After three months of complaints, accusations, recusals and resets, a visiting judge Tuesday approved a revised examining trial schedule for 17 bikers arrested in the May 17 Twin Peaks shootout.
With only two of 177 bikers who were arrested on engaging in organized criminal activity charges remaining in the McLennan County Jail, and the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office releasing some of its evidence to defense attorneys, the scheduled examining trials don’t have the sense of urgency they once did.
Retired State District Judge James Morgan has been given the authority to hear the cases. McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. “Pete” Peterson, who was recused in one case, will allow Morgan to hear 16 others filed in Peterson’s court.
Morgan was appointed to hear the examining trial of Matthew Clendennen after the Hewitt man’s attorney, Clint Broden, was successful in having Peterson recused from hearing the case. Broden withdrew his request for an examining trial on Clendennen’s behalf earlier this week, Peterson said.
Morgan, who will hear the examining trials in the courthouse annex visiting courtroom, has scheduled three hearings for Monday, four for Aug. 19, three for Aug. 24, two for Aug. 26, three for Aug. 27 and two for Aug. 28.
Examining trials are rare in McLennan County and are set normally for those who remain in jail, have not been indicted and who challenge the sufficiency of evidence backing their arrests.
Primarily, the hearings are used by defense attorneys to get a look at the evidence against their clients.
If a judge rules there was not probable cause for the arrest, the defendant is freed from obligations surrounding his arrest, including conditions of bond. But it does not preclude the district attorney’s office from indicting the defendant later if prosecutors think they have a case.
Burden of proof
The state’s burden of proof in examining trials is much less than in a criminal trial, in which a defendant’s guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Four bikers who had requested examining trials withdrew their requests in the past few days, and two others have requested them, Peterson said.
Morgan presided over the 220th Judicial District of Bosque, Comanche and Hamilton counties before he retired.
Broden 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.
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.