A hearing to determine if 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother should be removed from presiding over a Twin Peaks biker case has been reset for Monday morning.
The hearing originally had been set for Thursday. However, it had to be rescheduled after Houston attorney Casie Gotro notified the court Wednesday evening that she and her client, Bandidos Dallas chapter President Christopher Jacob Carrizal, had not been given adequate notice and could not be there.
Senior Judge Dan Mills, a former federal prosecutor, has been appointed to hear the recusal motion. Jury selection in Carrizal’s case is set to start Tuesday. However, with the 11th-hour recusal motion and Gotro’s continued allegations that prosecutors are withholding evidence vital to her defense, it is unclear if the trial will be held as scheduled.
Gotro has said she should not be forced to choose between Carrizal’s constitutional right to a speedy trial and his right to be provided with evidence in the state’s possession Carrizal is entitled to have before trial.
Carrizal, 36, of Dallas, would be the first to go to trial of the 155 indicted in the May 2015 shootout between rival biker groups at Twin Peaks that left nine dead and dozens injured.
Retired State District Judge James Morgan ruled last month that Strother should be recused from hearing the cases of bikers Thomas Paul Landers, Rolando Reyes and George Bergman after hearing testimony Aug. 16. Like Gotro, attorneys for the trio alleged Strother has shown favoritism toward prosecutors in selecting trial dates for bikers and assisting prosecutors in serving DNA warrants on bikers by scheduling a hearing and requiring those charged in his court to attend.
Gotro filed a handwritten motion to recuse Strother last Friday as Strother was preparing to impanel 180 potential jurors in Carrizal’s case. Strother, who declined to recuse himself, stopped the proceedings and notified regional administrative Judge Billy Stubblefield of the motion.
Stubblefield appointed Mills, who presided over a court that covered Blanco, Burnet, Llano and San Saba counties, to hear Gotro’s recusal motion.
“Judge Ralph Strother should be recused from this case,” Gotro wrote in a supplemental motion. “His comments and his actions have demonstrated he is either unwilling or unable to remain fair and impartial in this case.
“Further, Judge Strother’s blatant bias for the state and equally blatant animus for the defendant and his counsel have reached fever pitch and are so extreme they have resulted in an outright denial of defendant’s rights to counsel, effective assistance of that counsel, due process and due course of law.”
Prosecutors have denied Gotro’s accusations and said they are ready to try Carrizal. In a motion filed late last month to give Carrizal notice of other evidence the state might try to introduce against him, Assistant District Attorney Amanda Dillon listed 13 incidents in which the Bandidos were involved in violent confrontations dating back to 1983.
Two of those incidents involved altercations with the Cossacks, including a December 2014 shooting at Gator’s Bar in Fort Worth that left a rival biker dead and others wounded. The notice also lists two incidents in Gregg County a week apart in April 2013 in which biker Lonnie Green was injured in both fights.
The 13 incidents don’t refer to Carrizal specifically, only to Bandido altercations around the state. However, one of the elements that prosecutors must prove to convict Carrizal is that he was acting as part “of the identifiable leadership of a criminal street gang” at Twin Peaks.
In the portion of the notice that pertains to Carrizal, prosecutors allege six incidents since November 2016 in which they say Carrizal violated the terms and conditions of his felony bond by associating with other members of a “motorcycle club/gang,” or by failing to remain within the limits of the counties listed in the court’s bond.
Carrizal is charged with one count of directing activities of a criminal street gang, for which the punishment range is from 25 to 99 years or life in prison, and two counts of engaging in organized criminal activity with underlying charges of murder and aggravated assault.