Three days before 600 potential jurors in the Twin Peaks shootout case are set to report to court, the first of the bikers scheduled for trial has filed a motion to stay all proceedings in his case.
Houston attorney Casie Gotro, who represents biker Christopher Jacob Carrizal, filed a motion Tuesday morning to stay proceedings in Carrizal’s case and said a motion to recuse 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother is imminent.
Strother later in the day denied the motion to stay the proceedings.
Gotro frustrated Strother on Tuesday morning when she failed to show up at a status conference Strother called to discuss questionnaires for potential jurors and other matters as the Sept. 11 trial date approaches.
Gotro emailed the court Monday to say she and Carrizal had been given insufficient notice of Tuesday’s status hearing, telling the court she felt hamstrung by unfavorable rulings Strother made at a hearing last week.
Because of Gotro’s absence at the hearing, Strother set another hearing for Thursday morning and ordered Gotro and Carrizal to be there and threatened to revoke Carrizal’s bond if he doesn’t appear.
At last week’s hearing, First Assistant District Attorney Michael Jarrett asked Gotro for assurances that she will be ready to try the case against Carrizal next month. She said then that she will be.
However, her motion to stay further proceedings, filed Tuesday morning, and her threat to seek to recuse Strother put the Sept. 11 trial date in jeopardy.
Gotro said by phone Tuesday morning that her schedule did not allow her to attend the hearing Tuesday.
“I just got this email that said, ‘Drop everything and get up here,’ ” she said. “I am not intentionally not showing up. I have other obligations. This is not my only case and I live three hours away. I am in Houston. I would never intentionally ignore a request from a judge. That is dumb. I would not do something like that.”
Gotro alleges in the motion to stay that Strother “grossly abused” the court’s discretion in rulings last week and said she will seek an emergency stay from Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals if Strother denies the stay.
She also said a motion to recuse Strother “will be filed imminently,” which, by law, would preclude Strother from taking any more action in Carrizal’s case until the issue is resolved.
Three other motions to recuse Strother filed by bikers Thomas Paul Landers, George Bergman and Rolando Reyes are awaiting rulings from retired State District Judge James Morgan of Bosque County.
Morgan conducted a hearing Aug. 16 on the motions and said he will rule after reviewing attorney briefs, which are due by Friday.
Strother called the hearing Tuesday morning because Gotro has not responded to the court’s request to submit potential questions or objections to proposed questions on a questionnaire that will be submitted to the jury panel on Friday.
“Defense counsel cannot, in conscience, now or at any foreseeable time in the future, comply with this court’s order and still provide effective assistance of counsel to Mr. Carrizal,” Gotro wrote in a motion filed Thursday. “So long as the state continues to deny the defense access to records and material evidence, it will never be possible for undersigned counsel or any other lawyer to intelligently question a venire or formulate those questions for submission to a venire.”
Strother called the hearing Tuesday morning because of Gotro’s motion.
“In my my mind, the setting of this status hearing was not a suggestion that they be here,” Strother said after realizing Gotro would not attend the hearing. “I consider it to be an order of the court that Ms. Gotro appear, or at least counsel for the defense.
“To put it mildly, the court is perplexed and displeased that no member of the defense is here. I don’t know what to make of all this except that I am not happy. There were a number of matters that I wanted to discuss at the status hearing, the questionnaires and the mechanics of the jury-selection process. I had hoped to do that in a spirit of cooperation and courtesy.”
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna told Strother Tuesday morning that the state, as far as prosecutors are aware, have provided all evidence that they legally and ethically are required to provide to Gotro and lawyers for the other 154 bikers indicted in the Twin Peaks cases.
Reyna said there are still items being tested for DNA and some evidence undergoing additional testing and that defense attorneys will be provided those materials as they become available.
An hour after Strother excused those at the hearing Tuesday morning, Gotro filed the motion to stay proceedings in Carrizal’s case.
In her motion, she states she has “vigorously pursed his right to a speedy trial and has worked tirelessly to obtain access to material evidence necessary to prepare his defense and necessary for him to receive effective assistance of his counsel.”
The motion claims that Strother “refused to perform ministerial acts” at a hearing last week and “grossly abused” his discretion, “leaving the defendant in the untenable position of sacrificing one constitutional right in order to exercise another.”
Gotro complains in the motion that she issued 12 subpoenas compelling law enforcement officials to be at the hearing and to bring with them certain records and that some failed to appear or failed to produce records responsive to her request.
Prosecutors objected to Gotro’s attempts to get the judge to enforce the subpoenas, and Strother upheld the state’s objections.
“Certainly a trial judge has the discretion to determine what evidence the defendant is entitled to receive prior to trial and the discretion to compel the state to produce that evidence. However, it is an absolute abuse of that discretion to ‘rule for the state’ and summarily deny the defendant access to evidence without first hearing or reading a description of it,” the motion states.