Cody Ledbetter won’t know for a while whether he will go to prison or spend his life as a free man, a mechanic, a dad.
Either way, two things are certain. First, he will always carry the burden of seeing his stepfather and mentor killed at Waco’s Twin Peaks restaurant on May 17, 2015.
Second, he is done with the world of motorcycle clubs.
Ledbetter, 27, never again wants the black-and-gold vest that marked him as a member of the Cossacks Motorcycle Club. He plans to sell his only bike, the Harley-Davidson owned by his stepfather, Daniel “Diesel” Boyett, who died in the parking lot brawl with the rival Bandidos gang.
“It’s over,” Ledbetter said. “After watching what it did to my dad. I’ve got two kids under 3 years old. If that would have been me, I would have left (my wife) with that. It’s something I can’t do. I need to be here for my kids.”
A year after the biker battle that left nine people dead at Twin Peaks, Ledbetter and other bikers arrested following the shootout are floating in legal limbo with no clear horizon.
Through the indictments, prosecutors have asserted that all the bikers shared in the guilt of the slayings by gathering with the intention of doing violence — regardless of whether they threw a punch, pulled a trigger or ducked inside for safety.
Bikers of different clubs that normally couldn’t be caught together in the same room have joined voices in condemning the mass “cookie-cutter” charges and subsequent identical indictments. Bikers here and around the country have held rallies decrying the arrests and prolonged jailing of some 190-plus bikers.
In the long wait for prosecutors and police to release detailed evidence against individual bikers, competing narratives have emerged about who started the violence that resulted in a hail of deadly gunfire.
Some bikers have floated theories that the entire incident was orchestrated by law enforcement or prosecutors as a crackdown against motorcycle clubs.
Steve “Dozer” Cochran, a leader of the Sons of the South Motorcycle Club in Waco and an official with the U.S. Defenders, said most bikers are conservative, law-and-order types, but the Twin Peaks incident has eroded their trust of police.
“We don’t feel locally that law enforcement is there to protect and serve,” he said. “We feel like they’re going to do whatever the hell they want.”
‘177 didn’t kill 9’
For bikers awaiting their day in court, the delay has taken its toll on families, livelihoods and pocketbooks.
John Wilson, president of the McLennan County Cossacks, said his family has spent about $100,000 for bonds and legal representation for himself and his son, Jake, who were among the 177 people initially jailed in the Twin Peaks incident.
And that’s just the beginning. He said the incarceration caused him to close his fledgling motorcycle shop, Legend Cycles, for two months. He said police still have not returned to him two of the family’s motorcycles that were seized that day, worth an estimated $35,000.
Wilson said the incident required strong action by police, but the jailing of so many people with bonds set at $1 million each went too far.
“The fact is 177 people didn’t kill nine,” he said. “Everybody was charged with every murder, every assault, and charged for the people killed by law enforcement.
“The most disturbing thing for me is that the local legal system is allowing 177 families to suffer for the crimes of half a dozen to a dozen people. . . . That’s 177 families whose children may not be able to go to college, whose breadwinners may have lost their jobs.”
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna has turned down all interview requests by the Tribune-Herald regarding the incident, and the Waco Police Department stopped discussing the case in late June 2015, citing a gag order in a court case involving a single defendant, Hewitt biker Matthew Clendennen.
Determining the true story of what happened at Twin Peaks may take a court trial, or a dozen.
Allies of the Bandidos and those sympathetic to the Cossacks give starkly different accounts of the events leading up to the shootout just after noon in front of a Sunday lunch crowd.
Bikers from around the region were set to converge at the restaurant for a regular meeting of a biker advocacy group known as the Confederation of Clubs and Independents at 1 p.m., but that meeting never happened.
What happened instead was a confrontation between two rival clubs — and their support groups — that had already seen several skirmishes around Texas in the past two years.
About 11:30 a.m., at least 58 Cossacks from around Texas started showing up along with bikers from support clubs such as the Scimitars. The Cossacks were not part of the biker rights organization, but whether their presence was intended to be hostile is a matter of debate.
Wilson said a statewide Cossack official had spoken with Bandidos leaders about smoothing over their differences with a meeting. He said Waco police had come to his shop and suggested a “dialogue” between the two clubs.
Law enforcement reports and a December 2015 indictment against Bandidos leaders have said the two motorcycle clubs were in a “war,” partly because the Cossacks had taken to wearing a “Texas rocker” patch on their vests, or “cuts,” without permission from the Bandidos, Texas’ dominant motorcycle club.
Wilson said he knew there were regional conflicts between the groups, but not an outright war, and his six-member chapter was not involved in any conflicts. He said Waco police visited his shop March 28, 2015, to warn him of possible Bandido attacks, but he never saw any problems.
Wilson said the Cossacks began wearing the Texas patch in July 2014 after an informal understanding with the Bandidos that the Cossacks had earned that right after about 45 years in Texas.
Wilson said he wouldn’t have gone to the meeting if he thought it would turn violent.
“I wasn’t taking my son to a gang fight, I can assure you of that,” he said. “Nor would he have gone. He’s a young man with no criminal record and a father himself.
“I knew there was a chance something could happen, because there was tension there,” he said. “That’s why I told people in the McLennan County chapter not to carry a gun. There wasn’t a single member of our motorcycle club chapter that was armed. We said, ‘Don’t carry a gun in there in case somebody throws a punch — we don’t want it to get out of hand.’ ”
Cochran, the U.S. Defenders official who arrived for the COC&I meeting at Twin Peaks just after the shooting, said that account doesn’t add up. Bandidos would never agree to meet in public with an adversary, and “club-to-club” business was against the rules at COC&I meetings.
“Under no uncertain terms would any club entertain a meeting with another club at a COC meeting to resolve a problem,” he said. “That story is bulls---.
“You don’t take 90 people to a meeting to resolve a grievance. You take 90 people to a meeting to cause trouble.”
He said such a peacemaking meeting would not happen at a crowded restaurant.
“You’d do it at a private, out-of-the-way place where there’s no law enforcement snooping in your damn business,” he said.
Cochran said the conflict really started about 11:30 a.m. when a Cossack bumped into COC&I meeting organizer Sandra Lynch, a Mart resident. Lynch’s attorney has corroborated that story.
In the Cossacks’ telling, the conflict started when a group of Bandidos arrived about 12:15 p.m. and blocked in the Cossacks’ bikes, then ran over a Cossack prospect’s foot.
According to police reports, several Cossacks pulled their weapons and ran to the parking lot as a verbal dispute escalated into a fistfight.
Police reports state that a Bandido threw the first punch, followed by a volley of gunfire from bikers and police, who had massed nearby in anticipation of trouble.
Ledbetter said he wasn’t expecting trouble that day but expected “truce” talks.
He and Boyett rode in with a group of Cossacks from a meeting place near his home in Lacy Lakeview, but he was riding in a rental car, having totaled his motorcycle a few weeks before.
His arm was still in a sling, but he didn’t bring his pain medicine because he expected he would be returning home soon, because he had a child’s birthday to attend that afternoon.
When the conflict began, he said he followed his stepdad outside. Boyett, who was a Cossacks national officer not affiliated with the McLennan County chapter, had a concealed handgun holstered in his waistband but never drew it, Ledbetter said.
As a fistfight broke out, he recalls seeing a rival biker pull out a gun and shoot a Cossack in the head. Boyett dove for cover, but a man with a handgun stood over him and emptied two bullets into his head, according to Ledbetter.
“At this point, I don’t think much of it,” he said. “In the heat of the moment, I just thought I have to get inside.”
He said he was caught up in a crush of people trying to get back into the restaurant but finally made it inside. A few minutes later, police led him and other bikers back outside in single file, with their hands over their heads. That’s when Ledbetter saw the man he called “Dad” lying on the pavement.
“It was a horrific sight for me,” he said. “To this day, I can still describe images that are burned in my brain. There was blood coming out of his mouth. One of his eyeballs was puffed out. Part of his head was caved in where the bullet crushed the skull.
“What probably hurt me the most was that I had to make the phone call to Mom,” he said.
He said his mother at first held out hope that her husband would recover. “I said, ‘No, Mom, he’s not going to be all right,’ ” Ledbetter said. “From what I see, he’s gone.”
Boyett had been in his life since Ledbetter was 13, when the burly diesel mechanic came home with the boy’s mom and never left. The two butted heads often, even as Ledbetter became an adult. But along the way, Boyett taught Ledbetter how to be a mechanic, and they spent hours taking cars apart and putting them back together.
In 2013, when Ledbetter was in a bad wreck, Boyett sent him a note that he never forgot: “I know we have not always seen eye to eye but I could not ask for a better son, so hurry up and get better all ready. Love DAD.”
When Boyett decided to become a Cossack prospect in January 2014, Ledbetter joined him as a way to spend time together, he said.
So, realizing that he wouldn’t be able to attend his dad’s funeral was a low point to Ledbetter’s nightmare.
In the hours sitting in the Twin Peaks parking lot after the shooting, Ledbetter had begun to feel such pain from his previously injured arm that another biker trained as a paramedic succeeded in getting him taken to the emergency room at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, where deputies watched him.
He was transferred in a hospital gown to the Waco Convention Center, where he lay on the floor with nearly 200 other detainees, hands zip-tied. It took another 24 hours to get processed at the county jail, where he learned he would be held on a $1 million bond.
He sat in jail 17 days, until he was released on a lowered bond of $200,000, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet. During that time, he had little communication with his family, including his pregnant wife.
“I was angry and depressed,” he said. “At the same time, it was still hard to process everything going on. I didn’t cry. . . . On June 3, when I got out, that’s when everything hit me.”
And he soon rode to the cemetery in West to visit his dad’s grave.
“I cried a little at the cemetery, but as far as breaking down that wall, I haven’t had time. Over the last year, it’s been tough for me. Where I’d normally turn to for advice, I can’t anymore.”
His mother, Nina, said she has tried to convince Ledbetter to get professional help.
“I told him he needs to talk to somebody and try to let it out,” she said. “The longer he holds it in, it scares me. . . . I don’t know what to expect. I’ve seen him angry.
“There have been times after Danny died, he’d get so mad and punch things because there’s nothing he could do to see his dad. All I could do is grab him and hold him.”
Ledbetter said he tries to focus on being the family breadwinner, and that means pushing the trauma out of his mind.
“I’m scared that if I break down, instead of being sad and mourning it’s going to make me angry,” he said. “I’ve been known to do stupid things when I’m angry. I don’t want that. . . . Process what I went through, be in my shoes that day, watch your father executed and have an image burned in your brain what he looks like laying there dead. It will change who you are.”