McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. “Pete” Peterson, who has been a lightning rod for criticism in the wake of the May 17 Twin Peaks shootout, said Thursday he has changed his mind about presiding over examining trials for 16 bikers and will allow a retired judge to hear them.
Senior State District Judge James Morgan, who formerly presided over the 220th Judicial District of Bosque, Comanche and Hamilton counties, was appointed earlier this week to hear the examining trial of Hewitt resident Matthew Clendennen because another judge recused Peterson last month.
Peterson, a former state trooper, said earlier this week that Morgan would hear Clendennen’s examining trial and that of Drew David King, a biker from Dripping Springs, who also filed a motion to recuse Peterson, but that he would hear the other 16 examining trials filed in his court.
But on Thursday, Peterson said he decided to allow Morgan to hear those cases. He declined comment on why he changed his mind.
Clint Broden, a Dallas lawyer who represents Clendennen, filed a judicial complaint against Peterson and has been openly critical of Peterson’s involvement in the wake of the May 17 shootout that left nine bikers dead and 18 wounded.
Broden complained that it was inappropriate for Peterson to say he set bonds for 177 bikers arrested at $1 million to send a message about the gravity of the incident.
He also was critical of Peterson issuing arrest warrants that relied on what Broden called “fill-in-the-blank” arrest warrant affidavits that Broden claims included insufficient probable cause and identical allegations for every biker.
In his order appointing Morgan to hear the Clendennen examining trial, Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, administrative judge of the 26-county 3rd Judicial Region, also gave Morgan authority to hear any of the 19 other cases involving bikers who have requested examining trials.
Bikers had examining trials set to be heard Friday in Waco’s Municipal Court and in Waco’s 19th State District Court. But the request for an examining trial in Municipal Court was withdrawn Thursday, and the hearing in 19th State District Court was postponed until Aug. 28.
Justice of the Peace David Pareya, of West, had two examining trials set in his court, but one was postponed last month and the other withdrew the request, Pareya said Thursday. No date has been set to hear the case that was postponed, he said.
Examining trials are rare in McLennan County. They are held, primarily, when a defendant can’t post bond and challenges the sufficiency of evidence to support his arrest and to allow his attorney to get an early glimpse of the evidence against him.
The state’s burden of proof in examining trials is much less than in a trial, where a defendant’s guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
If a judge rules there was insufficient cause for an arrest, a defendant is not bound over for trial and is relieved of the responsibilities and restrictions of his or her bond, if the defendant no longer is in jail.
Only two of the 177 bikers arrested remain in the McLennan County Jail. Both have charges pending from other counties.