The day after 106 bikers were indicted for their alleged roles in the May 17 Twin Peaks shootout, attorneys for the bikers continue to express shock and amazement at how the complex cases are being handled.
The attorneys questioned how much individual attention each case could have been afforded when so many indictments were handed down in the nine-hour grand jury session Tuesday.
“They are practicing law in a way that is unique to McLennan County,” Houston attorney Paul Looney said. “Nobody else in Texas treats people the way they are treating people. All these fill-in-the-blank charging affidavits and indictments. That is an outrage. These people are entitled to be treated individually, whether they are being arrested and booked or making bonds. They are also entitled to individual assessment when they are going before a grand jury.”
A McLennan County grand jury returned 106 indictments Tuesday in the 106 cases that District Attorney Abel Reyna said he and his staff presented. Of those, nine indictments were sealed because the defendants have not been arrested. That leaves 80 cases that were not considered by the grand jury that Reyna promised Tuesday would be considered by the panel “in some form or fashion.”
All bikers indicted Tuesday were charged in first-degree felony engaging in organized criminal activity indictments, with the underlying charges of murder and assault. Since the mass arrests of the bikers, attorneys have criticized what some have called the “cookie-cutter” arrest warrant affidavits and decried that each biker was jailed under identical allegations despite their actions that day. The indictments match the affidavits, they say, in the sense that they are identical except the name of the biker is different at the top.
‘5 minutes on each’
“I can’t believe the grand jury looked at those facts and came up with identical facts for everybody,” said Looney, whose client, Cody Ledbetter, of Waco, was indicted Tuesday. “If I take them at their word and they worked for nine hours, if nobody got up to pee, that means they spent five minutes on each one of these cases. If they are going to put these people in this position, make them squander their life savings, ruin their lives and tear families apart, they should be looking at all of these individually. Spending five minutes or less is just totally disrespectful.”
Typically, an average grand jury session lasts about six hours, and the panel returns about 90 indictments twice a month.
Looney also represents a married couple from Brenham, William and Morgan English, who were not indicted Tuesday.
“From the very first minute, I never expected they would indict the Englishes,” Looney said. “Nobody can say with a straight face that the Englishes were party to anything. It was bizarre they even got arrested.”
William Aikin, of Talco in northeast Texas, was the first named on the indictment list. His attorney, Robert Callahan, said he was not shocked that all 106 indictments were identical, like the arrest affidavits.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me,” Callahan said. “That is a consistent theme in this case.”
Callahan, a former prosecutor who ran a write-in campaign against Reyna last year, also noted that the grand jury spent an average of about five minutes evaluating each case.
“There are only two possibilities,” Callahan said. “The first possibility is that for the most complicated cases of this office’s tenure, he spent five minutes presenting each case. Or what is more likely, he just presented all those cases in bulk, with no individualized presentation of each case for each defendant. That is sad and unfortunate. That is not how it is supposed to work. There is supposed to be a critical, deliberate, methodical presentation of each case.”
San Antonio attorney Jay Norton represents Bandidos John Guerrero, Joseph Ortiz, Richard Donias, Lawrence Garcia, Juventino Montellano and Tom Mendez, all from San Antonio. Norton said he was “quite frankly shocked and surprised” by Tuesday’s grand jury process.
“I just thought they would be wiser and deal with reality,” Norton said. “I can only suppose that the only reason the other 80 people were not indicted is because they just didn’t get to them. But I can’t imagine they did any individual presentations on each individual defendant. I don’t buy the theory of the prosecution.”
155 bikers have been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, with the underlying offenses alleged to be murder and assault, including 15 who were not arrested on May 17, 2015. That means that 139 of the original 177 arrested bikers have been indicted and 38 have not.
Clint Broden, who represents indicted Hewitt biker Matthew Clendennen, said he could not discuss the matter because of a gag order 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson imposed solely in Clendennen’s case.
“Unlike Mr. Reyna, I believe I must follow the gag order that his office requested Judge Johnson to enter,” Broden said in a statement. “This gag order makes it difficult to respond to Mr. Reyna’s press conference, as I am prohibited from discussing the case and can only discuss the gag order itself.”
In response to Reyna’s speaking to the media Tuesday night about the results of the grand jury’s work, Broden filed another brief Wednesday with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals asking it to vacate its stay on a 10th Court of Appeals order lifting the gag order.
Broden argues in the supplemental brief that Reyna cannot in good faith appeal the 10th Court’s decision while he “continues to violate the very gag order he is asking this court to uphold.”
Broden’s motion charges that in the days following the May 17 shootout, Reyna and “other state actors engaged in an unrelenting campaign using world-wide media outlets which was designed to scare the public with pictures of roving ‘biker gangs.’ ”
Once Reyna accomplished that task, he sought the gag order, Broden alleges in his brief.
Broden previously has alleged in court briefs that Reyna has “unclean hands,” meaning he cannot appeal the order lifting the gag order while violating it.
“Perhaps emboldened by the court ‘declining to act’ in the past, (Reyna) has now moved on to giving press conferences about the case,” Broden wrote in his brief.
Reyna did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.