HOUSTON, Texas – The criminal evidence room maintained by Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel is full of history and drama. The famous bed Harris County prosecutor Kelly Siegler used to straddle a fellow prosecutor is in that room. Brandishing the knife used by Susan Wright in a famous murder case, Siegler showed the jury how Wright stabbed her husband 193 times after she strapped him to the bed.
Siegler is now a co-host on the television show Cold Justice. The stiletto shoe used by Ana Trujillo to kill her lover in 2012, and the door from the David Temple case, is also in the evidence room. Temple is the former Katy, Texas, football coach who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife in the 1990s. The pick axe used by the first woman ever executed in the United States, Karla Faye Tucker, and the stove from the Jessica Tata case, are all there. Tata ran a daycare in her home and she was convicted of murder when four children died in a fire after she went shopping and left them alone.
Old case evidence is located in the Harris County jail on the eighth floor. The walls have peeling yellow paint and the storage area size is the equivalent of four cellblock units. Each unit contains 12 jail cells and the jail common area. New cases are held on the third floor of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center where the criminal courts, the Public Defender’s Office, and the District Attorney’s Office are located.
Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel told Breitbart Texas “This room is not only important for preserving evidence vital to justice; but also to maintain history. Many are able to go back and learn new aspects of old cases. And new techniques for law enforcement can be developed by examining these old cases. When once DNA was thought unimportant, or even cumbersome to the arresting officer, it is now what is helping to insure the actual criminal is behind bars.”
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure sets out the laws for retention of evidence and dictates what evidence Daniel is allowed to hold, and not hold. Texas law also governs what evidence is stored by what agency or department.
The District Clerk houses rape kits that have been tested in closed cases, cases where there has been a trial and conviction and there may be an appeal pending.
The District Clerk does not store firearms or drugs. This type of evidence is held by various law enforcement agencies.
Daniel said that due to the nature of the cases, the District Clerk’s Office has gone through six clerks in four years. Barbara Anderson has been the clerk of the evidence room since 2008. Daniel said “The nature of the types of crime take a very hard mental toll on the psyche. And it takes a strong mental will to do this job day in and day out.”
Ms. Anderson is also responsible for the modern reorganization of the evidence room. It was her hard work that helped free an innocent man. Anderson found the jeans that exonerated an alleged convicted capital murderer on death row, Michael Anthony Green. The interesting thing about this case is that the case evidence had met retention laws and the evidence had been destroyed. Because the jeans had been mislabeled and stored apart from the case evidence, the jeans survived.
Evidence in capital murders are now required to be maintained for the life of the defendant and until the first anniversary of their death. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for destroying old evidence that meets the retention statute; however, no evidence has been destroyed since Daniel took office.
Daniel has evidence that dates back to 1986. District Clerk Ray Hardy had the evidence destroyed to save space. The laws on retention of evidence were different then. Daniel keeps the evidence in famous historical cases indefinitely, like the Angel Maturino Resendiz railroad car murderer case.
Resendiz was an illegal alien transient riding on a railcar when he jumped off in a prominent neighborhood in Houston. He stabbed a female Houston doctor to death. He rode the railcar to each of his murders where he would use rocks, a pick axe, and other blunt objects to kill his victims. Senator Ted Cruz helped bring the Resendiz case to justice when he was Texas Solicitor General. Resendiz was executed in 2006.
Daniel told Breitbart Texas that evidence in famous cases are kept “For posterity. Lots of cases become the focus of scholars and law enforcement to improve on current methods.”
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She is a 22-year lawyer who has served as a judge and a prosecutor. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2