commander instead of a prosecutor, (2) that Mr. Reyna has a long-standing history of official corruption as the elected district attorney, which in May 2015 animated him to arrest 177 people, not based on evidence, the law, and the prosecutor’s oath to do justice, but rather to advance his personal political ambition, and (3) that Mr. Reyna has an impermissible financial interest in the outcome of these cases because he is being personally held accountable for his violation of these motorcyclists’ civil rights as Texans and as Americans,” Bouffard wrote.
Davis, Scaramucci and Kingrey have said they spoke to an FBI agent several years ago about an investigation of Reyna and that they believe that investigation is ongoing.
When Xaivier Biggs enrolled at Waco’s Methodist Children’s Home prior to the 2016 school year, he didn’t really know what to expect. Like many of MCH’s students, Biggs was the product of a broken home and was in search of some guidance and stability.
Biggs not only found that, he also found a springboard to a college football scholarship.
The all-time leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in MCH football history, Biggs signed a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday to play for Texas Wesleyan University. In doing so, he became only the second MCH football player ever to land a college scholarship, joining a player who signed with Southwestern Assemblies of God University in 2014.
“It’s just one of many steps that I’m going to take to achieve the greatness that I want,” Biggs said. “I just want to be able to pursue my happiness. Football is my most favorite thing in my life, so for me to be able to achieve this, it’s just great, awesome.”
Methodist Children’s Home seeks to provide a quality Christian education for children dealing with various issues, from financial hardships to depression to parents who have been incarcerated. Students either live on campus or at a boys ranch near Axtell.
Biggs said he was initially nervous when he arrived at MCH in 2016.
“It was hard,” Biggs said. “I never expected to come from home to a place like this. But it actually isn’t a bad place at all. It’s a great place to grow, so I think that God really wanted me to come here, because now I can use this as my testimony to other people who might be going through stuff that I went through.”
The 2016 season marked Biggs’ first playing six-man football. But he adapted to the game well. In the 2017 season, he made 12 touchdown catches on offense and amassed 89 tackles and six interceptions on defense while helping the Bulldogs capture the Texas Christian Athletic Fellowship (TCAF) state championship, the school’s first.
Yet even an athlete who has the ability to snare 26 touchdown catches in two seasons can get overlooked by college scouts, especially playing at the six-man level. MCH head coach Matt Rodgers helped Biggs connect with Texas Wesleyan, an NAIA school located in Fort Worth, by calling TWU’s coaching staff on Biggs’ behalf. But Rodgers said Biggs’ “intensity” and work ethic helped him land the scholarship as much as anything else.
“So much of it was simply just him, and his drive to do it,” Rodgers said.
“Just the determination to get out of the situation that I used to be in,” Biggs said, when asked what brought him to Wednesday’s signing opportunity. “My mom was a single mother raising four children, so if I can be great, I’ll be great for her and all my siblings and family. That’s been my motivation.”
As Biggs made his college decision official in the school gymnasium, Rodgers used the opportunity to address MCH’s other students in attendance. He pointed to the senior as an example for them to follow.
“I hope he’ll do well,” Rodgers said. “I know he’ll do well, and use that as an example for the young men who come through, and say, ‘Hey, anything is possible. You can do this. Six-man football, playing at MCH, going to MCH, don’t let anything stand in your way.’”
From teenage triplets to a 64-year-old woman who has never worn a formal gown before, a local church is set to celebrate an estimated 150 special needs children and adults by hosting a Night to Shine and crowning each participant prom king or queen.
The prom, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, has room for at least 20 more special needs guests from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Crestview Church of Christ, organizer and Crestview’s Community Minister Jack Whiddon said.
As decorations started going up at the church’s community center Wednesday, organizers said they hope the unfilled spots will be filled so as many people as possible get a chance to be greeted by local celebrities and pose for pictures on a red carpet on their way into the event.
“It’s to celebrate that they were created in the image of God and that they have a purpose,” said organizer Susie Marek, a partner with the Heart of Central Texas Independent Living Center. “They spend so much time in doctors’ appointments and therapy appointments and all that stuff, it’s great to have a night where they can just be celebrated for who they are.”
Whiddon and his team have been planning the event since at least October, when the foundation selected the church as one of more than 500 worldwide to host simultaneous prom nights and gave the church an $8,500 grant to help cover the cost. Crestview Church of Christ will be the first church in Central Texas to host Night to Shine.
The event is open to people age 14 and older with special needs.
Organizers have found enough volunteers, some of whom are even wait-listed, to be buddies or partners for guests on the dance floor and to ensure the event runs smoothly. The church has also received other donations in food, decorations and supplies, and it has held at least six dress donation nights for soon-to-be queens to pick out a gown for their coronation ceremony.
“We had people from 14 years of age trying them on to 64 trying them on,” Whiddon said. “And that story’s pretty incredible because she wore the dress and her brother was right there, and he said, ‘You look so beautiful.’ I can’t even say it. Look, I’m about to cry.”
The woman, who goes by Mary, did not realize she could keep the dress, and her brother had never seen her in a dress before the moment, Marek said. Mary now mentions every time she sees Marek all the ways and occasions she plans on wearing the black gown, she said.
The hope is for Night to Shine to be the the start of an ongoing ministerial effort to support the special needs community in McLennan County, said Kathleen Stottlemyre, who helped organize the dress donations at the church.
“I’m excited to see all the volunteers who are not used to serving people with special needs. That’s always so fun for me,” said organizer Kari McKown, who heads up No Limitations, a local special needs sports ministry. “When groups come to No Limitations, they come back and come back because it’s addicting. You can’t get enough of it.”
The volunteer support has come from a broad base, she said.
When the planning started, organizers set their sights on bringing out high school and college sports teams, mascots, cheerleaders or maybe bigger stars, like “Fixer Upper’s” Chip and Joanna Gaines, or Tebow himself, Crestview Children’s Minister Emily Christian said.
But the Gaineses told organizers they would not make it because they had already committed to separate Tebow fundraiser the same night, Whiddon said. And it is unknown whether Tebow will make an appearance, since the foundation does not usually reveal where he will be ahead of time, Whiddon said.
Tebow was recently in town to help the Gaineses finish a “Fixer Upper” home for a family with two special needs children in the HGTV show’s final season.
Instead, guests will be greeted by Baylor University’s Courtside Players band, which plays at Baylor basketball and volleyball games; local cheerleaders from the college and surrounding high schools; KWTX anchor Julie Hays and meteorologist Rusty Garrett; and Miss Texas Collegiate representatives.
Guests will also be treated to a primping station for hair, makeup and shoe shines, boutonnieres and corsages; and photo, karaoke, games, sensory, medical and respite rooms, Whiddon said. They will also be offered limo rides around the church.
This will not be last time a special-needs prom will be held at Crestview, Whiddon said. The organizers are already thinking about how to repeat the Night to Shine next year. They will have to apply to host the event again, but they are already thinking about holding planning meetings soon after the last person steps off the dance floor to improve for next year, Whiddon said.
Parents with special needs children and adults interested in attending as guests for the event can register by clicking on the Night to Shine link at www.crestview-church.org.
A former drug dealer with four convictions for domestic violence was convicted Wednesday of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old family member.
Jurors in Waco’s 54th State District Court deliberated about 30 minutes before finding Raymond Grely Thornton, 59, guilty of two counts of sexual assault of a child.
Because of Thornton’s criminal record, he faces from five to 99 years in prison or up to life on the enhanced charges.
Prosecutors Gabrielle Massey and Hilary LaBorde and defense attorneys Alan Bennett and Jessi Freud will give jury summations in the punishment phase when the trial resumes Thursday morning.
Massey presented evidence of Thornton’s criminal past, which includes two felony convictions for distribution of cocaine and one for distribution of marijuana, four misdemeanor convictions for assault-family violence, a misdemeanor conviction for interfering with a 911 call and one for criminal trespass.
The family violence convictions and the emergency call interference count all involve the same woman and include one incident in which he hit her with a chair.
Thornton, who did not testify, grew agitated Wednesday during LaBorde’s rigorous cross-examination of some of his family members, yelling that he did not rape the girl, now a 17-year-old high school senior.
The girl testified Wednesday that Thornton raped her in November 2015. However, according to testimony, her mother forced her to write a letter to the District Attorney’s office recanting the allegations, which forced prosecutors to close the case without pursuing the charges.
The girl, who aspires to be a neonatal nurse, said her mother told her she was going to visit a friend in jail and made her come with her.
When they got there, they were actually there to pick up Thornton, who was being released after her recantation.
A few months later, she was alone again with Thornton at his residence and he raped her again, she said. The girl said her estranged relationship with her mother has forced her to live with her older brother and his wife.
In defense punishment testimony, Thornton’s brother, Darrell Thornton, testified that he is not sure how many children his brother has but he thinks he has 11 children and 22 grandchildren.
While he and his brother were raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by the same parents, he said he became a police officer and an FBI agent while his brother took another, darker path. That led them not to see each other for many years, he said.
“My profession and his profession were different,” he said. “I was in law enforcement, and he was on the other side.”
“Can you think of anything more despicable than raping a young girl?” LaBorde asked.
“No, I cannot,” Darrell Thornton said reluctantly.
“Do you think someone who does that sort of thing deserves to be punished?” she asked.
“Yes, I do,” he said.
A McLennan County employee was fired after telling a supervisor she stole more than $10,000 from the county, according to her termination letter.
County Engineer Zane Dunnam fired Melissa Lindeman on Jan. 22 from her position of office coordinator for the county engineering department, according to the termination letter. Lindeman handled payment transactions at the front desk for culvert purchases, land subdivision plat review fees, floodplain review fees, map production fees and other matters, according to the letter.
First Assistant District Attorney Michael Jarrett said the DA’s office has referred the matter to the Texas Rangers for investigation. He declined additional comment because it is a pending matter.
The county auditor’s office notified Dunnam on Jan. 12 of discrepancies found in a recent audit, according to the termination letter. Dunnam then reviewed Lindeman’s process for collecting payments and deposits.
“The results of my review caused me great concern,” Dunnam wrote in the letter. “Knowing that you are the person in our office that takes in and handles almost all such payments I decided to talk to you about the shortfall found by the auditor.”
The duo spoke by phone Jan. 17, and Lindeman told Dunnam she took cash with plans to replace it, according to the termination letter. She said she had taken $10,265 since July, the letter states.
County Attorney Mike Dixon said the issue has been taken care of on the county’s side.
“It is unfortunate someone entrusted with public money allegedly does not serve that public trust, and the matter has been taken care of administratively and the rest is up to the justice system,” Dixon said.
County Auditor Stan Chambers said he sent a letter to Reyna’s office Jan. 19 informing him of the issue and to let him determine the path of investigation.
Chambers said the discrepancy was found during a regularly-scheduled audit. He said he has not been contacted by any law enforcement agency or the DA’s office since sending the letter.
Chambers said he has seen multiple incidents that appear to involve criminal activity during his years with the county and has referred each incident to the DA.
Lindeman started with the county in March 2000, then named Melissa White, working part-time in the county garage making $6 an hour, according to county documents. She was made a full-time employee in the garage in 2001. She worked there until August 2013, when she moved to the engineering department. Lindeman’s annual salary was $41,393, according to county documents.
Dunnam, who started at the county in July, said Wednesday he had no comment.
Lindeman also declined comment Wednesday.