With McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson’s reluctant decision Tuesday to dismiss all 24 remaining Twin Peaks cases, we can confidently consign this confounding criminal saga to the history books — and to any number of legal and criminal justice symposiums. When history is written about the 2015 shootout at a Waco “breastaurant” between rival biker groups that left nine bikers dead, it will note that none of the Bandidos or Cossacks involved was convicted in the mayhem. Ballistics and forensic evidence during the only criminal trial stemming from the violence — that of Dallas Bandidos chieftain Jake Carrizal a year and a half ago — showed that at least four of the nine died with police bullets in them. Who killed the others?
As for those aforementioned legal symposiums to come, debate will focus on how the cases were mishandled from the start. Legal scholars and criminologists will discuss the 177 bikers held in county lockup for weeks on “cookie-cutter” arrest warrant affidavits and jaw-dropping, million-dollar bonds, the latter slapped on almost every biker arrested “to send a message,” Justice of the Peace W.H. “Pete” Peterson said at the time. The snail’s pace with which our criminal justice system expedited bond reductions and release of those behind bars only contributed to the outrage. Some bikers claimed they weren’t even at the Twin Peaks fight but arrived late.
Experts will debate then-District Attorney Abel Reyna’s ambitious prosecutorial strategy of indicting 155 bikers on unwieldy organized-crime charges rather than charges such as murder — and whether this ambition simply outstripped the evidence actually available. Reyna, in one of his few remarks about his strategy to the Trib, suggested it counted heavily on federal prosecutors sharing evidence from their organized-crime case against national Bandidos leadership in San Antonio. After Carrizal’s mistrial in 2017, however, the air went out of Reyna’s strategy as allegations of corruption and cronyism involving the DA made him the story as much as the bikers he once sought to prosecute.
Questions linger over whether Waco police did all they could to prevent bloodshed between the Cossacks and the Bandidos on May 17, 2015, though those officers who fired on bikers after violence erupted were cleared by a grand jury. And Reyna’s team at least made clear during the Carrizal trial that police weren’t the only ones exacting a deadly toll that day. Even Carrizal acknowledged he might have died but for Waco police.
Some will insist DA Johnson’s office should have rededicated itself to seeing justice done, given that some of the bikers who obviously contributed to death and mayhem now walk free. Yet other charges such as attempted murder and aggravated assault are now impossible because the three-year statutes of limitations were reached before Johnson took office in January. Factor in cost, the great passage of time, the missed opportunities, the bungling by so many in the local criminal justice system, and you have not only the very definition of “melee” but something that falls well short of justice for all.