Wacoans are probably just as flummoxed as jurors are at this early point in Bandidos Dallas chapter president Jacob Carrizal’s Twin Peaks organized crime trial. That’s perhaps as it should be for those keeping an open mind about the first trial stemming from the bloody, confused Sunday afternoon shootout at Central Texas Marketplace two and a half years ago. The incident left not only nine dead bikers but disturbing questions about biker culture, crime, law enforcement, Texas justice, even societal perceptions.
Some readers voice frustration at the pace of the trial. Understandable. One expert witness had to outline in detail his testimony before District Judge Matt Johnson sans jury, only to do so again later before the jury. Yet consider the rationale: Attorneys for prosecution and defense sparred over whether the testimony might be prejudicial and the judge correctly wanted a fair sense of what was coming, lest it unjustly poison jurors’ minds.
Again understandably, the judge has expressed frustration with how forthcoming District Attorney Abel Reyna has been in keeping the defense fully apprised of evidence he seeks to use in making his case. The concern is critical in our system of justice. Carrizal’s attorney must know prosecution evidence ahead of the trial if she is to mount anything but a laughable or incompetent defense.
That said, discerning Central Texans should remember this trial and those likely to follow are unprecedented. As Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt told the Trib months ago, never before have the tensions of rival outlaw motorcycle gangs exploded in such a public setting with such deadly results and in such dramatic scope. Plus the DA is prosecuting the 154 bikers indicted not as capital murder cases — which is how police planned to handle it — but as organized crime.
This maneuver introduces thought-provoking questions for not only jurors but all Americans. Was the violence of May 17, 2015, the result of a trap sprung by the Cossacks motorcycle gang on the Bandidos? Did the violence erupt spontaneously? Did Bandidos arrive at Twin Peaks that day expecting a confrontation? And if both gangs engaged in criminal activities, as law enforcement experts contend, does that count against those merely present and wearing gang colors, possibly even in an innocuous auxiliary capacity and otherwise guilty of no more than diving for cover when bullets began flying? In short, will jurors buy guilt-by-association arguments?
And will the prosecution’s argument hold if the brawl had more to do with the upstart Cossacks defying the Bandidos by embracing colors that the latter gang, long dominant in Texas, denied them without certain deferential conditions? Who knows? This is new legal turf. Whatever the answers, Wacoans will be introduced to clashing accounts of inner workings of the Bandidos and Cossacks, including their hierarchy, rules, support groups and possible involvement in crime. Pray for the jurors, who must sort out conflicting evidence as well as complex legal principles before meting out justice in an age when more and more of us have already made up our minds.