A host of East Waco activists and pastors say McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna owes the community an apology for the way a prosecutor portrayed the area in opening statements of the Ricky Donnell Cummings capital murder trial.
The Rev. Valda Jean Combs, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, 600 S. Second St., says she has been waiting for Reyna to return phone calls she made to his office last week asking to meet with him and demanding an apology.
Combs and others were upset about the manner in which Deputy First Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis described East Waco, saying he used “an extremely unfair broad brush” in his portrait of East Waco.
They say Davis wrongly described East Waco as a generally violent community “where brutal, cold-blooded murders are committed,” among other statements.
Combs, who also has a law degree, said the Rev. Larrye Weaver Sr., pastor of Good Samaritan Missionary Baptist Church, 927 Olive St., also called Reyna’s office with complaints.
He was told by an office spokeswoman that Reyna was entrenched in trial and would meet with them when it is over.
That is not good enough for Combs.
“When the perpetrator says to the victim, ‘I will talk to you when it is convenient,’ that doesn’t sound like justice to me,” she said. “That doesn’t sound like an elected official who is really concerned with his constituency. If you offend your brother and sister, you apologize as soon as you know you have given offense. There is no question the prosecutor’s words were out of line.”
Reyna said Monday he has been busy with the Cummings trial and has not received the phone messages.
“My focus right now is the trial against Ricky Donnell Cummings, and collateral issues, if any, will be dealt with after the trial,” he said, declining additional comment.
In laying out the state’s case Oct. 22 in his opening statement to the jury, Davis said the jury might be exposed to a world different from one in which most of them live.
“It’s a world that is foreign to most of us,” he said. “It’s a world where people go by street names and organize into gangs and cliques. Unfortunately, it’s a world where brutal, cold-blooded murders are committed and, sadly, a world where witnesses are reluctant to cooperate because they fear for their lives.
“It’s a world not far from this courthouse. It’s a world called East Waco, where people are gunned down in cold blood. Where people are shot a total of 16 times and bleed to death in the back seat of a car.”
Combs and others say Davis’ words were offensive.
“The district attorney represents everyone, even the people in East Waco,” she said. “And for a community that has felt that prosecution has been targeted toward them in many cases by law enforcement and the district attorney’s (office) to now hear confirmed the idea that this community is corrupt, violent, murderous, good for nothing except committing crimes, well, it all sort of sounds like the DA doesn’t really represent all of McLennan County.”
Weaver, who has attended the trial, said he also is troubled that there are no minorities on the Cummings jury.
“The prosecutor made callous statements about people who live in the community,” Weaver said. “Sometimes we realize there are games people play. We are not at any point saying we agree with the things that these people decide to do in our community.
“But the whole community is not going to be given a bad rap by one group that hasn’t been trained properly. That is going on all over town, but you don’t want to single out one area of the community when you have that activity going on all over town.”
Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said he also found the statements offensive.
“I would take offense at that, whether I lived there or not,” Duncan said. “It’s kind of a black mark on the whole community to say this is how we live. It sounds like a prosecutor trying to paint a picture that isn’t realistic. I don’t think you could find 10 people on the street who would talk in those terms.”
Duncan said in his mayoral campaign this spring that bringing more attention and development to East Waco was a high priority.
“I want to draw it closer to the rest of the community. If they feel isolated, it’s because of statements like that,” he said.
Combs said Davis’ words “completely crushed some of them.”
“People have pride in their community,” she said. “East Waco was once a thriving community with businesses and a flourishing economy. There are elderly people here who still remember that time, and when they look at East Waco, they don’t see a place that is blighted and poverty-stricken. They see the place they grew up in, the place they raised their children and the place they went to school, and to have them portrayed as subhuman is unethical.”
Combs added that “when the jury goes in with stereotypes in mind and the prosecution perpetuates those stereotypes so they can win a conviction, they have damaged the community.”
Ryn Farmer, an East Waco-based community organizer for Waco Community Development Corp., said she found the comments disappointing and damaging.
“What was said by the prosecutor was a false blanket statement about all East Waco that was based of the actions taken by a few. . . . It takes away from all the good things in the community that are going on, and it continues to drive a negative perception of East Waco,” Farmer said.
Tribune-Herald staff writer J.B. Smith contributed to this story.