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Kelly Siegler

David Temple convicted again

New trial, same result.

A Harris County jury on Tuesday convicted David Temple of murder in the 1999 death of his pregnant wife, opening the door for the former Katy-area football coach to be sent back to prison several years after an appeals court reversed his original guilty verdict because of prosecutorial misconduct.

The panel of seven men and five women handed down the decision following almost eight hours of deliberation and 18 days of witness testimony, including evidence prosecutors withheld during the initial trial and which led to the reversal. In the end, jurors convicted David Temple of murder for a second time, rejecting the defense attorneys’ claim that an alternate suspect, a teenage neighbor, fatally shot Belinda Temple.

As state District Judge Kelli Johnson read the verdict, Temple cast his face downward, sweating and suppressing tears while his family members, including his adult son, burst into a chorus of sobs.

Just feet away, siblings and friends of Belinda Temple let out audible sighs of relief, comforted that the man they have long believed killed her could be locked up once more.

[…]

Testimony in the retrial revolved around two competing timelines of events on Jan. 11, 1999, the day Belinda was found shot to death in her master bedroom closet. David Temple told authorities that he came home from a trip to the park and store with his 3-year-old son and found his wife dead amid an apparent burglary.

Prosecutors argued that the husband — who was in the throes of a secret relationship with a coworker — had executed Belinda with a close-contact shotgun wound shortly after she arrived home from a work and a trip to pick up soup for her sick child. He washed his hands, changed his clothes, and left for the store, before returning home and staging a crime scene, state attorneys said. At some point during his shopping trip, prosecutors said, he ditched the murder weapon, which was never located.

Temple’s defense lawyers contended that their client didn’t have time to murder his wife, given a “narrow window” of opportunity when they were both home alone. They argued that the killing occurred while Temple was at the store, and was carried out by a 16-year-old neighbor who had a bone to pick with Belinda, who was also his teacher at Katy High School.

The neighbor testified during the retrial, telling jurors that he skipped the last class period of the day on Jan. 11, 1999. He said that he spent much of the afternoon on a mostly fruitless quest to find marijuana, and several of his high school friends corroborated parts of his story.

See here and here for the background, and here for the rest of my blogging about this. The re-trial was due to Temple’s attorneys successfully arguing that he had not received a fair trial in 1999 because of misconduct by then-Assistant DA Kelly Siegler. Current District Attorney Kim Ogg recused her office from the do-over, with prosecutors from the Attorney General’s office handling the case. In the end, it seems the jury didn’t buy Temple’s defense. Sentencing is still to come, but I imagine he’ll be spending some more time in prison.

David Temple re-trial is now underway

I continue to be fascinated by this.

It’s 1999 in Katy, Texas.

A seemingly perfect couple is falling apart at the seams. David Temple, a high school football coach, is having an affair with a beautiful teacher on campus. His wife, a beloved special education instructor, is becoming anxious. She’s also eight months pregnant.

It was an act of disloyalty, David Temple’s attorneys conceded with opposing state prosecutors. The legal parties disagree, however, on the events of Jan. 11, when Belinda Temple was found shot to death in the closet of her master bedroom.

Lawyers began to reconstruct the murder of Belinda Temple for Harris County jurors on Monday, launching testimony for her husband’s second criminal trial in 12 years. Unlike the first trial, when jurors found David Temple guilty in the killing – a decision that was later overturned by an appeals court – attorneys were tasked with making the panel understand a story from another era.

“We’re going to go back in time,” David Temple’s attorney, Stanley Schneider, began his opening argument on Monday. “We’re going to hear a story of betrayal, two betrayals.”

The lawyer told jurors that while the defendant was unfaithful to his wife, law enforcement also betrayed citizens by operating with “tunnel vision” in the case, which rocked the Katy area in the early 2000s and has maintained a hold in the county ever since.

[…]

“There was only one person on this Earth who had the motive, the means and the opportunity to cause her death,” said Lisa Tanner, a state prosecutor re-trying the case in lieu of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which recused itself after the initial verdict was reversed. Investigators didn’t charge anyone with the crime at first but had questions about Temple’s account, Tanner said. The family’s dog was aggressive and made it difficult for police officers to even gain entry into the yard, making them wonder how a burglar could have made it past. The break-in also seemed staged, Tanner said, as evidenced by the location of broken glass on the floor.

Surveillance videos located Temple being where he said he was on two instances, but the videos are separated by a nearly 45-minute gap, Tanner said.

See here for the background and here for all posts. Again, I don’t have anything to add. We just don’t see many re-trials like this, especially in cases where the original prosecutors had been found to have withheld possibly exculpatory evidence. We’ll never know the answer to the questiof what might have happened if they had played by the rules back then, but we’ll see what happens now that this evidence is known to all. I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

David Temple re-trial starts

The beginning of the next chapter in a long story.

For the second time in 12 years, a former Katy-area football coach is standing trial in the murder of his pregnant wife, seeking exoneration after prosecutorial misconduct caused his first conviction to be reversed.

David Temple’s return to court takes place almost 20 years after his wife’s death, which he has insisted was the result of a botched break-in at their home. The murder and trial in 2007 became drew national attention and the case has remained controversial ever since.

Jury selection began Thursday and will continue this week, with testimony due to begin next month. State District Judge Kelli Johnson, special prosecutors from the Texas Attorney General’s Office and defense attorneys are choosing from a pool of 240 potential jurors.

The amount of time that has lapsed usually benefits the defense, said Sandra Guerra Thompson, director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston. It remains to be seen what evidence withheld from the first trial will be presented.

“We probably shouldn’t expect any surprises,” she said. “The question is how much the prosecutors’ case has degraded over time.”

See here for all the background I have on this. The case is being prosecuted by a lawyer from the Attorney General’s office, as DA Kim Ogg recused her office due to the allegations of misconduct against the office from the past. Suffice it to say that this case is a hot potato, and people have strong feelings about it and about David Temple. I’m just interested in seeing how it plays out this time around.

David Temple released on bond

We’ll see what happens next.

More than 17 years after the shooting death of his pregnant wife, former football coach David Temple walked out of the Harris County jail Wednesday and into the waiting arms of his family, ready to stand trial again if necessary for a murder he steadfastly maintains he didn’t commit.

Wearing a bright red shirt, Temple embraced his mother, father and two brothers, telling the media his release was possible only through God and the support of his family and attorneys.

“It’s been a long journey, and fortunately a portion of that journey has been completed,” Temple said. “We’re waiting for justice to be served, and for the people who put me there, who lied and cheated, be held accountable … .”

But Temple’s appellate attorney, Stan Schneider, cut him off, advising him not to speak further about the case.

Temple, 48, was released on a $30,000 bond and is set to appear in court Jan. 4 to show he will cooperate with any potential retrial or other proceedings. His conviction was overturned by the state’s highest criminal appeals court amid findings of prosecutorial misconduct.

[…]

Temple was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2007 after a volatile trial that pitted prominent defense attorney Dick DeGuerin against legendary prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who later became the star of her own TV show.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded last month that prosecutors withheld significant evidence from defense attorneys, including information about an alternative suspect. Siegler has defended her actions in the case but could not be reached for comment.

Incoming District Attorney Kim Ogg – who takes office next week – has indicated her office will review the case and decide whether to proceed with a new trial.

Temple was granted a new trial late last month, with the district court ruling that found prosecutorial misconduct coming down last July. It will be interesting to see how Kim Ogg handles this, as it’s not clear to me there’s an obviously correct path to follow. One could reasonably conclude that despite the misconduct findings, Temple is still guilty and should be tried again, this time with all of the known evidence available to the defense so there are no further questions about the DA’s behavior. One could also conclude that even if Temple did do it, the odds of convicting him now are too slim to be worth the investment of resources it would take to re-try him, and he did serve nine years so it’s not like he got away with it. I don’t envy Ogg the decision.

One more thing:

The appeals court ruled DeGuerin was denied access to approximately 1,400 pages of offense reports, including an investigation of another possible suspect – a teenage neighbor accused of stealing two shotguns similar to the one used in the murder.

It was the fifth time since 2015 that the state’s highest appeals court has ordered a review of murder convictions based on prosecutorial misconduct in the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

Emphasis mine. Whatever you think of Kim Ogg or Devon Anderson or Pat Lykos or whoever else, if at the end of her tenure we can say that the Court of Criminal Appeals did not question any of her murder convictions based on prosecutorial misconduct, she will have accomplished something significant. The Press has more.

David Temple granted new trial

Wow.

Kelly Siegler

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday granted a new trial to David Temple, a former Katy football coach accused of killing his pregnant wife in 1999.

In an opinion posted online Wednesday morning, the court of criminal appeals sided with Temple’s lawyers, who argued in state district court in 2015 that Harris County prosecutors had illegally withheld crucial information during the 2007 trial.

“First things first: We get David out of jail,” said attorney Stan Schneider Wednesday in his downtown office.

Schneider said Temple will be eligible to bond out of jail in a few weeks, barring appeals from the state. If Temple’s case gets a new trial, Schneider will lead the defense, though he couldn’t say if the evidence withheld in the 2007 trial seemed likely to change the outcome.

It will be up to the incoming Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg, whether to appeal the court’s latest ruling or agree to go forward with a new trial.

The court filing Wednesday said several hundred pages of police reports had been withheld from the defense until sometime during the trail, in violation of legal precedent.

“The prosecutor believed, as evidenced by her testimony at the writ hearing, that she was not required to turn over favorable evidence if she did not believe it to be relevant, inconsistent or credible,” the filing said.

See here for previous blogging. The CCA isn’t exactly known for second-guessing prosecutors, so this is a big deal. Kelly Siegler has vigorously defended her actions since the allegations about her withholding evidence came out during the district court hearing last year, but as yet I have not seen a statement from her. It will be interesting to see what Kim Ogg decides to do with this – she could decline to go forward, try to work a plea deal, or ask the court to reconsider its decision. Whatever she decides to do, I’m guessing she’ll take her time making that decision.

Meanwhile, the CCA issued another big decision on what was clearly a big day before Thanksgiving for them.

Four San Antonio women who were imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls more than 20 years ago are innocent and exonerated, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday.

In the summer of 1994, the two girls – ages 7 and 9 – stayed at the home of their aunt, Elizabeth Ramirez, while their mother was away in Colorado, according to court records. Ramirez’s one-time girlfriend, Kristie Mayhugh, lived with her, and another couple – Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera – would visit the apartment frequently. When the girls returned home, their grandmother reportedly notice a change in the girls’ behavior.

“[T]hey were subdued, scared, and refused to make eye contact. In mid-September, [their grandmother] noticed the girls playing with their dolls in a sexual manner,” according to court papers. “When she asked the girls why they were doing this, [one of the girls said] she and her sister had been sexually assaulted at their aunt’s apartment by the four women.”

In 1997, Ramirez, considered the ringleader, was sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison. The following year, the other women each were handed down 15-year sentences. In 2012, one of the victims announced she was coerced into making a false accusation. That same year, Vasquez was released from prison on parole, and in 2013, the other women were released as the case received another look.

The women are collectively known as the San Antonio Four, and getting a ruling of actual innocence, which qualifies them to receive recompense from the state, is not an easy thing to do; in fact, the visiting judge that originally freed them from prison didn’t think they met the standard for actual innocence. This Texas Monthly story about a documentary that was released last year, is a good overview of the case, so go give it a read. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera. Grits and the Current, which also has some good background and links to further reading, have more.

UPDATE: More from Texas Monthly.

Another view of the Temple case

The Press devotes a cover story to the David Temple case and the allegations that then-Assistant DA Kelly Siegler withheld evidence from the defense.

Kelly Siegler

In July 2015, visiting Judge Larry Gist issued his damning decree: 36 findings of prosecutorial misconduct in which Siegler either suppressed evidence or disclosed it too late, depriving Temple of a fair trial. He also accused Siegler of interfering with developments in the case four years after she left office, saying she worked in concert with a detective to intimidate a witness who came forward with information pointing to the real killer.

Ultimately, Gist recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Temple’s conviction be overturned and that he receive a new trial. The appeals court decision is pending. When contacted by the Houston Press, Gist declined comment.

Siegler stands by her work on the case. As she told the Press, “David Temple was convicted by a fair and impartial jury after a long and hard-fought six-week trial. Nothing improper was done by anyone with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the DA’s office or by me on this case. Dick DeGuerin and his team have done everything they can to mislead…and manipulate the press and the system in their attempts to blame a 16-year-old teenage boy instead of Temple as being the murderer of Belinda and Erin. We believe in the system and that the truth will prevail.”

After Gist issued his findings, local media pounced on Siegler with a stinging rebuke of her performance in the Temple case. A tough-as-nails former prosecutor with a cable TV show was the perfect target, especially in Texas, which had recently witnessed the exoneration of Michael Morton, an innocent man who, like Temple, was convicted of killing his wife, and who spent 25 years in prison because an overzealous district attorney sat on exculpatory evidence.

The Houston Chronicle excoriated Siegler in an editorial: “While Temple has been sitting behind bars for eight years, Siegler has climbed the ladder to D-list celebrity status. That’s not the payoff the public should expect for prosecutors.” The editorial board stated, “For someone who built a career playing to juries, perhaps there should be little surprise that Siegler tried to pull the strings on the entire courtroom.”

Siegler’s career was tarnished overnight. Held to the highest standards — and rightly so — prosecutors can be accused of nothing worse than railroading an innocent defendant. And the proof seemed to be right there in Gist’s findings, just as Temple’s attorneys had promised.

But in the rush to persecute Siegler and make a martyr of Temple, the media neglected to compare Gist’s findings to the trial record. If they had, they would have seen that the findings don’t stand up to scrutiny — they’re a flawed and often contradictory assessment of what actually occurred at trial. A closer look doesn’t suggest proof of a reckless prosecutor caught in her tracks but of shrewd defense attorneys able to kick up enough dust to cloud a judge’s vision.

Gist’s findings state that witnesses said things they never said; they misstate when DeGuerin was given access to certain records; and they mischaracterize dubious statements as material and exculpatory.

Ultimately, the findings tell a misleading story of yet another innocent man sacrificed on the altar of prosecutorial ego. They don’t tell the story of what really happened at trial, or what happened on a January night in 1999, when Belinda Temple was killed with a shotgun blast to the back of her head, on her knees and in cold blood.

See here, here, and here for the background. The story is very skeptical of the allegations made against Siegler – it’s basically a fuller version of this post – and it does a good job of making Judge Gist’s findings seem shaky. Read the whole thing and see what you think. I can’t wait to see what the Court of Criminal Appeals does with this.

DA’s office responds to Temple case allegations

Their view differs, to say the least.

Kelly Siegler

Three months after a judge ruled that a Katy man convicted of murdering his wife did not get a fair trial and excoriated the prosecutor who handled the case, saying she withheld evidence, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office filed objections to the decision, tackling it point-by-point, and defended its attorney.

In an 80-page court filing released Wednesday, prosecutors objected to findings made by state District Judge Larry Gist, who in June issued a long-awaited ruling in the case involving the 2007 murder trial of David Temple.

[…]

In the district attorney’s objections to Gist’s ruling, prosecutors offer a point-by-point rebuttal.

“(Gist’s) findings concerning alleged exculpatory evidence are either directly contradicted by the record, not supported by the record, or refer to information that is not exculpatory and/or material so that Brady is neither implicated nor violated …,” according to prosecutors. The objections note that four of Gist’s findings address issues that happened after the trial, so they did not affect whether he got a fair trial.

Siegler has denied any wrongdoing in the case. In a response to the ruling, she said she disagreed with Gist and looked forward to a detailed and documented response from the District Attorney’s Office.

That response arrived Wednesday with hundreds of points of contention arguing that the evidence was handed over with enough time for Temple’s defense attorney Dick Deguerin to make use of it.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have anything to add here, I’m just looking forward to what the Court of Criminal Appeals has to say. The Press, which is skeptical of Judge Gist’s findings, has more.

Siegler gets sued

Oy vey.

Kelly Siegler

Prominent former Houston prosecutor Kelly Siegler built a 20-year career out of securing convictions in tough murder cases, especially those that for years had been unsolved.

It was that reputation for tenacity and pluck that landed the local legend a starring role on “Cold Justice,” a nationally televised reality show, after she left the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in 2008.

But this week, she found herself again fighting for her reputation after an Ohio man who was acquitted earlier this year of a 1981 slaying sued Siegler, her TV show and law enforcement for defamation.

Steven Noffsinger filed suit last week because of an August 2014 broadcast in which he was accused of killing his ex-wife, Alma, more than 30 years earlier.

Noffsinger was found not guilty in May after spending nine months in jail without bail after being indicted in the Ohio slaying.

“The defendants’ collective investigations, which occurred in 2014, were an attempt to resurrect a “cold case,” and resulted in an unreasonably reckless disregard for and malicious prosecution of plaintiff in violation of the United States and Ohio Constitutions and state law,” the lawsuit states.

[…]

Across the country, at least two other people have said allegations by the show have devastated their lives.

Earlier this year in Des Moines, Iowa, Theresa Supine was found not guilty in the 1983 beating deaths of her husband and his teenage girlfriend. She was charged last year, after being targeted by the show.

Supine told the Des Moines Register in February that she was considering suing “Cold Justice.”

Last year in Tennessee, a boat repairman filed a lawsuit alleging defamation after the show televised an episode implicating him in the 2010 stabbing deaths of a woman and her 8-year-old son.

Joshua Singletary claims police and the television painted him in a false light and violated his rights, according to published accounts. Although he was charged after the crime, those charges were dropped. The case remains open.

I haven’t watched the show, and I know nothing of these cases, so I have no comment on the merits of the claims against Siegler and others associated with Cold Justice. It is a reminder that an arrest is not a resolution to a case, no matter how much fanfare there is. Be all that as it may, it sure has been a tumultuous couple of months for Kelly Siegler, hasn’t it?

Siegler responds to Temple case allegations

She comes out swinging.

Kelly Siegler

Legendary former prosecutor Kelly Siegler for the first time has responded to allegations of 36 instances of prosecutorial misconduct during an infamous 2007 murder trial.

In a statement to the Houston Chronicle by her lawyer, noted Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, Siegler said:

“The Chronicle has neglected to mention that the findings made by Judge Gist in the latest Temple hearing are made by the 13th judge to hear the exact same assertions previously made by Dick DeGuerin on behalf of his client,” she said. “While I always respect any judge I practice in front of, I do disagree with these findings and look forward to detailed and documented response to be filed by the District Attorney’s office in the near future.”

[…]

The statement is the first that Siegler has released since the rulings were issued on July 9. She has steadily refused to return calls for comment, which she addresses in the remainder of her statement on the case.

“I have refrained from commenting to the Chronicle because its coverage appears to be slanted – the Chronicle has neglected to include statements from the District Attorney’s office or the lawyers who represent the then-teenagers who are being portrayed as potential suspects in the murder of Belinda Temple, the family of Belinda Temple who lost both Belinda and her unborn daughter Erin, any member of law enforcement who worked the case for nine years, or that of a single of more than 40 witnesses who testified during the six week trial.”

See here for the background. This isn’t the only accusation of prosecutorial misconduct by Siegler in recent months, but it is the only one she addressed at this time. I think the charges are serious enough to merit investigation, but I suppose if I were Kelly Siegler, I’d refuse to give any ground, too. We’ll see what happens in the other case, or if anything else comes out of the Temple retrial if the CCA agrees with the recommendation to grant him one.

More allegations against Kelly Siegler

Here they come.

Kelly Siegler

Howard Guidry was 18 years old when he was charged being the triggerman in a 1994 murder-for-hire case that involved a Missouri City police officer and his estranged wife. Twice he was convicted and sent to death row, and both times the prosecutor who sent him there was Kelly Siegler, the legendary Houston attorney who has been accused of withholding evidence in another high-profile murder case.

Now Guidry’s attorneys are saying she used the same tactics when she prosecuted their client, both in the original trial, which was overturned on appeal, and again when he was retried.

“Here it is – the same patterns and practices,” said Gwendolyn Payton, a lawyer at Lane Powell PC, a Seattle law firm that took on Guidry’s case pro bono. “And how many more are out there? It’s just really troubling.”

In the wake of District Judge Larry Gist’s ruling earlier this month, which said Siegler withheld evidence in the trial of David Temple and recommended a new trial for the Katy man, lawyers for Guidry are preparing to file amendments to a 2013 appeal explaining how her behavior in Guidry’s case is similar to what she did in the Temple case.

“We are alleging the same acts, independent of the Temple case,” Payton said. “We didn’t even know about the Temple case until that ruling.”

[…]

There are several striking resemblances between the Brady material that was not released in Temple’s 2007 trial and Guidry’s two death penalty trials, including evidence of other suspects and exculpatory evidence about the murder weapon.

In what may be the most damning example, Guidry’s lawyers were never told that crime scene investigators found fingerprints that were not Guidry’s on Farah Fratta’s car door and front fender where the shooter would have stood. The fingerprints were from another man who resembled Guidry and was friends with one of the suspects in the case.

The fingerprints that were found next to the body of the estranged wife were never disclosed to Guidry’s defense lawyers. The man resembling Guidry, who was part of the ring of suspects in the case, was never charged. Police investigating the slaying found human blood in the car he owned, which matched the description of the getaway car that witnesses saw, including having only one headlight.

In an appeal with hundreds of pages of arguments and sworn affidavits, Guidry’s lawyers allege numerous instances of misconduct. They contend Siegler hid the identity of the suspect resembling Guidry, his fingerprints and the fact that there was blood on the seat of his car.

In the Temple ruling, Gist took Siegler to task after she testified that Brady material did not need to be disclosed if she didn’t believe it.

“Of enormous significance was the prosecutor’s testimony at the habeas hearing that apparently favorable evidence did not need to be disclosed if the state did not believe it was true,” Gist wrote.

Lawyers for Guidry say the investigation of the man whose fingerprints were found is just one of the many pieces of evidence that was withheld.

“The trial counsel for sure never got that evidence,” Payton said. “It should have been disclosed under Brady, I don’t think anyone can argue unless you’re using the ‘Kelly Siegler rule’ that she didn’t find it credible.”

See here for some background. I vaguely remember this case, though I don’t recall any details or that there was a controversy about how the trial was conducted. As such, I have no insight as to the merit of these allegations. I do think the so-called “Kelly Siegler rule” is wrong and cannot be allowed to serve as a standard for what qualifies as Brady material. I don’t know what the standard should be, but it needs to be more inclusive than what the prosecution thinks the defense might need. I hope the generally prosecution-friendly Court of Criminal Appeals can provide some better guidance, because I strongly suspect Kelly Siegler isn’t the only prosecutor, and David Temple and Howard Guidry aren’t the only defendants, to whom this would need to apply. Hair Balls has more.

The David Temple case

I have not followed this very closely, but it definitely deserves all the attention it has received.

Kelly Siegler

There’s a 1,300-page offense report detailing the investigation into the fatal shooting of Belinda Temple in 1999. There are audio tapes of witnesses who saw the pregnant teacher at Katy High School on the day she was killed later than previously thought. There’s a statement from a teenage neighbor that the Temples’ dog, known for its viciousness, would calm down after sniffing him.

Those are three examples of evidence withheld from David Temple’s defense lawyers that could have helped him at his 2007 trial, lawyers said Monday, as they called for a special prosecutor to investigate the notorious Katy slaying and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Their request comes days after a judge outlined 36 different instances of prosecutorial misconduct by former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and said Temple deserves a new trial.

“David is innocent. He has been convicted of a crime he did not commit,” David Temple’s brother, Darren, told reporters. “We are horrified by the voluminous suppressed evidence, the lies and the prosecutorial misconduct that has occurred over the last 10 years.”

Temple was convicted in 2007 of murder in the fatal shooting death of his wife, Belinda Lucas Temple.

[…]

With the ruling from state District Judge Larry Gist, Temple could get a new trial. The judge’s findings will be forwarded to the state’s highest criminal court to decide.

In the wake of that 19-page decision from Gist, Temple’s family called for District Attorney Devon Anderson to agree that Temple should be free on bail while the case winds its way through the appeals process. They also asked that Anderson reopen the murder case. Both requests were denied by the elected district attorney, who said her office disagrees with Gist’s ruling.

“The Court of Criminal Appeals will rule on the Temple case after a thorough review of the judge’s findings, and the objections filed by our office,” Anderson said in a prepared statement. “Any actions such as reopening an investigation into this case would be premature.”

In his ruling, Gist looked at several assertions by the defense, including that Temple was “actually innocent.” The judge found that he did not hear enough evidence during a 26-day hearing beginning in December to justify “actual innocence.”

He did agree that evidence that could have helped Temple was either delayed so much that it was not helpful or withheld completely.

On Monday, Temple’s attorneys said they will seek the appointment of a special prosecutor to reinvestigate the murder case and the prosecutors accused of withholding evidence and interfering with the appeals process.

“There’s a systemic problem in Harris County,” said Temple’s defense lawyer, Stanley Schneider. “Maybe it’s time for an attorney pro tem to be appointed.”

He blamed a “win at all costs” culture and said it permeated the office from 2002 to 2008 under former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

Attorney Casie Gotro said prosecutors who are still at the office continue to “stonewall” defense efforts to look at all of the evidence.

“We’ve been repeatedly told that things ‘don’t exist’ only to find out later that they do,” Gotro said. “And without fail, they either benefit the defense theory or undermine the state’s theory.”

Here’s the written opinion by the judge in the habeas case, in which the court concluded “the defendant has shown he was denied a fair trial because of the state’s failure to disclose or timely disclose favorable evidence; and that had evidence been disclosed or disclosed timely, the results of the trial would have been different”. Both Lisa Falkenberg and the Chron editorial board have excoriated Siegler and sided with the call for a special prosecutor to take over. I think they’re right about that, and I think given DA Devon Anderson’s past history of being reluctant to act against someone with whom she is connected, she will need to be pressured about it. Kelly Siegler did the world a big favor by helping to expose rogue prosecutor Charles Sebesta, who was recently disbarred for activities similar in nature to the ones Siegler now stands accused of. Justice demands that someone like Kelly Siegler, with no connection to the Harris County DA’s office, now lead an investigation into her behavior in this trial. I respect Siegler’s work as a prosecutor and now as a crusading TV cold case investigator, but reputation only counts for so much. The facts need to be followed, and David Temple deserves his new day in court. Harris County needs to get out of the way. Let’s get going on this. Grits and Murray Newman, a friend and former colleague of Siegler’s, have more.

Charles Sebesta needs to be held accountable

Amen to this.

Anthony Graves

Former Texas death row inmate Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years behind bars before he was exonerated in the bloody 1992 slaying of a Somerville grandmother, her daughter and four grandchildren, is seeking justice against the man who put him there.

In 2006, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ capital murder conviction when a three-judge panel said he deserved a new trial after ruling that Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta elicited false statements from two witnesses and withheld two statements that could have changed the minds of jurors.

Graves, who was released from prison in October 2010, is taking advantage of a new state law that allows a grievance against a prosecutor to be filed within four years of a wrongfully imprisoned person’s release.

State Sens. Rodney Ellis, John Whitmire and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, all Houston Democrats, stood behind Graves on the campus of Texas Southern University on Monday as he and his attorneys urged the Texas State Bar to investigate and discipline Sebesta.

“I am asking prosecutors who operate with the highest integrity to support me,” Graves, 48, told reporters. “I am seeking justice for the man who wrongfully prosecuted me.”

[…]

Graves and his attorney, Bob Bennett, said the new law remedies the statute of limitations rule.

“There’s been no final order,” Bennett said. “Even if it was dismissed, you still have the option of coming back because there’s been no final order.”

Whitmire and Thompson sponsored the bill that was one of several that passed last year as details of Michael Morton’s wrongful murder conviction and exoneration came to light.

Anthony Graves deserves justice in the same way and for the same reasons as Michael Morton. In many ways, the injustice done to Graves was worse. If you’re not familiar with Anthony Graves, read this report by Texas Monthly writer Pamela Colloff, who is the authoritative source on Graves and Morton. That article was published on the day that Graves was freed after the charges against him were dropped.

Not until yesterday morning did Burleson County district attorney Bill Parham and special prosecutor Kelly Siegler explain why they had made such a dramatic about-face. At a press conference at the D.A.’s office in Brenham—just across the street from the courthouse where Graves’s retrial was to have taken place early next year—Parham told reporters that he was “absolutely convinced” of Graves’s innocence after his office conducted a thorough examination of his case. Parham was clear that this was not a matter of having insufficient evidence to take to trial; charges were not dropped because too many witnesses had died over the years or because the evidence had become degraded. “There’s not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case,” he said. “There is nothing.”

Former Harris County assistant district attorney Kelly Siegler, who has sent nineteen men to death row in her career, went even further in her statements. Siegler laid the blame for Graves’s wrongful conviction squarely at the feet of former Burleson County D.A. Charles Sebesta. “Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare,” Siegler said. Over the past month, she explained, she and her investigator, retired Texas Ranger Otto Hanak, reviewed what had happened at Graves’s trial. After talking to witnesses and studying documents, they were appalled by what they found. “It’s a prosecutor’s responsibility to never fabricate evidence or manipulate witnesses or take advantage of victims,” she said. “And unfortunately, what happened in this case is all of these things.” Graves’s trial, she said, was “a travesty.”

So yeah, this is a big deal. You need to read Colloff’s two feature stories to get the full measure of outrage at this horror. Sebesta avoided any repercussions for his abhorrent actions initially because Texas’ law at the time started the clock on the statute of limitations way too soon. Here’s Colloff again with the details.

At first glance, the bar’s lack of action against Sebesta is confounding. Why would the statute of limitations prohibit the agency from taking action against Sebesta, who prosecuted Graves in 1994, but not against Anderson, who prosecuted Morton seven years earlier, in 1987? The answer lies in one simple detail: the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the facts of the offense—such as withholding evidence favorable to the accused—are discovered (or, in legalese, “become discoverable”). In the recent proceedings against Anderson, the bar persuasively argued that the statute of limitations did not begin running until 2011, when the transcript describing Morton’s son’s account of the killer was found in Anderson’s files. Such a strategy was not possible with Sebesta, Acevedo told me, because “the information at issue”—i.e., that he withheld favorable evidence—“was known more than four years before the grievance was filed.”

Bennett, who filed the grievance, takes issue with that, arguing that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “was the official notice of what had taken place.” And Graves’s attorney, Cásarez, believes that’s key. While it’s true that Graves’s lawyers learned in 1998 that Carter had repeatedly told Sebesta of Graves’s innocence, when they took a deposition from Carter at that time, it was simply a defendant’s word against that of a sitting district attorney. It was not until 2006 that the Fifth Circuit made an official finding that Sebesta had withheld evidence. “Now, how can someone file a grievance and expect to get anywhere until a court finds that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct?” Cásarez wondered.

Thankfully, SB825 took care of that loophole last year. Now maybe Charles Sebesta will finally be held to account for his actions. The Trib and Colloff again have more.

Lykos v Anderson

I obviously don’t have a dog in the Republican District Attorney primary fight, but I like a good high-profile political battle as much as the next junkie, so stories about it are interesting to me.

[DA Pat] Lykos argues she is a reformer with three years of improvements under her belt while Mike Anderson, a popular 30-year veteran of the courthouse, is trying to convince voters the machine used to be better run.

“A prosecutor needs to run that office,” said Anderson, who was an assistant Harris County district attorney for 16 years before spending 12 years as a felony criminal court judge.

“It’s an enormous undertaking for anybody,” Anderson said. “It would be very hard for anybody who has never been a prosecutor and never tried a case as a prosecutor to run that office.”

Lykos scoffs at the criticism. She insists that her experience as a former police officer and a former judge lets her put together the big pieces of the criminal justice puzzle.

“We cannot go backwards. Those days are gone,” Lykos said. “We have to work smart, we have to be tough and always fair.”

Like I said, I have no dog in this fight, but at the risk of making Murray Newman‘s head explode, I do think Lykos has been an improvement over Chuck Rosenthal. Might Kelly Siegler have been a similar improvement over Rosenthal? Maybe, though I felt strongly at the time that bringing about change necessarily required a genuine housecleaning. From a crassly political perspective, I preferred to have our candidate C.O. Bradford run against Rosenthal’s top lieutenant than against some outsider. Maybe Mike Anderson would be an improvement over Lykos – maybe the Rosenthal problem was the man himself more than anything else, so that any change would have been sufficient – I have no idea. What I know is that Rosenthal was a clown and an embarrassment, and Lykos, whatever else you may say about her, has not been.

“She is someone who Republican women, who are the heart and soul of the Republican party in Harris County, would die for,” said Harris County GOP chairman Jared Woodfill. “She has earned their respect.”

Woodfill heartily endorsed Lykos.

“She came in to that office at some challenging times and has done a great job,” Woodfill said. “Pat has a very successful record, and the last thing we need is a big primary fight at the top of the ticket.”

I marvel at this, because Democrats would openly revolt if our party chair picked a side in a primary between two candidates of good standing. I can see the merit of Woodfill’s position, though I disagree about the merits of a big primary fight, but we do our business differently, and I prefer it that way.

Republicans will have to decide between the two in April, but there won’t be any confusion about where either stands.

Anderson has attacked Lykos for DIVERT, a program she created that allows the equivalent of deferred adjudication for first offense DWIs, and her “trace case” policy, which lessened penalties for possession of trace amounts of crack cocaine or crack pipes.

Lykos says the trace case policy has lowered the jail population by 1,000 inmates and freed up resources for more severe crimes.

As you know, I agree with Lykos on this. That causes some conflict for me when I think about this politically. On the one hand, I’d rather see Anderson win because I like my opponents to be wrong about important things. On the other hand, I’d rather see Lykos win because we’re all better off when bad ideas get rejected. So yeah, I’ll be staying neutral.

When prosecutors get in trouble

You know, this grand jury investigation of the Harris County DA’s office is starting to look like a full-fledged scandal.

Two Harris County prosecutors are facing contempt charges after a judge learned that members of the District Attorney’s Office were given information that may contain transcripts from secret proceedings of a grand jury that is investigating the office, court records show.

Assistant District Attorneys Carl Hobbs, chief of the government integrity bureau, and Steve Morris, chief of the grand jury division, along with two court reporters have been summoned to appear before Judge Susan Brown’s court at 9 a.m. Monday.

“It has now come to this court’s attention that members of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office may be in possession of official transcripts of testimony from witnesses who appeared before the Harris County grand jury for the 185th District Court August term,” according to a motion issued by Brown and obtained by the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday.

[…]

“If it is proven to be true, it is absolutely a flagrant violation of the sanctity of the secrecy of the grand jury,” said Murray Newman, a defense attorney and former Harris County prosecutor who writes a blog on the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.

Newman also said he was stunned that prosecutors might have tried to unlawfully obtain transcripts from a grand jury that is investigating the DA’s office.

“It’s like a guy robbing a liquor store with a cop standing outside,” he said. “It’s just stupid.”

Not to be crass, but if these recent events haven’t gotten some Democrats to think about running for District Attorney next year, I don’t know what would. The Republicans are contemplating their options, that’s for sure. I have no idea how this will turn out, but I can sure imagine how to talk about it in 2012 no matter what the outcome may be. Mark Bennett and Grits have more.

UPDATE: And more from Mark Bennett.