In the continuing saga of the Mineola child sex cases (which [Hall] wrote about in “Across the Line,” April 2009), the DA from Wood County has publicly and officially attacked the cases of a DA from Smith County, right next door. The cases involve six adults accused of running a sex kindergarten in Tyler and a series of child-sex shows at a swingers club in nearby Mineola. There was no other evidence except for the words of five children—no tangible physical evidence and no adult witnesses—but it was enough to send the first three defendants to prison for life in 2008. In our story, Jim Wheeler, Wood County DA, told me, “There was a total lack of corroboration for what those kids said happened.”Hall's coverage of this has been excellent, even if it hasn't exactly left me beaming with hometown pride. He concludes, "One has to wonder how much more evidence authorities need to conclude that these convictions—based on zero evidence besides words from the mouths of babes, every single one of whom initially denied anything ever happened to him or her—were unsound."
Now Wheeler has said this in court, officially calling into question the entire basis of the Smith County cases. The drama took place on Tuesday, March 23, at a hearing where oral arguments were being held before the 14th Court of Appeals in two of the cases, those of Patrick Kelly and Jamie Pittman. Wheeler filed a 73-page amicus brief in which he wrote that his county’s grand jury had initially investigated the allegations but refused to indict anyone “because no evidence was located to corroborate the stories told by the children.” One of the revelations of the amicus brief was how the whole Smith County investigation of activities in Wood County got started in the first place. After Wood County investigators initially concluded in 2005 that no crimes had been committed, there was an organized effort by law enforcement agencies—including Texas Ranger Philip Kemp and prosecutors from both Wood and Smith counties—to move the case to Smith County. Wheeler (who didn’t take office until January 2007) reveals an email from a former Wood County ADA who wrote, “I believe the decision was intentionally made IN CONJUNCTION WITH Smith County to have it prosecuted there because we believed getting it out of Wood County would result in better prosecution (from the judge on down).” ...
The oral-argument hearing and Wheeler’s amicus brief are just the latest in a series of blows over the past year that have made the state’s weak case look even weaker. First came pre-trial hearings for the fourth defendant Jamie Pittman last July, in which defense attorney Jason Cassel was able to get investigators and social workers to admit that there was plenty of evidence that never made it into the first three trials, such as seven different interviews with the five children in which they either never mentioned a sex kindergarten or sex club or they denied that they knew anything about either one.
I'll give this much to Ranger Kemp and the Wood County prosecutor who steered the case to Smith County: They knew exactly which jurisdiction they could take the case to where they could secure convictions (and life sentences) without any solid evidence.