When the Court of Criminal Appeals finally overturned his conviction in June and ordered his release, Estrada, 29, filed grievances with the State Bar Association against Fort Bend District Attorney John Healey and his chief narcotics prosecutor, Mark Hanna.
In them, he claims Healey's office, by dragging its feet, kept him in prison, knowing the evidence against him was not only tainted but actually had been destroyed, meaning prosecutors had no basis for ever retrying him.
Now, Estrada's grievances have become an issue just weeks before an election in which Healey will have a Democratic challenger for the first time in 20 years.
Healey, a Republican, would not comment on Estrada's case or on his decision to delay notification that the underlying evidence in his conviction had been undermined.
"I believe that our response was fair, it was realistic, and I think at the end of the day, it will be viewed as an acceptable response," Healey said.It must be said that Healey's claim there were no instructions for how to handle the Salvador case is patently false. The Texas District and County Attorneys Association issued detailed guidance regarding notification, appointment of counsel for habeas writs, etc., early on. Here it is, from April 2012. Healey claims later in the story there were no "rules" for how to handle the Salvador case, which is slightly more accurate (if a bit of a weasel word, under the circumstances), but he absolutely received "instructions" regarding his obligations as a prosecutor in these cases. He just chose to ignore them.
Healey said that there were no instructions for how he should proceed once he was informed that he had more than 100 drug cases involving evidence handled by the discredited Department of Public Safety chemist Jonathan Salvador, who was fired in 2012.
MORE: Grits should have mentioned that, in addition to TDCAA's notice, the Forensic Science Commission issued a lengthy report (pdf, see Exhibit G) on the Jonathan Salvador episode that included recommendations for notifying defendants (and even form letters for prosecutors to use) which were sent to all 36 affected DA's offices. And the Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit issued a "white paper" with the FSC on the topic of notification in cases of widespread forensic errors. That makes Healey's claim that he'd never received guidance regarding how to respond even more unbelievable. Really, it's just a lie, and a incredible one at that.
My personal belief is that the state bar will do nothing about this, but that says more about the ineffectiveness of their regulation of prosecutors than it does whether Healey intentionally delayed notifying defendants whose cases merited relief. It's quite clear that's exactly what happened.
How much do you wanna bet there are other counties among the 36 which also failed to notify defendants? Fort Bend almost certainly isn't the only one.
RELATED: Fort Bend DA failed to notify defense of alleged misconduct by DPS lab worker.