Many laws are written to establish justice. When a person is convicted, it is assumed the punishment will fit the crime. If the charged person is found innocent, he is released, presumably without further consequence.
The ancient law of Babylonian King Hammurabi establishes what’s known as lex talionis, commonly expressed as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” The law of “talion” in English law is the “law of retaliation.” It is legally authorized retaliation — punishment for a crime. And fear of misjudging guilt or innocence is one reason the ancients often required two witnesses, charting a clearer course to justice where both witnesses assert innocence or guilt.
Granted, all this legal tradition ultimately counts on someone in society actually pressing a case against the accused on behalf of society. Which brings us to the Twin Peaks criminal saga, which ended on April 2 with a whimper.
On May 17, 2015, nine people were killed and 20 people wounded in a shootout at the Twin Peaks “breastaurant” here in Waco. For law-abiding citizens of our community, surely crime was committed that day, and in broad daylight. Surely some of the participants in this brawl involving rival biker groups should now be in jail, perhaps for life.
As expected, as soon as the smoke began to clear, cries of innocence arose from the accused and their apologists. Many began actively asserting something along the lines of: “Yes, I was there, but, no, I was not involved. It was someone else, not me. Others acted in terrible fashion, but I, being steadfast and responsible, chose not to participate. Many of us were innocently there for a Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents meeting at the restaurant to discuss legislation pertaining to motorcycle safety. Yes, really!”
One purpose of the law is to discourage misbehavior and prescribe appropriate punishment for the guilty. And now nearly four years have passed. And everyone involved in this deadly dustup who isn’t dead has just been declared, so far as society is concerned, not guilty by reason of . . . what? What reason?
Is the passage of time a legitimate reason to excuse the death and violence that spring day? Are we just glad it’s all over? Forgive and forget? Move on?
After saying his election goal was serving up justice, new District Attorney Barry Johnson announced on April 2 that, in a “difficult decision” based on “existing facts and evidence in accordance with the laws of this state and in the interest of justice,” all remaining Twin Peaks cases (two dozen) were being dropped. In other words, no one was guilty under the law. Yes, the DA quite rationally explained there is not enough actual evidence from all the chaos and bloodshed to go to trial. And, yes, we saw how quickly the prosecution under Johnson’s predecessor unraveled during the one and only Twin Peaks trial in 2017. But are nine dead — with at least several killed by means other than police gunfire — insufficient evidence to press cases in these morally unstable times?
After the deadly 1993 Branch Davidian siege in nearby Elk, on the very outskirts of Waco, many of us were heartened by the arrival of all good things related to HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” and the various Magnolia enterprises of internationally popular home-restoration experts Chip and Joanna Gaines. All was well in God’s country. And then: 2015, Twin Peaks. Now we’re told that all of the Twin Peaks bikers are innocent. Well, maybe not exactly innocent but none can face viable prosecution, at least not at this time.
Why? Because of time? Because of protestations of being railroaded by the criminal justice system in McLennan County? Because of society’s supposedly prejudicial views of anyone riding a motorcycle and wearing a leather jacket with colorful insignia?
Blame the previous DA? Sure. Rather than initiate leadership, it’s always easier to blame the previous elected official, then do nothing. It’s the way in American politics.
In Matthew 5:37, Jesus says only “Yes” or “No” should suffice when we speak, and without additional oaths — to God, on our child’s life, on our mother’s grave. So are all the people who were part of the frenzied melee at Twin Peaks in 2015 innocent simply because they say so?
Can the parking lot videotapes, modern ballistics research and autopsy reports not bring even one culprit to justice? Nine dead by the light of day in Waco and no one gets justice in a town that prides itself on being tough on crime? If we believe in justice, there must be consequences. But when?
Rather than prosecute, the previous DA waited for his term to end through 2018. Let someone else do it. His successor has shown little interest in stirring the pot further, at least till loose lips one day justify dusting off one or two cases. So folks, move to Waco. We are a welcoming community. Our goal is justice for all. True, justice for nine dead is too much work. But if it happens again, we promise action. And enjoy the sights.