District Attorneys Keep Doing Bad Things: More Texas Prosecutorial Misconduct Stories
The problem of prosecutors doing bad things like hiding evidence and introducing unreliable (or false) testimony isn’t getting better. Recently, the Daily Beast published an expose on prosecutorial misconduct in the United States, labeling the problem a national epidemic. You can read their take on things in the article written by Jay Michaelson and published as “ It’s Not Just Bad Cops: Prosecutors Run Wild.” There’s also the big news of a recent brief filed by former members of the Justice Department in a federal securities fraud case that’s come before the United States Supreme Court: past DOJ big wigs have filed allegations of prosecutorial misconduct as part of the public record; read about this case in the New York Times coverage (which includes a link to the brief itself).
Finally, there’s a recent study published by the Associated Press regarding prosecutorial misconduct. Their findings: even though prosecutors hide evidence and do other bad things that get them courtroom victories while sending innocent people to prison, not much happens to these state attorneys if and when they get caught. Shocking but true; read their coverage here.
Criminal Defense Lawyers Well Aware of Rampant Texas Prosecutorial Misconduct
Problems with district attorneys in the State of Texas doing bad things isn’t news to criminal defense lawyers. We’ve been writing about prosecutorial misconduct cases here for years, check out our posts with detailed examples that include:
- Prosecutorial Misconduct Still a Big, Big Problem: District Attorneys Do Bad Things;
- Prosecutorial Misconduct in Texas: Continuing Injustice;
- Prosecutorial Misconduct Allegations Against Four Top Texas District Attorneys: Update;
- Prosecutorial Misconduct is a Big, Big Problem in Texas – Here Are Just a Few Examples.
Prosecutors Aren’t Changing Their Behavior Despite Growing Media Coverage of Misconduct
Thing is, it’s not getting better. The general public still has the perception that prosecutors are White Knights while defense lawyers are, well, NOT — and this mistaken belief is one of the reasons that so much misconduct by prosecutors happens.
If a bad district attorney thinks he or she is operating with some kind of silver bullet, then it’s easier to succumb to the temptation to skirt the law and not do the right thing. Defense lawyers still work with the nagging thought in the back of their heads that prosecutors may be in it for the win, not for justice.
Prosecutors are human just like the rest of us. They are not like the actors that play them on TV. Consider the following recent media stories — three new and different prosecutorial misconduct cases from the ones we’ve been following before (we’ve also got an update on ex-Dallas DA Craig Watkins):
1. Navarro Cty Prosecutor John Jackson Alleged Use of Secret Deals With “Jailhouse Snitches” to Get Convictions
There are two big examples of Navarro County district attorney John Jackson making secret agreements with people behind bars in order to get another conviction on his record. The first one most people recognize: Jackson used a snitch to provide evidence that helped send Cameron Todd Williamham to the Texas Death House. It’s pretty much understood by everyone at this point that Willingham was innocent of the arson deaths of his three daughters and that the State of Texas convicted and executed an innocent man.
Now it’s come to light that the prosecutor allegedly used this same tactic in another case, where Ernest Baldree was being tried for the murders of a Texas couple during the commission of a robbery. Jackson had the jailhouse snitch’s testimony that Baldree confessed that he had done the killings while they were both incarcerated at the Navarro County Jail.
Baldree was convicted of capital murder. Baldree was executed in 1997.
Now, there is a State Bar of Texas disciplinary proceeding investigating not only the use of a jailhouse snitch in the Willingham case by the Navarro County prosecutor but in making false statements and in hiding evidence favorable to Willingham from defense counsel.
The snitch in the Willingham case has come forward to admit that he lied and that he was threatened with a long jail sentence if he didn’t help the prosecution get a conviction against Willingham. The snitch in the Baldree case is providing a similar statement. Details here.
2. 36 Examples of Misconduct in Temple Murder Case by Harris County Prosecutor Kelly Ziegler
In a recent ruling from the bench of a Beaumont State District Court Judge Larry Gist comes findings from the bench that there were thirty-six (36) instances of prosecutorial misconduct in the case where Harris County prosecutor Kelly Siegler tried defendant David Mark Temple for the murder of his pregnant wife.
Seems that the prosecutor held back evidence from the defense – evidence favorable to Temple’s case. The Gist ruling comes after ten weeks of investigative hearings into the prosecutor’s conduct during the trial. It’s expected that the Court of Criminal Appeals will approve (ratify) Judge Gist’s findings.
Read Gist’s ruling here. It’s 19 pages long. Chilling excerpt, and something that lots of prosecutors should be a tad worried about because it’s an attitude common among Texas DAs (especially since the Michael Morton Act changes things):
3. Ex Dallas DA Craig Watkins Faces Continued Misconduct Allegations in CCA Appeal
Former Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins may still be facing prosecutorial misconduct charges based upon mortgage fraud criminal charges filed against Hunt Petroleum heir Al Hill III (we’ve reported on this case before, see the links above for details). Right now, Hill is arguing to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the fraud charges need to be dismissed and he’s using (1) the contempt order entered against Watkins as well as (2) the dismissal of indictments against Hill based upon a possibility that Watkins, who was Dallas County’s chief prosecutor at the time, had political reasons to file charges against Hill.
4. 25 Year County District Attorney Charles Sebesta loses law license in Graves case
The State Bar of Texas recently disbarred former prosecutor Charles Sebesta, who had served as the District Attorney for both Burleson and Washington Counties here in Texas for over 25 years. This was a shocking result, and a rare punishment. Sebesta’s law license was taken from him by the state after it was proven in disciplinary proceedings held by the State Bar that he had allowed an innocent man named Anthony Graves to be sentenced to death through the use of false witness testimony and holding back evidence from Graves’ defense team.
This case made the national news; Graves’ story was on 48 Hours — and included his award from the State of Texas of $1,400,000 as a result of his wrongful conviction via prosecutorial misconduct.
Prosecutorial Misconduct Needs To Be Exposed In The Interest of Fair Trials and Justice
It’s important that prosecutorial misconduct be exposed whenever it’s discovered. It’s important that the public realize that this really does happen. And it’s vital that criminal defense lawyers work hard to fight against this Win-over-Justice motivation among attorneys representing the state — because the freedom and liberty of individual citizens is involved here. Real people are seriously hurt by this.
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