San Antonio attorney Tom Clarke is concerned that James Rosas will become a “lightning rod” as the first Twin Peaks biker to stand trial, but Clarke said his client didn’t do anything wrong and someone needs to draw a line in the sand.
Almost 18 months after the shootout between rival biker groups left nine dead and two dozen injured, Rosas has become the first of 154 bikers indicted in the May 17, 2015, incident to receive a trial date.
Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court set Rosas’ trial on first-degree felony engaging in organized criminal activity charges to begin Jan. 23 after Clarke announced he was ready for trial and asked for a trial setting.
The request comes as the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office continues to provide hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pages of discovery materials to the bikers’ defense attorneys, including copies of police reports, hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings of the incident and subsequent interviews with bikers, 700,000 pages of cellphone records, tens of thousands of photographs and Facebook posts.
Rosas now is set for a pretrial docket appearance Jan. 6 and a status hearing Jan. 13. It is unclear if the DA’s office will announce whether it will be ready to take Rosas’ case to trial on Jan. 23 or if it will seek a postponement.
The remainder of the indicted bikers’ cases remain on what are known as announcement dockets in 54th and 19th State District Court and have not been moved yet to the courts’ trial dockets.
District Attorney Abel Reyna and his first assistant, Michael Jarrett, did not return phone calls from the Tribune-Herald seeking comment on the biker cases.
Clarke said Rosas, 48, a welder, is a hardworking married man who lives in Selma and likes to ride motorcycles with his buddies on weekends. Clarke said the only thing Rosas did wrong that day was to wear a vest as a member of the Valerosos motorcycle group, a support club of the Bandidos.
Clarke has tried calling the McLennan County DA’s office to ask what evidence it has against his client because he says he can’t find any as he pores over the reams of discovery evidence. He said no one returned his phone calls.
Circling the wagons
“I think they have gotten into a circle-the-wagons mentality over there in the DA’s office because of all the civil lawsuits being filed and the attempt to disqualify the DA from handling the cases,” Clarke said. “But to me, this case is strange because I can kind of understand them arresting everyone, but by now, they should have sorted them all out and said, ‘You can go. You didn’t do anything.’ I don’t see where that is justice here. If you have got something, show it to me.”
The case against Rosas, like many others, should be dismissed, Clarke said.
“There has been a lot of discovery released, and I slog through it and I don’t see anything on my client at all,” Clarke said. “They took his vest. He answered their questions. He didn’t have a gun. He didn’t have brass knuckles. He was riding in an SUV. He went there to go to a meeting, but that doesn’t make you guilty of organized crime.”
Rosas and a couple of friends had just gotten to Twin Peaks and were getting out of their vehicle when a “minor riot” broke out between the Cossacks and Bandidos, Clarke said.
“But my client had no foreknowledge of anything that was going on between those groups, and they didn’t go up there to participate in any violent outbreak,” Clarke said. “Honestly, I believe probably 100 or more bikers are in the same posture. Some may have gone up there with bad intentions, but I don’t think the majority did.”
Corsicana attorney John Jackson, a solo practitioner hired to represent Ronald Atterbury, a Cossack from Gatesville, said he might have to hire someone to assist him in reviewing the discovery as it continues to come in waves.
“I haven’t run across anything yet that applies to my client,” Jackson said.
Jackson and Clarke said defense attorneys involved in the Twin Peaks cases have been given five rounds of discovery from the DA’s office, which is required by statute to provide any and all evidence to the defense, regardless of whether the evidence points to guilt or innocence.
The DA’s office recalled the sixth round of evidence last month after it was discovered some of the bikers’ cellphone images that were released contained child pornography.
As a former Navarro County district attorney and former state district judge, Jackson said he appreciates the task Reyna’s office is dealing with because of the massive amount of evidence collected during the chaotic event.
“It would be completely debilitating,” Jackson said. “I don’t understand how they can do it. It is a massive undertaking.”
Jackson said other lawyers may be hesitant to push ahead to trial until they have had time to review all the evidence, including some that might tend to exonerate their clients.
In the meantime, county officials are contemplating how to fund the huge expense of prosecuting all the cases. McLennan County Auditor Stan Chambers said the county has paid $62,026 so far in court-appointed attorneys’ fees. That total will multiply dramatically as the cases drag on and as the 70 to 80 court-appointed attorneys continue to review the mountain of discovery at $75 an hour for out-of-court time and $80 an hour for in-court time.
As the first cases are tried in McLennan County, the potential remains for changes of venue for remaining defendants. Trying the cases away from Waco would double or triple the cost to the county, officials say.
As more bikers go to trial, their attorneys likely will feel the need to hire experts in a number of subjects, including ballistics, crime scene analysis, DNA and others, which also will increase the costs to the county.
And it has been suggested the DA’s office could upgrade the charges against a few of the bikers to capital murder and seek the death penalty in those cases. Capital murder cases are extremely expensive and include year after year of appeals if there are convictions.
Even 18 months later, it is not possible to say how much the entire prosecution of the Twin Peaks cases will cost McLennan County, officials say.