Two days after a state district judge extended the term of a McLennan County grand jury to consider the Twin Peaks shootout case, he changed his mind and withdrew the order.
Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court declined Thursday to discuss why he reversed his decision.
But his order says a new grand jury plan for McLennan County approved June 11 requires that all grand juries in the county be selected from a randomly drawn panel.
McLennan County District Clerk Jon Gimble said the judge thought it best to use the new method of grand jury selection since the judges already had put the new plan in place.
Johnson had extended the current grand jury’s term by 60 days at the request of the district attorney’s office “for the purpose of concluding the investigation into the incident at Twin Peaks, allegations and circumstances surrounding such incident.”
Because grand jury sessions are confidential, it is not known whether prosecutors have been reviewing the Twin Peaks shootout with the grand jury or had begun an examination of actions taken by Waco police officers involved in the May 17 shootout.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna did not return requests for comment Thursday.
The grand jury’s term expired at the end of June. A new grand jury will be selected under the new system July 8.
The Texas Legislature passed a new law that limits the manner in which grand juries are selected to randomly selected panels, in the same manner that juries are selected in criminal and civil trials.
The change puts an end to the so-called “key-man” or “pick-a-pal” system that McLennan County has used historically.
Under that system, judges selected four or five commissioners, and those commissioners nominated four or five prospective grand jurors each.
The first 12 who qualified and agreed to serve made up the grand jury.
Clint Broden, a Dallas attorney who represents Hewitt biker Matthew Clendennen, filed an objection Wednesday to Johnson’s decision to extend the grand jury’s term, saying the “pick-a-pal” system violates the due course of law clause to the Texas Constitution.
“The pick-a-pal system was done away with in the recent Texas legislative session,” Broden’s objection says.
“The sponsor of the bill changing the pick-a-pal system, Sen. John Whitmire, noted that the pick-a-pal system cast doubt upon the integrity of the process. ‘It’s just the perception — and the reality — that judges handpick their grand jurors through their commissioner. . . . It is just not realizing the diversity, the transparency, the openness that we’re looking for. It diminished the confidence that many communities have in the grand jury system.’ ”
The judge said he had not seen Broden’s objection when he decided to withdraw his order extending the grand jury.