Saying it is time to get the ball rolling on what seems like a perpetual stream of criminal and civil cases arising from the Twin Peaks shootout, a judge set a Sept. 11 trial date Friday for what could be the first of the 155 indicted bikers to go to trial.
Over objections from the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother set the trial date at the urging of an attorney for Christopher Jacob Carrizal, a Bandido from Dallas.
“I wish it had been sooner, July or mid-summer. But I appreciate the judge’s diligence. I think September is fair,” said Carrizal’s attorney, Casie Gotro, of Houston, after a contentious hearing in which Strother scolded Gotro and prosecutor Michael Jarrett for their constant bickering.
When asked about the sniping among the attorneys, Gotro said, “Generally speaking, when district attorneys act that way, they have proof problems with their case.”
Jarrett argued that legal and ethical boundaries prevent the DA’s office from taking a biker to trial in McLennan County until federal authorities in San Antonio are finished trying national leaders of the Bandidos in a murder conspiracy case there.
That trial recently was postponed from August to Feb. 5, and there is speculation it might be postponed again.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna informed the court in March that he received a letter from U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin telling him that federal authorities prosecuting the Bandidos in San Antonio have information that relates to Twin Peaks cases but said they will not share it with McLennan County prosecutors until after the federal trial.
That development has already delayed the trials of a few bikers in Waco, but Gotro said Friday she had spoken with the lead prosecutor in San Antonio, who assured her there is no evidence in their possession that is favorable to Carrizal.
Therefore, Gotro argued, there is no reason to delay Carrizal’s trial, although she declined to waive any of his rights to appeal if information from the San Antonio prosecution ends up being relevant and favorable to Carrizal’s case.
Jarrett told Strother that under the Michael Morton Act, prosecutors are bound to wait to view the federal evidence and share it with defense attorneys now that Durbin has notified Reyna’s office that they have evidence that relates to the Twin Peaks cases.
The Michael Morton Act requires prosecutors to reveal all evidence, especially favorable evidence, to defendants’ attorneys.
Jarrett said that’s why “150 lawyers aren’t knocking down the door” to go to trial, because they get it.
Reyna made it clear to Strother at a previous hearing that his office wants to try Jacob Carrizal first. However, Jarrett, Reyna’s first assistant, continued to argue that the Twin Peaks cases must be postponed until his office is allowed to see the evidence in possession of federal prosecutors.
Going to trial before it can be reviewed creates a legally precarious position in which Twin Peaks defendants can appeal, if they are convicted, on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, actual innocence or newly discovered evidence, depending on what the evidence shows, Jarrett said.
Gotro told Strother that in her conversations with federal authorities in San Antonio, she asked if they had any information about Carrizal. Much of the evidence against the Bandidos was obtained through wire intercepts, Gotro said. When the investigation is done, defendants either get indicted or they receive a letter from the government that says they were the target of wire surveillance, she said. Carrizal was not indicted in San Antonio and did not receive such a letter, Gotro said.
Also, she asked for a list of all Department of Public Safety troopers and agents and Texas Rangers who were listed as case agents in the Bandidos investigation, Gotro said. She compared that list to officers listed in the Twin Peaks investigation, and there was no overlap, she told the judge.
“Based on those things, I don’t think they have any evidence related to Jake Carrizal in San Antonio,” Gotro said.
As the hearing continued, tension between Jarrett and Gotro increased. Repeating a scene from an April hearing, Jarrett asked that Gotro not put her hand in his face during her arguments. The judge asked if he needed to separate the two, prompting Gotro to walk around her client and stand next to her co-counsel, Thomas Lane, on the far end of the counsel table to distance herself from Jarrett.
The arguments grew more vociferous, and Strother cautioned, “This is not a kindergarten playground. Everybody back off.”
Later into the hourlong hearing, as the bickering continued, the judge said, “Everybody sit down and take a deep breath. I’m doing the same thing.”
After Strother decided to set the trial date, he asked the parties to “talk to each other in a civilized manner” to try to resolve other pretrial issues.
Jarrett responded that in every email response he has gotten from Gotro, “she has been smarmy and unprofessional.”
“Oh, I only got smarmy in the last week,” Gotro countered.
“That’s hard to believe,” Reyna said.
“Did you say something, Mr. Reyna?” Gotro asked.
“You heard me,” Reyna said.
By Friday afternoon, news of Carrizal’s trial date had spread to other lawyers representing Twin Peaks defendants. Attorney Millie Thompson, of Austin, thought her client, Thomas Paul Landers, was set for trial in Strother’s court in July. She, too, had urged a speedy trial in Landers’ case.
However, a court coordinator told her Friday afternoon that Strother had passed over Landers’ case and that Carrizal would be tried first.
Thompson said she will come to Waco on Monday to file a new motion for speedy trial and ask for a hearing date.