Friday, March 20, 2015

Bar alleges DA misconduct in Willingham case, bad closed-records bill, auditing forfeitures, testing for steroids, diligent participation credits (federal and state) and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that deserve readers' attention but didn't make it into individual posts during a busy week:

State bar accuses Willingham prosecutor of misconduct
Reported the Marshall Project, "the State Bar of Texas has filed a formal accusation of misconduct against the county prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters." The bar "accuses [former Navarro County DA John] Jackson of having intervened repeatedly to help a jailhouse informant, Johnny E. Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham confessed the murders to him while they were both jailed in Corsicana." From the bar complaint: "Before, during, and after the 1992 trial, [Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel. Specifically, [he] failed to make timely disclosure to the defense details of an agreement for favorable treatment for Webb, an inmate, in exchange for Webb's testimony at trial for the State."

SA4 case headed toward denouement
Again from the Marshall Project, a review of the San Antonio Four case and the difficulty of evaluating the veracity of child accusers who recant. Wrote Maurice Chammah, the SA4 cases "fall into an increasingly visible category of prisoners who have been freed due to evidence of a wrongful conviction but have not been formally declared 'innocent' by courts." This was also a case where Texas' new junk science writ came into play.

Making state employees DOB secret invites unchecked corruption
State Rep. Cindy Burkett has filed legislation to disallow people from accessing state employees birth dates under open records requests, the Dallas News reported, but this is a terrible idea that would dramatically reduce accountability in state government. As a practical matter, for an investigative reporter, a campaign opposition researcher, private investigators, citizen activists, or any independent fact finder investigating state government, date of birth is the main way one can viably distinguish individuals, especially if they have common names. (Is "Randy Jones" from the signature line of a state contract the same person as "Randall Jones" who seems to have received favorable terms on a land deal with the same company? You need a DOB to tell.) Remove that tool and much of the old-school paper trail work involving public information requests and courthouse records becomes nigh-on impossible. I understand the privacy-based impetus behind this bill, but it's profoundly misguided.

State auditor reviewing Dallas DA forfeiture expenditures
The State Auditor is investigating the asset forfeiture funds of former Dallas DA Craig Watkins following allegations that he improperly used the account to settle a civil suit over a car wreck he caused which included a gag order. The auditor's report is expected in May, reported the Dallas News.

Prison riot spurs busted contract
The feds are ending a contract with the South Texas prison where immigration detainees recently rioted, reported the Houston Chronicle. See more from Texas Prison Bidness.

State to stop steroid testing HS athletes, still no mandate to test cops
I've never understood why Texas chose to test high school athletes for steroids - despite little evidence there's a big problem with their use at that level - but never chose to test police officers, for whom there's ample evidence of significant steroid use. (To their credit, a few departments including Dallas and Arlington PD have begun testing on their own.) The state is finally going to ditch testing for high school athletes; I still think they'd expose a lot more problems by spending a fraction of that money testing police officers.

Cornyn backs aggressive sentence reductions for program participation, will Texas?
See an update on federal sentencing reforms being pushed by Texas Sen. John Cornyn. Under his bill, "Medium and low risk prisoners could earn a 25 percent sentence reduction or transfer to a halfway house or home confinement through completion of programs." That's slightly more generous, even, than the (up to) 20 percent sentence reduction which would be available to state jail felons for "diligent participation" in programming under SB 589 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, which was heard on Wednesday in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Perhaps Sen. Cornyn endorsing an even more aggressive version of the same idea will help Mr. Rodriguez's cause.

Stingrays and non-disclosure agreements
The New York Times this week ran a feature on the worrisome requirement that local police departments which by "StingRays" and other surveillance devices from the Harris Corporation must file non-disclosure agreements which they claim trump open records laws or, in the case of Houston PD, even a duty to disclose to prosecutors how they use the devices. These issues will soon be prominently raised in Texas as Dwayne Bohac's HB 3165, which would require law enforcement to get a warrant to target an individual's phone using the device. His bill also trumps these sorts of NDAs, making information about Stingrays subject to the usual provisions of the Public Information Act.

How jailhouse snitch testimony can 'backfire,' even with corroboration has a thoughtful discussion of problems with overuse jailhouse informants, even in states like California which require corroboration of their testimony (a provision, writer Kevin Munger could have added, which Texas passed two years before the Golden State).


Jordan said...

I hadn't known steroid use was such a possible problem in Texas police. Hopefully with them stopping the testing on high schoolers, they'll be able to focus attention on the police.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not only Texas, of course, Jordan, that's just where there happens to be a legislature in session at the moment 1.5 miles away from me that can do something about it.

E.g., maybe when they cut HS testing from the budget, they could add a rider making a portion of the savings available to the Governor's Criminal Justice Division to give grants for that purpose.

Anonymous said...

Houston tests officer's both randomly and for cause. I've probably been tested every other year. I asked how often did the outside facility catch someone using drugs and was told "almost never" but I support the program because it allows me to flip off the jokers who suggest drug use is common among officers. :)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yeah, 3:30, whoever heard of a steroid using cop?

Anonymous said...

How do you authenticate the photos in that link?

Anonymous said...

Anon 03:30 PM, I worked in the medical field for years and was subjected to similar feel good testing. Every once in a blue moon we'd catch a nurse or some low level administrator but the doctor's were exempt and the low level employees didn't really give much reason to test. I'd rather all the money go to testing for a specific reason, someone acting irrationally or involved in an accident.

Grits, in that list of pictures, one guy kept coming up over and over, the body builder, and it tapered off considerably afterwards. Before spending large amounts of money, most people would probably want evidence that something was a significant problem. It makes sense to test when someone has an accident or a cop involved in shooting someone but the idea behind the school testing was to protect the students from coaches, not the public from students.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@3:10, that's because I linked to the picture of the bodybuilder, who's Texas' best known example. Check the links in the post and you'll see there were problems throughout his department (Arlington) that made them shift to testing, problems identified at four other Metroplex PDs, and if you pay attention in the press the issue crops up a few times a year around the state, always depicted as an "isolated incident," sometimes punished significantly, often not. For a while I tracked the issue closely but haven't for about four or five years. See here for Grits' past coverage in reverse chronological order.

Certainly there's FAR more evidence of use by cops than use by High School athletes, and they spent many millions to test athletes from 2007-2014.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if ex-Gov Perry will ever be held accountable for his participation in the execution of Willingham. Not so much for allowing the execution to proceed; but for his part in dismissing the committee looking into the facts of the case. Just when a report on the findings were imminent, the committee was disbanded by then Gov Perry. The facts of the report have reached the public, not because of, but, in spite of Rick Perry's best efforts to obscure them.
If Rick Perry continues with his presidential quest, perhaps the national media will ask the appropriate questions and send Perry to be an an Asst DA in Palau with Bradley.

Anonymous said...

This is Anon 3:30 pm, with all the officers in the state of Texas, a few found in violation each year does amount to isolated incidents though if a department has a particular problem, by all means address that department rather than move the waste of millions of dollars spent on teens to wasting it on cops. Of all the things the state could spend money on, neither form of testing seems overly efficient.

Anonymous said...


Interesting letter from a Louisiana prosecutor who almost had an innocent man executed.

Anonymous said...

Yep, you are the same person that has no friggin problem putting people in jail then prison for weed and traffic tickets.

Spewing Tuff on Crime hype out one side of your neck and trying to appear to be a savior of all things taxes coming out of the other side won't work here.

And, the reason why you passed each and every exam was directly due to getting a heads up. Don't even try to deny it.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Re: State bar accuses Willingham prosecutor of misconduct

Oh Snap! Just when the sounds of old hands slapping old wrist was old news, they pull 'em back in for one more silly back room slap fest.

This of course is a job for the rarely utilized Court of Inquiry.
The fake ass court over in the corner, the very one set up by those that it inquires about, but only after the alleged crime fighters crime(s) are made public and the pubic refuses to allow it to go away

Btw, Awful - Andy Anderson, Bad Boy - Bradly, Kelly the straddler Siegler and Dirty John Jackson (just to name a few) were personally trained by The King of Nolo Contendere - Casey J. O'Brien .

The same former career ADA out of Harris County that both: Johnny Holmes and Judge Hearns allowed to submit a .38 as a state's exhibit in a jury trial having absolutely nothing to do with .38's. Despite: the FBI, the ATF, the HPD and the H.C. Sheriff official claims of having no records or information regarding: where he obtained it from, where he stored it for 10 years, much less how and where the Exhibit clerk says - "I personally destroyed it" , it failed to rise to the level of the State Bar's line in the sand. Resulting in, free training for all in the Art of - How to get away with: murder, making evidence appear and disappear 29 times and counting.

Note: He simply shredded as much as he could, changed his name to jigmeister and upon being confronted about his documented multiple felonies over at SJ under his real name, he offered up that he was sorry that I felt that I was wronged by "the system." Yes, it truly takes a Team Effort to pull that shit off. In order to get away with it, you must be trained and it must be condoned by: the crime victim, the DA, the CDL, the arresting agency, the Detectives, the Bench and the State Bar.


Anonymous said...

Anon 12:43 PM,
I never needed any help passing a test but I'll be the first to admit arresting people with warrants did not bother me in most cases. As someone who has been pro-legalization for decades, I'm not sure where the pot comment came from but as someone who lives in the front line trenches, setting priorities has always made sense. I never arrested a high school kid for steroid use either.

Anonymous said...

@11:14:00 AM - Former Governor Perry appointed new members of the Forensic Science Commission when the terms of the old members expired. The most significant personnel change was replacing Sam Basset with John Bradley... and Basset was allowed to serve two months after his term technically expired.

The forensic science commission was really off topic investigating the Willingham fire anyhow since the thing was set up in the wake of the scandal at the Houston DPS crime lab and the purpose was preventing FUTURE problems in crime labs... not investigating cases that had been closed for the better part of two decades.

Anyway, Rick Perry did not DISBAND the commission. Death Penalty opponents do themselves no favors with they lie about the facts of the Willingham case. There are plenty of reasons to question whether justice was served without making up fairy tales.

PS: I am not defending Rick Perry. He can choke on a corn dog for all I care. See:

Anonymous said...

@1027pm Sir, I may have not had all my facts correct when I wrote my comment @1114. I was stating MY conclusions about the case after having followed the saga for several years on national media and in the local Texas newspapers. I believe Perry is accountable for allowing an innocent man to be executed and that he attempted to obscure the facts of the conviction.
You are correct Perry did not disband the commission. However, it has been alleged he impeded the investigation by replacing 3 of the 9 members two days before the commission was to meet to discuss a report that questioned the methodology of the “science” used to convict Willingham, a “wife beater” as described by Rick Perry. The new chairman then cancelled the meeting.
The new chairman was Palau’s new DA, Mr. John Bradley. As Texas Monthly states :”In 2009, when he [Bradley] helmed the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s aborted inquiry into the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham, he famously scuttled questions about whether or not Texas had executed an innocent man. Bradley—who was tasked with conducting a supposedly impartial inquiry into the flawed forensic science that had helped convict Willingham—set the tone when he called Willingham ‘ a guilty monster ‘.”
Thank you for bring my attention to the prior link between the new Palau DA and his [hopefully] new assistant.
It may well be that Rick Perry will respond to future questions about the Willingham case in the same enlightening manner that he used when talking about the third governmental department he would eliminate: “Oops.”
About the death penalty: I must admit to mixed feelings, I was for it when I sat across the table from a friend to was going to Huntsville the next day to witness the execution of his brother’s killer, I felt differently when I was not so personally involved. However, I think I would prefer to err on the side of caution rather than to execute an innocent man. Willingham may have been a “wife beater” but was he a baby-killer?
In regards to Rick Perry’s presidential aspirations; I believe he would serve this country better in Palau.

Anonymous said...

It is foolish to blame Perry for Willingham's execution when there is almost nothing he could do to prevent it. So go ahead and blame the justice system in Navarro County. Blame the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Blame the Fifth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. Blame the people involved and who actually had any REAL power to produce a different outcome.

The Governor of Texas is allowed to issue ONE stay of execution and that lasts only 30 days. People that blame Perry for the Willingham execution show themselves to be easily manipulated by the media and willing to repeat harsh criticisms based on lies that could easily be discovered with a minimal amount of research. Its like being "informed" by Fox News.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:23 AM,

“No matter how insignificant the thing you have to do, do it as well as you can, give it as much of your care and attention as you would give to the thing you regard as most important. For it will be by those small things that you shall be judged.”
— Mohandas K. Gandhi, Mahatma.

Former Gov. Rick Perry will be judged by this "small thing" - as he should be.

Anonymous said...

Holding Perry accountable for his actions or in-actions is not the same as "blaming Perry for the execution of CTWillingham" Responsibility and accountability are different.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:36 AM,

Former Gov. Perry should be held ACCOUNTABLE as he was RESPONSIBLE for his discretionary actions in choosing to not grant the 30 day stay of execution - a stay that may have allowed Willingham's attorneys to further appeal his execution based on the the "junk science" used to convict him. That help?