Three bikers jailed with more than 170 others for more than a week and a half after a deadly shootout at Twin Peaks were going home to Austin on Thursday, after winning significant bond reductions in an agreement with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office.
State District Judges Matt Johnson and Ralph Strother approved bond reductions from $1 million to $25,000 each for Jonathan Lopez, Theron Rhoten and Ryan Craft, members of the Vice Grips Motorcycle Club who ride antique Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
The judges said they met with District Attorney Abel Reyna on Thursday and agreed to consider significantly lower bonds if attorneys for the bikers and Reyna’s office could reach accords.
Reyna did not return phone messages left at his office and on his cellphone Wednesday and Thursday.
“The DA’s office is going to make a good-faith effort to try to work out some agreements on bond reductions,” Strother said. “I would welcome any agreements the DA and the attorneys are able to reach.”
Johnson also said he is willing to review agreements between Reyna’s office and the attorneys.
“We are prepared to hold conferences with the state’s attorney and the defense attorneys on the bond amounts and potential agreements to reduce the bonds in appropriate cases,” Johnson said.
The three Austin residents were released on bail under the same conditions as two other bikers released previously after posting $1 million bonds each.
Some of those conditions include requiring the men to wear ankle monitors, restricting their travel, setting curfews and prohibiting them from returning to McLennan County except for court appearances.
Waco attorney Jonathan Sibley represented the Austin trio and negotiated their releases with the DA’s office. He said he hopes charges eventually will be dismissed against his clients.
“We are just happy that we were able to work with the district attorney’s office to reach an agreement to lower the bonds,” Sibley said. “We ultimately think the facts will show they had no involvement in anything related to this incident, and we are happy to get them out and let everything play itself out. But we think the facts will show they weren’t involved in this in any way. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He said the three rode from Austin to attend the meeting of the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents, a biker advocacy group, and had only just arrived when the shooting started.
McLennan County has been spending roughly $8,000 a day to house the 175 arrested bikers, many of whom are claiming civil rights violations for unlawful incarcerations based on guilt by association. Many, like Sibley’s clients, contend they merely were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the deadly shooting broke out after noon May 17 between rival biker gangs the Bandidos and Cossacks.
Nine were killed and 18 wounded during the shootout. Afterward, police rounded up those in the area and charged the vast majority of them with engaging in organized criminal activity.
Strother has scheduled about 30 bond-reduction hearings for each Friday in June, while Johnson has set about 25 hearings on the same dates.
With the new agreements possible between the DA’s office and attorneys, some of those hearings might not be necessary.
Houston attorney Paul C. Looney was in Waco on Thursday morning filing motions on behalf of his client, William English, of Brenham. English and his wife, Morgan, both are jailed under $1 million bonds.
Looney said he tried to get in to see Reyna before he left town Thursday afternoon but was turned away. He was surprised to learn of Sibley’s success later in the day.
‘Not an option’
“When we called over there, they said that was not an option,” Looney said. “I was there. I would have loved to have done that. What they told me is that they didn’t have enough reports to even have an intelligent discussion.”
Looney, who went from Waco to Norman, Oklahoma, said he will be in Fort Worth on Friday morning but can come back to Waco.
“I’ll do anything to expedite this situation,” he said. “I would almost sign his bond myself. He lives 20 miles from me. He is virginally innocent. He is not just innocent, he is virginally innocent. My client’s mother has worked 19 years at Wal-Mart. He works as a laborer in a factory. He is a war veteran, but I will call the DA’s office in the morning to see if they will meet with me.”
By Thursday evening, officials confirmed the county had appointed 47 lawyers to represent indigent bikers.