With the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office in a state of flux, the county’s two felony court judges have summoned about 50 Twin Peaks biker shootout defendants to court in coming weeks to try to determine how the 128 or so remaining cases will proceed.
Judge Ralph Strother of 19th State District Court and Judge Matt Johnson of 54th State District Court have scheduled status conferences for many of the Twin Peaks defendants. Strother has summoned 27 defendants for April 27, while Johnson’s conference with about 25 defendants is set for May 4.
All of the defendants directed to be in court on those days are or were affiliated with the Cossacks motorcycle group. Nine bikers were killed and more than 20 were injured in the May 17, 2015, shootout between the Cossacks and Bandidos that played out before a lunch crowd at Twin Peaks in Waco.
Since then, only one defendant, Jacob Carrizal, has gone to trial. Carrizal, 36, president of the Dallas Bandidos chapter, remains free on bond after his trial ended in November in a mistrial when jurors deadlocked.
Barry Johnson defeated McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna in the March Republican primary, and two of Reyna’s assistants who participated in Carrizal’s trial confirmed this week they are leaving the office for other jobs.
Attorneys for bikers tried to conduct hearings in recent months in an effort to disqualify Reyna from handling the Twin Peaks cases. They subpoenaed Reyna and current and former assistants to testify at the hearings.
However, Reyna dismissed 26 Twin Peaks cases and refused 32 others that had not been indicted, effectively putting an end to the hearings at which testimony damaging to Reyna was expected. Since then, activity in the Twin Peaks cases has stagnated.
Strother and Johnson, who split the 154 indicted Twin Peaks cases between them, said they called the status conferences to learn if attorneys on both sides are prepared to take the cases to trial or to dispose of them by other means.
“Judge Johnson and I conferred, and we decided that because there has been no movement on any of these cases about anything, and given the fact that there is going to be a transition in administrations, we just want to try to understand where all the parties are in all of this,” Strother said. “We haven’t set anything for trial yet, but it has been so long since everybody has gotten together to discuss the issue about were we go from here, we just thought it was time to do that.
“We are not setting anything for trial yet. We may or may not do that after we have the status conference to kind of understand where everybody is coming from. But because of the transition issues and people leaving the (DA’s) office, Judge Johnson and I just need to find out what we can about what is going on.”
Reyna dismissed cases against Cody Ledbetter and George Bergman in March, four days before a jury panel was scheduled to report to court.
The dismissal motions state that while probable cause remains in the cases, the state is focusing on more culpable defendants in the Twin Peaks shootout.
After Ledbetter’s case was dismissed, Johnson set Bergman’s case for the same day so he could use the same jury panel. Within a few hours, Reyna’s office filed a motion to dismiss Bergman’s case, and Johnson canceled the jury panel.
Ledbetter and his attorney, Paul Looney, asked for the April 2 trial date that had been reserved for Carrizal’s retrial after Carrizal’s new attorney, Chris Lewis, of Dallas, asked for more time to prepare.