Largest State Criminal Defense Lawyers Assoc: Waco PD Detective Should not Decide Biker Cases

Detective Jame Head - WFAA Screenshot
Photo: WFAA Video Screenshot

The largest state association for the criminal defense bar in the nation has said that it would be “shocking” for a Waco Police Department detective to sit on a grand jury in the Twin Peaks biker cases.

Breitbart Texas reported that one of the two McLennan County criminal district court judges named a Waco police detective foreman over a newly-selected grand jury. This grand jury could end up determining the fate of some, or all, of the 177 bikers arrested at the Twin Peaks restaurant on May 17. The shoot-out killed nine bikers and wounded twenty others. Law enforcement officials and judges have been soundly criticized for their handling of these cases.

Sam E. Bassett, the president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TCDLA) has issued a statement on behalf of the organization saying it is their hope that this grand jury does not decide the biker cases.

The TCDLA is the largest state association for criminal defense attorneys in the United States. The organization provides assistance, support, and education to its 3,200 members – the “who’s who” of the criminal defense profession in Texas.

The statement from the TCDLA rebukes the Waco judge for appointing a Waco police detective as foreman over a grand jury that may decide the biker cases. The president of the group, Sam Bassett, stated the appointment “is shocking, even though within the technical requirements of the law regarding grand jury service.”

Bassett writes, “The fact that a District Judge approved this appointment makes it even more concerning.”

The criminal defense lawyer from Austin, Texas, asks: “Imagine a private investigator for one of the defendants’ attorneys being appointed to the grand jury considering the case?” The lawyer continues, “That would not be any more appropriate.”

Speaking for the TCDLA, Bassett writes that the organization’s concern with the Twin Peaks biker cases began when “a Justice of the Peace with strong law enforcement ties set identical bonds of $1,000,000 for each person arrested.” He noted that it took weeks for most of the bonds to be reduced, and many lost their jobs while they sat in jail.

Bassett writes, “The delays in getting proper bonds set with ‘cut and paste’ arrest warrants was a breakdown in our system of justice.”

The leader of the nation’s largest state criminal defense association concluded, “TCDLA believes that you carry out justice, even in complex cases, if there is a commitment to due process from both sides of the bar and judges. It is hoped that a stronger commitment moving forward will be implemented.”

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that Detective James Head was among the first 14 who were qualified to serve on the grand jury panel. The detective told the paper his being selected as grand jury foreman, “is kind of unusual.”

The judge who appointed the detective as foreman, Judge Ralph Strother told the Tribune-Herald, “That’s the way it turned out.” He continued, Texas law states that the first 12 people who are qualified are selected for the grand jury.”

Criminal law experts, and Texas state senators who sit on legislative committees that decide criminal justice issues, do not agree.

Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee John Whitmire (D-Houston), told Breitbart Texas, “The whole point is the appearance of perception and fairness. This does not pass the perception test. This does not pass the reality test.”

Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston) declared, “I do not want to second -guess the judge, but the appearance of impropriety could raise some concerns. The judge had the ability to disqualify the officer; maybe he can be a very good grand juror.” Sen. Huffman serves as vice chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is a former criminal district court judge.

Senator Whitmire continued, “Starting with a police officer as the foreman of the grand jury is a horrible start. I am surprised the U.S. Department of Justice has not gotten involved.”

As reported by Breitbart Texas, Senators Joan Huffman and John Whitmire agree that the new law relating to grand jury selection does not require that the first 12 qualifying grand jurors be chosen. They both say that the appearance of impropriety is what is key. The judges and district clerk in Waco signed an order in June that implemented this new selection process into their procedures.

“The Waco Bench and DA’s office should look in the mirror and realize how foolish this looks to the outside world,” said famed Houston lawyer Dick Deguerin in response to a prior inquiry from Breitbart Texas. “First they round up the usual suspects, charge them all with a fill-in-the-blank complaint, set ridiculous million dollar bonds, refuse to have timely hearings, then put a local cop in charge of the grand jury. Even Stevie Wonder could see how unfair this looks.”

Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and an associate family court judge. Follow her on Twitter@LanaShadwick2

TCDLA President Statement on Waco Grand Jury Foreman



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