Kudos, congratulations, and plaudits to Mike Ware, Gary Udashen, Walter Reaves, Casie Gotro, and Keith Hampton, as the Court of Criminal Appeals declared their clients, the San Antonio 4, actually innocent. In 1994, the four women, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez, were accused of sexually assaulting Ramirez’ nieces. They spent years in prison before Mike Ware and other attorneys with the Innocence Project of Texas picked up their case and asked for habeas relief. The habeas court ultimately recommended reversal based on due process violations, but not complete exoneration. The CCA went beyond the habeas court’s recommendations and fully exonerated all four. The opinion (available here: http://tinyurl.com/hsw8hkd) included the following excerpt:
The State does not prove that a person has committed a crime beyond all doubt, or even beyond a shadow of a doubt. By proving its case at trial according to the applicable standard, the State secures the ability to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that the person responsible for a crime has been brought to justice, that the person is guilty. When defendants have accomplished the Herculean task of satisfying their burden on a claim of actual innocence, the converse is equally true. Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime. That they are innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated. These women have carried that burden. They are innocent. And they are exonerated. This Court grants them the relief they seek.
Deborah S. Esquenazi’s documentary “Southwest of Salem” documented the strange case, called “the last gasp of the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic,” a bizarre hysteria that swept the nation in the 1980s. The ruling of actual innocence will allow the women to seek recompense for their long battle. Finally, an end to the nonsense after a long, grueling journey. Congratulations again to those involved in bringing an end to this dystopian nightmare.
Kudos to Darlina Crowder, who recently heard the two-word verdict for a client accused of Agg Assault with a deadly weapon. D was on his way to church with his 8-year-old daughter when set upon by a driver in the throes of road rage. D defended himself with a golf club, which led to the charge. Said D of Darlina: “I am 47, a professional, and have never been in trouble in my life. I was facing the possibility of serving prison time and am very thankful to her for seeing the truth and defending me. Her powerful demeanor and presence in the court room, without question, helped the jury to decide my fate.” Congratulations, counselor, on returning his life to him.
Congrats to Chad Crowl of Texarkana for hearing the two-word verdict on a sexual assault charge. D, a 38-year-old African-American man who had no prior felony convictions, was accused of sexually assaulting an adult female. D, who had known the alleged victim for more than ten years, had been in a long term romantic relationship with her cousin. The supposed “sexual assault” was alleged to have occurred at the victim’s home while her father was sitting on the front porch outside. On the witness stand, the victim made several statements of what happened that were very inconsistent with the written statement she had originally made to law enforcement. She also admitted on the stand that synthetic marijuana was involved in the incident, and that she had a prior history of both using and selling the drug. The jury only deliberated for about an hour before deciding. Kudos to Chad and second chair Will Williams for a job well done.
Mark Griffith and Courtney Stamper fought all the way to a Not Guilty on a Continuous Sexual Assault of a Young Child case. For two weeks in November, Mark and Courtney tried the case after having already tried it to a hung jury earlier in the year. Mark took apart the State’s expert on child abuse, one truth at a time, until in the end, the expert became as beneficial to the defense as he was to the State. There were as many legal battles as there were factual ones, it seemed. Their client lost three years of his life fighting for his life and for justice, and even with the Not Guilty verdict, he found himself lost and broken because of a false allegation. After a day and a half of jury deliberations—and three notes stating they were deadlocked—the judge announced that she would declare a mistrial and sent the bailiff to go get the jury. Moments later, the bailiff returned, telling them the jury wanted to take one last vote! A few minutes after that, the bailiff announced the jury, who then announced the verdict. As Courtney noted: “It was a battle that exhausted and exhilarated. The courageous jury followed their oath and gave a man his life back.” Kudos, guys, on a job well done.
Sam Bassett, former TCDLA president, recently related a story describing why he does what he does: “This week, I represented a father charged with a serious but non-violent crime. If no deferred adjudication probation was ordered, the minimum sentence was 15 years. He admitted guilt, and we had a long hearing on sentencing. The prosecutor (understandably) asked for a 20-year prison sentence. I put on witnesses (including his employer), telling the court about his family, and my client testified—making no excuses and asking for a chance to continue supporting his family. This was a guy who grew up and lived on the East Side of Austin—not wealthy by any means. His wife works two jobs. He is a truck driver. The judge struggled over the ruling, but agreed to give him that chance under a deferred adjudication sentence. Four kids still have a dad working to support them and not in prison. Did he deserve prison? Perhaps. But I was glad to play a small role in what I hope was the right result.” That about says it, Sam.
Kudos to Editor Sarah Roland and brother George for their recent victory in a felony assault case recently in Denton. The complainant had a bite mark on her cheek and a black eye, so something had happened. The question was what. Sarah and George’s argument was that D was at work and that she was mad because he had recently broken up with her and had already moved on. Sarah noted that she had too many holes in her story for it to make sense and things just didn’t add up. “The complainant did herself no favors by answering some of my questions with ‘It’s none of your business.’” All in a day’s work, eh counselors?