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Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Baylor players (from left to right) Kyla Walker, Jessie Scroggins, Gia Rodoni and Shelby Friudenberg will lead Baylor’s quest to return to the Women’s College World Series.

'Twin Peaks dam' breaking with dismissal of 13 cases, biker's lawyer says

An attorney for one of the bikers indicted in the deadly 2015 Twin Peaks shootout said it appears the “Twin Peaks dam” is starting to break with the dismissal of charges against 13 bikers Thursday.

Meanwhile, the same attorney, Brian Bouffard, said McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna only dropped the cases in a show of “moral cowardice by an elected official” to avoid adverse testimony at a scheduled Thursday hearing to disqualify his office.

Two district judges signed orders submitted to them by the DA’s office Thursday morning dismissing charges against 13 bikers arrested in the May 17, 2015, Twin Peaks shootout and two recusing the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office in two other biker cases.

Besides the 13 dismissals, prosecutor Michael Jarrett told the judges that Reyna also intends to formally refuse eight more cases against bikers who were arrested, but have not been indicted in the shootout that left nine dead and dozens injured.

The dismissals came hours before a hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon at which two bikers were asking to disqualify Reyna from handling their cases on a variety of grounds.

That hearing was canceled in light of Reyna’s actions.

Reyna did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday and declined to provide the Tribune-Herald with a written statement he prepared about the dismissals.

Judge Ralph Strother, of Waco’s 19th State District Court, said Thursday he plans to ask the Texas Attorney General’s Office prosecutorial assistance division to take over prosecution of the case against biker Billy McRee. Reyna agreed to recuse his office in that case, while he dismissed the case against Jorge Salinas.

Salinas, a two-tour Marine combat veteran; and McRee, a mechanic, are both former members of the Cossacks motorcycle group.

Salinas, who said he was sitting in a deer blind when he was notified his case had been dismissed, said he became emotional at the news. He said he is grateful, but that the decision came too late and at too high a cost to him and his family.

Salinas, his family and Bouffard, of Fort Worth, spoke at a press conference Thursday that also included McRee and his family; and his attorney, David Conrad Beyer, also of Fort Worth; and Dallas attorney Clint Broden.

Broden, who represents two bikers indicted in the incident, said they chose the first-floor courthouse rotunda as the location of the press conference because it was there that Reyna held a press conference almost three years ago to announce that he had, as Broden characterized it, “bamboozled” a grand jury into indicting 154 bikers on identical charges after the shootout.

“My client is a decorated Marine combat veteran,” Bouffard said. “He and I took the same oath years ago. Part of that oath is that we will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And I ask you and I ask the public to ask yourselves, what better definition of a domestic enemy of our Constitution than Abel Reyna?”

The attorneys charged that Reyna only decided to drop the charges and to recuse his office in McRee’s case to escape being placed under oath at the disqualification hearing and to prevent the adverse testimonies of former and current members of his staff, some of whom have reported alleged abuses of his office to Texas Rangers and the FBI.

“The Twin Peaks dam has now broken, and with each new dismissal that may come, the public will see clearly what Twin Peaks defense counsel have known for almost three years — that Abel Reyna arrested, charged, and indicted a very large number of these men for purely political reasons, apparently without any intent to take them to trial,” Bouffard said in a statement Thursday morning.

“Though it took far too long, we pushed Mr. Reyna’s back to the wall and he finally had nowhere else to run.”

Bikers whose cases were dismissed in 54th State District Court include Colter Bajovich, Jose Valle, James Rosas, Diego Nerio Obledo, Michael Doyle Moore, William Redding and Marco Dejong.

Bikers besides Salinas whose cases were dismissed Thursday in 19th State District Court include Boyce Ray Rockett, Narcisco Luna Jr., Mario Alberto Gonzalez Jr., Clifford Lee Pearce and Andrew Raymond Stroer.

Those bikers not indicted whose cases were officially refused Thursday include Esther Weaver, Ryan Craft, Jonathan Lopez, Theron Rhoten, Jim Harris, Bonar Crump, Juan Garcia and Drew King.

The motions to dismiss, signed by Reyna’s top assistant, Michael Jarrett, state: “While probable cause for the defendant’s arrest and prosecution remains, based on continued investigation, the state is exercising its prosecutorial discretion in dismissing this matter in order to focus its efforts and resources on co-defendants with a higher level of culpability.”

Attorneys for Twin Peaks defendants and Reyna’s Republican primary opponent, Barry Johnson, said Reyna is doing whatever he can to keep the disqualification hearing — in which Greg Davis, a former prosecutor in Reyna’s office, and others were expected to give potentially politically damaging testimony about Reyna — from taking place, including asking for it to be postponed and asking for Judge Strother’s removal last month.

“During my campaign for district attorney, I have been saying all along that Abel Reyna has put justice in jeopardy and that there is proof that justice is for sale in McLennan County,” Johnson said. “Recent events have proven me correct. By dismissing Twin Peaks cases and recusing others, Abel Reyna has all but admitted misconduct in how he has handled the cases. Abel Reyna’s political ambition not only jeopardized justice, but will also cost McLennan County taxpayers millions of dollars.

“In addition, Reyna has once again been able to hide from answering serious political corruption questions about his dismissal of criminal cases for friends and influential people in exchange for campaign donations.”

Pending civil suits

Some of the Twin Peaks defendants whose cases were dismissed or refused Thursday are among 100 bikers who are plaintiffs in federal civil rights lawsuits pending in an Austin federal court. Most of those plaintiffs are represented by Dallas attorney Don Tittle, who said the refusal of the eight unindicted cases is “purely a smoke screen.” He added there are at least 25 other unindicted bikers whose cases also should be refused to release them “from this never-ending legal limbo in which they have found themselves trapped.”

“I am glad to see the DA is finally beginning to fold his cards on some of these, but his claim that this is based on a ‘re-evaluation’ of the facts is more than a bit disingenuous,” Tittle said. “The facts remain exactly as they were on the day all of these innocent people were falsely arrested. ...

All along, Reyna’s lawyers have used the criminal cases as an excuse to prevent us from going forward with the civil cases. Sooner than later, I believe that a day of reckoning is coming for Mr. Reyna and the others that perpetrated this mass injustice.”

Time to swine
Livestock show

Shayne McDaniel with Crawford FFA takes first place in her Duroc hog class at the 2018 McLennan County Junior Livestock Show held at the Extraco Events Center.

TIF board OKs $850K for bookstore, retail emporium, Elm grocery

A fresh food market for East Waco, along with a bookstore and a large boutique emporium in downtown, won support from the Tax Increment Financing Zone No. 1 board Thursday.

The TIF board recommended $96,946 for Elm Avenue Market, a nonprofit grocery store that Lula Jane’s bakery owner Nancy Grayson is planning at 700 Elm Ave.

The public funds, which come from a portion of taxes collected on central city properties, will be used for lighted sidewalks and an exterior renovation to a building that was built in 1932 and later used as a church.

Grayson said Elm Avenue already has a library, health clinic, barbershop, schools and eateries within an easy walk of the surrounding neighborhood, but access to fresh food is lacking, with the nearest grocery store almost two miles away. She said she and her husband, Bob Grayson, decided to fill that gap because no one else would.

“We said, well, shoot we’ll do it,” she told the TIF board on a tour before Thursday’s vote. “We’re excited about it, and we’re happy to do it. It wasn’t exactly on our dance card. But the people are on our dance card, so we’re doing a market.”

At 3,757 square feet, the market will be smaller than the nonprofit Jubilee Food Market that Mission Waco recently opened at 15th Street and Colcord Avenue, and it will have a different focus.

The Elm market will have staples such as canned vegetables and tuna, cheese, eggs, milk and butter, but its main focus will be produce, including locally grown produce. The store will not carry paper goods, since they are available at local dollar stores, and it will not sell soda, chips, cookies, beer or cigarettes, Grayson said.

TIF board Chairman Wes Filer saluted Grayson for her commitment to Elm Avenue.

“Your enthusiasm is infectious,” Filer said.

The TIF board also recommended $203,000 Thursday for Chisholm Trail Marketplace, a proposed specialty retail space at 924 Austin Ave.; and $556,267 for improvements to a building at 215 S. Fourth St. that will house Fabled bookstore and seven loft apartments. The recommendations will go to the Waco City Council in coming weeks for final approval.

The Chisholm Trail Marketplace would go into a cavernous building erected in 1923 for a Ford dealership. Later it served as a Buick dealership, and in recent decades it has been a car repair garage. The TIF money would help with exterior and public improvements and would accompany $1 million of private improvements.

Robert Denton, a representative for the owners, said the building will be leased to the owner of the nearby Simply Irresistible emporium, which already has 25 vendors. With 32,400 square feet on the main floor, the new building will allow proprietor Petra Urquizo to quadruple her available space and add 40 new vendors, Denton said.

Denton said the building owners, led by Donald B. Lynn Real Estate Investments LLC, renovated the Simply Irresistible building and leased it to Urquizo, whose business has outstripped expectations.

“It’s one of the few buildings where you’ll see 10 or 12 cars waiting for it to open up in the morning,” he said.

‘No man’s land’

Denton said the blocks between Ninth and 11th streets have been a “no man’s land,” but the investors are helping turn it around.

The owners have bought two other buildings on the block and are negotiating with a local restaurant to open a second location in one of those buildings. Denton said they also have a tentative agreement with the owners of the downscale Oak Lodge Motor Inn to renovate it as a “retro” ’60s-style motel to improve the looks of the neighborhood.

The Fabled Bookstore project on Fourth Street would also bring a large building back to life after decades of being underused.

The owners, Behrens Loft Partners, plan to spend $1.56 million on the 15,000-square-foot building. They plan to create a separate entrance and staircase for the upscale lofts on the second floor and finish out downstairs as a bookstore and café run by Waco natives Kimberly Batson and Alison Frenzel.

The TIF money will help renovate the facade and rebuild the sidewalks to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. At the urging of city staff, project officials will also use TIF money to rebuild the sidewalk all the way from Mary Avenue to Franklin Avenue.

“This really reactivates that side of the street,” economic development director Melett Harrison said. “We see more and more tourist traffic there. When they get to the corner there’s a lot of concrete, and we’ve got to make it more inviting and easy to navigate.”

Felon gets life sentence for sexual assault

A three-time felon was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for raping a 15-year-old family member.

Jurors in 54th State District Court deliberated about 30 minutes before returning maximum penalties against Raymond Grely Thornton, 59.

Jurors convicted Thornton Wednesday on two counts of sexual assault of a child for raping the teen in 2014 and 2015.

Besides recommending a life sentence on each count, the jury also recommended fines totaling $20,000.

Thornton, a forklift operator, showed no emotion as Judge Matt Johnson announced the verdict.

Thornton will serve the sentences concurrently and will be almost 90 before he can be considered for parole.

Thornton also has four past misdemeanor convictions for assaulting his wife, including once with a chair.

Choosing punishment

While defense attorney Jessi Freud, who represented Thornton with attorney Alan Bennett, asked the jury for a 30-year sentence, prosecutors Gabrielle Massey and Hilary LaBorde told the jury that life terms were the only appropriate punishment for Thornton.

“I cannot think of a reason that he does not deserve life,” Massey said. “He is now a five-time convicted felon who has four convictions for beating his wife and still hasn’t learned. When is enough enough? The time is now. The only just sentence is a life sentence.”

The girl, who wants to be a neonatal nurse, testified Wednesday that Thornton raped her in November 2015. However, she testified 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.

A few months later, she was alone again with Thornton at his residence after his release from jail, and he raped her again, she said.

The girl’s mother was indicted on a witness tampering charge in relation to the girl’s recantation. That charge remains pending.


Waco police officer arrested on felony invasive recording charge

A Waco Police officer on leave since his arrest on a prostitution charge last month was arrested again Thursday after investigators say they found a recording the officer made of himself having sex with a prostitute in November.

Willy Rafael Lopez, 35, of Waco, was arrested by McLennan County Sheriff’s Office detectives on a state-jail felony charge of invasive video recording. He was initially arrested Jan. 15 arrest on a Class B misdemeanor charge of prostitution in an undercover sting. Lopez, a Street Crimes Unit member, had agreed to meet an undercover officer for sex in exchange for a fee, according to warrants filed after the first arrest.

Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt said Lopez was placed on administrative leave the day after his arrest. As sheriff’s office detectives continued to investigate, they received a search warrant for his phone and later his home.

Investigators found a cellphone video of Lopez having sex with a known prostitute in a bedroom in his Waco apartment, one of the warrants states. According to the arrest affidavit on the new charge, investigators were able to date the video to Nov. 6, 2017.

The affidavit states the woman was interviewed and told detectives she was aware of who Lopez is and “that the two have met on numerous occasions. She indicated that at no time has she allowed or had knowledge of the fact that Lopez was recording their sexual acts.”

Lopez was booked back into McLennan County Jail on Thursday afternoon and was being held on bond listed at $2,500.

Lopez will remain on administrative leave pending the Waco Police Department’s internal investigation, Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.