About 180 potential jurors for the first Twin Peaks case set for trial were sent home abruptly Friday morning after the attorney for Bandido Dallas chapter president Christopher Jacob Carrizal filed a last-second, handwritten motion to recuse 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother from presiding over the trial.
Strother, who presided over an increasingly contentious hearing before beginning his address to the potential jury panel, was cut off mid-sentence when Casie Gotro, Carrizal’s attorney, presented the court with her hastily scribbled motion to recuse the judge.
Once a recusal motion is filed, a judge can no longer have anything to do with a case until the matter is settled. So Strother asked 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson to come over to finish impaneling the jury, including having panel members fill out questionnaires and hearing excuses, exemptions or disqualifications from jury duty.
As the parties huddled in a jury room outside the presence of the large panel, Gotro told Johnson that she also would be filing a motion to recuse him, although she had not done so by Friday afternoon.
With the promise of a recusal motion, Johnson left and District Clerk Jon Gimble dismissed the panel, telling them to report again on Sept. 12, the day jury selection in Carrizal’s trial is set to begin. Gimble said prospective jurors would fill out the questionnaires at that time to help attorneys in jury selection.
Gimble had sent out notices to 600 potential jurors to report Aug. 25. As the battle between Gotro and prosecutors continued to rage, Strother pushed the reporting date back to Friday. Of the 600, the field was narrowed to 388 through bad addresses, exemptions or disqualifications. Of those 388 who should have reported Friday, Gimble estimated about 180 appeared for jury duty.
While Gotro continues to insist that Carrizal get a speedy trial, her tactics continue to delay proceedings because she claims the state has not provided her with all the evidence she is entitled to before trial.
“First of all, the thing I have been after since I signed on to this case is just give us the evidence,” Gotro said after the jury panel was excused. “Just give me the evidence that law enforcement claims they’ve got. I can’t do my job without the evidence, and I will not be forced do to that. That will deprive Jake of his rights and I won’t do that. So the contentiousness, the raised tempers in court, were over that very issue.”
Earlier, during the hearing, Gotro and prosecutor Michael Jarrett continued the sparring that has been repeated at several previous status conferences. As before, Jarrett continued to insist that the state has provided Gotro with all the evidence that is currently available, assuring Gotro that ballistic and DNA evidence still being tested will be forthcoming as soon as possible.
Gotro called Jarrett a liar on several occasions, and at one point said she didn’t believe what Strother was telling her.
Jarrett bristled at Gotro’s accusations and read into the record an email from Gotro in which she promised “to chew my own foot off” if she hadn’t filed the motion to recuse Strother by last week. She also said that her home in Houston was “high and dry.”
Gotro said she hasn’t been able to get to her home in a week because of the flooding, but said that Jarrett reading her email into the record “is not going to do anything to refute” her opinion that he is a liar.
Strother asked Gotro to sit down and allow Jarrett to finish, saying he would give her the chance to respond.
“I’m afraid I don’t believe you, judge,” Gotro replied.
“I don’t care if you believe me or not. Just sit down, please,” Strother said.
Strother told the parties that they were about to go to the annex courtroom to impanel the jury panel. He instructed both sides not to speak during the proceedings and specifically ordered Gotro not to say she could not proceed to trial because the state was withholding evidence, because of its potential prejudicial effect on the panel.
Gotro said she could not promise she would abide by the court’s orders because she said they were unlawful and improper.
“Ms. Gotro, I understand your opinion of the court’s character,” Strother said. “You indicate you don’t believe much of anything I tell you. I have been doing this a long time. I want your client to get a fair trial. If you will have just a little faith in me and a little trust, I will do everything within my power, professionally, morally, legally, to make sure your client gets a fair trial.”
As the bickering continued, Strother cautioned Gotro that she could be sanctioned or held in contempt of court for violating the court’s orders.
“I know you consider the orders of the court not to be lawful,” Strother said. “But I do consider it to be lawful, and if you do something over there that I think violated the order of the court, I reserve the right to take any action that I think appropriate, including sanctions or a contempt finding.
“I do not want to do that to you or to your client, believe me. If you will just have a little patience, we can get through this. I have never, ever in my career as jurist found it necessary to even talk about holding an attorney in contempt, and I don’t want to have to do it now.”
A visiting judge recused Strother earlier this week from hearing the cases of three other bikers arrested in the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout. A regional administrative judge will now appoint someone to hear the recusal motion against Strother, and also, the recusal motion against Johnson, if Gotro files one.
Gotro said after the hearing that she knows nothing about Johnson and only met him briefly Friday morning when he came over to the annex courtroom.
She said there are a number of reasons why she thinks Strother should be recused.
Gotro continued to assert the state hasn’t given her all the evidence she is entitled to, including chain-of-custody forms that, for instance, could tell her who analyzed the more than 260 cellphones seized from the bikers and photos and video from surveillance cameras.
Carrizal, 35, faces one count of directing activities of a criminal street gang, a count of engaging in organized criminal activity with an underlying offense of murder and a count of engaging in organized criminal activity with an underlying offense of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.