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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mikal Watts Investigation; Dog Scent Lineups

The San Antonio Express reports on the growing federal investigation of big time plaintiff lawyer Mikal Watts:
Democrat stalwart bragged of donations

"From President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, the candidate contribution list of San Antonio trial lawyer and Democratic stalwart Mikal C. Watts reads like a who's who of important politicians.

Watts has poured $7.4 million into Democratic campaigns, and hasn't been shy about boasting about it.

Once, in a nine-page settlement demand letter, Watts famously claimed that he would win an appeal in the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi, because “this court is comprised of six justices, all of whom are good Democrats.

“The Chief Justice, Hon. Rogelio Valdez, was recently elected with our firm's heavy support,” Watts wrote."
According to the article, the Secret Service is investigating Watts for case running, and even identity theft to get claims against BP for the oil spill. Also mentioned is a case against Ford Motor Co. in 2005 where Watts' local counsel ended up on the jury. Aside from the question of whether judges are supposed to decide cases on the law and not who gives them the most money, there are about ten State Bar Disciplinary Rules that appear to have been violated. It's unethical to brag about having a judge in your pocket. Same for case running. We'll see if the Bar has any cajones.

And Another Big Time Plaintiff Lawyer Takes the Plunge

Convicted Valley attorney reportedly commits suicide
A Rio Grande Valley attorney who was the first to be convicted in a wide-ranging racketeering probe of a former state district judge reportedly leapt from the causeway to South Padre Island Thursday, hours before he was scheduled to surrender to federal prison, officials said.

A witness said Ray Marchan, 56, took his own life, Cameron County Justice of the Peace Bennie Ochoa said.

Court tosses dog-scent lineup murder conviction
Tossing out the capital murder conviction of an East Texas woman, the state’s highest criminal court affirmed Wednesday that dog-scent lineups — once considered an exciting advance in crime solving — are too scientifically unreliable to form the basis of any conviction.
Like her father and brother, Winfrey was identified as a murder suspect by bloodhounds owned and trained by Keith Pikett, a now-retired Fort Bend County deputy sheriff who claimed his dogs were nearly infallible in linking suspects to crime scenes based on the personal scent they left behind.
No physical evidence or witnesses tied the Winfreys to their neighbor’s murder. In addition, forensic evidence collected from Burr’s home — DNA from blood stains, fingerprints, hair and a bloody footprint — excluded the Winfreys.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Feds Raid Big Time Texas Plaintiff Law Firm

Big Gun Plaintiff Lawyer/Democrat Kingmaker Mikal Watts Under Federal Investigation

Seven months after hosting a private $35,800-a-plate fundraiser for President Barack Obama at his home in The Dominion, nationally recognized plaintiff's lawyer and Democratic Party stalwart Mikal C. Watts finds himself under federal investigation over the legitimacy of his client list in a case stemming from the 2010 BP oil spill.

Earlier this month, Secret Service agents, who not only protect the president but investigate cases of fraud, counterfeiting and identity theft, served search warrants at Watts' two law offices on the Northwest Side, the San Antonio Express-News has confirmed with federal officials and Watts' attorney. Records reviewed by the Express-News indicate the probe is centered in Jackson, Miss., and is related to claims against BP and a compensation fund stemming from the oil company's Macondo well and Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
As first reported by the New York Times in 2011, Watts previously has been accused of discrepancies in the litigation against BP as he made his way onto the plaintiffs steering committee, an exclusive group of lawyers appointed to manage their side of the litigation.

According to its website, Watts Guerra Craft, LLP
has 150 employees, and three full time pilots to fly their lawyers and investigators around the country. The firm can pour millions of dollars into cases.

This story could be straight out of a Grisham novel.

Jury to soon get corruption trial of Austin lawyer
The Associated Press
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A federal jury in Corpus Christi is poised to begin deliberations in the trial of an Austin lawyer charged in a South Texas judicial corruption case with racketeering.
Marc Rosenthal's case could go to the jury in Corpus Christi as early as Wednesday.
The prosecution completed presenting rebuttal witnesses Tuesday to respond to Rosenthal's own testimony. Prosecutors had originally rested last week.
Rosenthal is accused of bribing former state District Judge Abel Limas, who failed to advance beyond the primary in his 2008 re-election bid. Rosenthal allegedly sought favorable rulings from Limas before the jurist left the bench at the end of 2008 and also offered Limas a job.
Limas has already pleaded guilty to racketeering and awaits sentencing.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Crooked cops, DA uses badge for free lap dances

A federal prosecutor in San Antonio got a public scolding from two SCOTUS justices. From the SA Express:

Supreme Court justices rip S.A. prosecutor

In a rare move, two U.S. Supreme Court justices today called out a federal prosecutor in San Antonio for what they called a racially charged comment he made while cross-examining a black defendant in a drug trial in 2011. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Ponder, told the San Antonio Express-News that the question came as part of establishing the totality of the scenario surrounding a drug deal, and wasn't meant to be construed as racially charged or reflective of who he is as a person.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer released the statement as part of the court's decision not to hear the defendant's appeal, making clear that despite the ruling, they didn't tolerate the remark.
Ponder was questioning defendant Bongani Charles Calhoun about his claim that he did not realize a friend was engaging in a drug deal when they were arrested in 2008.

Calhoun has maintained his innocence, and argued that he thought he was simply on a road trip when federal agents caught his friend trying to buy cocaine at a San Antonio hotel room.

“You've got African Americans, you've got Hispanics, you've got a bag full of money. Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, 'This is a drug deal?'” Ponder asked.

His trial lawyer “inexplicably” never objected, the justices wrote.

Sotomayor, joined by Breyer, wrote that Ponder “tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation.”
Here's my opinion, for what it's worth. I know Mr. Ponder and have had several cases where he was on the other side, and found him to be civil and professional. I imagine that he got a little carried away in the heat of the moment. I've had a few occasions where I regretted asking a question or how I worded it as soon as it was out of my mouth. Over 33 years, a couple have bee cringeworthy. This is one of those "there but for the grace of God go I" deals.

SE Texas police chief charged with drug possession
WEST COLUMBIA, Texas — The top cop in West Columbia is behind bars and accused of stealing drugs that were supposed to be used as evidence in cases.

The accusations against Police Chief Michael Palmer have rocked the tiny Brazoria County town.

He was indicted this week on charges of tampering with evidence and possession of controlled substances.

The drugs came from arrests and hospice death investigations.

Palmer's own officers turned in him.

Florida Prosecutor Who Used Badge For Strip Club Perks Is Stripped Of His Job
Ari Pregen picked the wrong strip club to throw his weight around. On January 26, the Miami-Dade assistant state attorney gained free admission for himself and two pals into downtown Miami’s Goldrush by flashing his work badge at the titty bar’s executive manager Jeff Levy. A few hours later, Pregen again whipped out his law enforcement credentials so he wouldn’t have to pay a 15 percent credit card surcharge on lap dances he purchased. Levy, the strip club’s manager, filed an official complaint against Pregen. Of course, Pregen said that he hadn’t done anything wrong when he was confronted by his superiors on February 7, but the head honchos at his office were one step ahead of him. Apparently the powers that be at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office belong to the school of “pics or it didn’t happen” — and obtained from Levy a still shot of Pregen flashing his badge while inside the club.

Kelso: Mysterious case of snake in DA’s drawer
It’s a snake pit up in Williamson County when you’re talking politics.
When new District Attorney Jana Duty moved into her office in the Williamson County Justice Center in Georgetown on Jan. 2, she found a dead coral snake with the head cut off in her desk drawer.
Now, that’s an unusual kind of welcome wagon, right? The day after she is sworn into office, she opens a drawer and finds a decapitated formerly poisonous snake. I say formerly because with the head and fangs removed, the snake is harmless. Still, it’s not quite a valentine or a dozen roses.

Did a Cross-Dressing Priest Sex Ring Bring Down Benedict XVI?
Of all the rumors floating around about just why Pope Benedict XVI is hanging up his camauro, one has taken on a life of its own. According to several well-placed vaticanisti—or Vatican experts—in Rome, Benedict is resigning after being handed a secret red-covered dossier that included details about a network of gay priests who work inside the Vatican, but who play in secular Rome. The priests, it seems, are allegedly being blackmailed by a network of male prostitutes who worked at a sauna in Rome’s Quarto Miglio district, a health spa in the city center, and a private residence once entrusted to a prominent archbishop. The evidence reportedly includes compromising photos and videos of the prelates—sometimes caught on film in drag, and, in some cases, caught “in the act.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Law School Racket; Geo Prison Bowl; Poor old prosecutors

Couldn't agree more that law school is a ripoff.

Why You Should Not Go to Law School by Tucker Max

At some point in their life, everyone thinks they should go to law school. You may in fact think you want to go to law school now.

You're wrong.

I don't know you, I have no idea what the facts of your life are, but that doesn't matter, you aren't the exception. For the overwhelming majority of people (>99.9 percent), law school is the wrong choice.

How can I know this? Because I've been you -- I went to law school for the same reasons you think you should go -- and I was wrong. I should never have gone to law school, and you shouldn't either.

Here's what's wrong with America - instead of making things, we lock people up for profit

FAU to name stadium after prison company GEO Group

GEO Group to pay $6 million to school
When the Florida Atlantic University athletic department completed construction on its $70 million football stadium in 2011, it knew it would need big money player to help its cause.

On Tuesday, it found a partner.

The university called a special meeting of its Board of Trustees to formally accept a gift of $6 million from the Boca Raton-based GEO Group. In exchange for the gift, FAU Stadium be renamed GEO Group Stadium for the next 12 years.

Pulling back the curtain on prosecutor paranoia
Ever wonder how prosecutors speak to one another when they think no one's watching? Conservative blogger Big Jolly, a GOP activist in Houston, pulled back the curtain, obtaining a copy of a video under open records of the first mandatory prosecutor training under new Harris DA Mike Anderson, conducted by the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Here's an excerpt from Jolly's summary:
The entire tone of the video suggests a sort of “bunker” mentality, an us against them, almost a “whine-fest” from the trainer, Rob Kepple of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Did you know the Innocence Project is the “enemy” of prosecutors? Nevermind that their work has resulted in the release of innocent men and women convicted by prosecutorial abuse. DA Anderson goes so far as to say that in the eyes of the Innocence Project, prosecutors are nothing more than pondscum. I suppose the old axiom is true – no good deed goes unpunished.

Monday, February 18, 2013

More on Judge (former DA) Ken Anderson Court of Inquiry; Guadalupe County Judge Pleads Guilty to Pot Possession; Shooter of Osama Bin Laden Hoax?

Former prosecutor in denial about his actions
Last week something unprecedented happened in the case. The district attorney who persuaded a jury of Morton's guilt suffered through five grueling days in a Georgetown courtroom as a judge heard evidence and argument that he had illegally covered up evidence of Morton's innocence.

Ken Anderson, now a Williamson County district judge, testified repeatedly during a rare court of inquiry that he had little memory of the trial or the case. But he swore that he must have told Morton's lawyers about the evidence. It included a police report that Morton's neighbors had said they saw a suspicious man walking into the woods behind the Morton home shortly before the murder.

It also included the transcript of a conversation between Morton's mother-in-law and the lead deputy investigating the case. In it she gave an account of her grandson telling her he had seen the “monster” who murdered his mother. It's a stunning account for its accuracy in matching the evidence, and the boy said the “monster” was not his father.

Ex-Guadalupe judge admits pot possession
Former Guadalupe County Judge Mike Wiggins, who resigned last April after being arrested in College Station on a misdemeanor pot possession charge, has pleaded guilty. Wiggins, a former state trooper who served five years as county judge, was arrested Feb. 6, 2012, after marijuana was found in his room at the College Station hotel where he was attending a conference with other county officials from around Texas.

The cover story in the March issue of Esquire has stirred up a shit storm over the treatment of vets by the military. It's online here:

The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden... Is Screwed

"For the first time, the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells his story — speaking not just about the raid and the three shots that changed history, but about the personal aftermath for himself and his family. And the startling failure of the United States government to help its most experienced and skilled warriors carry on with their lives."

The gist of the piece is that the operator left the Navy after 15 years, and was shocked to discover that he had no pension, insurance or medical coverage. The SA Express has published parts of the article, here - The man who killed Bin Laden is speaking out. The comments by readers are overwhelming critical of the article and of the former Seal, for being dumb enough not to stay in the Navy for five more years, or thinking he's special, or trying to cash in on being the one who killed OBL. Others think that he's a bullshitter, or that some of the Seals played a prank on the author and are laughing their asses off. I don't know what to think.

64 porn counts bring 1,000-year sentence to Ga. man
The defendant faced 64 counts, including charges of possession of child pornography
Our Texas judges and prosecutors are slacking up on the job. Georgia has beat us with this one.
To put it in perspective, the Battle of Hastings was about 1,000 years ago. During the Spanish Inquisition, they ran out of live victims to burn at the stake, so they started digging up corpses of "heretics" and burning them. If the defendant dies before his 1,000 years is served, are the authorities going to stuff him and leave him in his cell?

Agent charged with online solicitation
Police have accused a federal agent based at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport of sexually soliciting a 15-year-old girl online.
Forrest William Johnson, a 50-year-old from Austin, was charged with online solicitation of a minor, according to a press release from the Texas attorney general’s office. He posted an explicit online advertisement and received a response from someone he thought was a 15-year-old girl, according to the release. He sexually propositioned her and then arranged to meet her at a predetermined location so he could assault her, the release said.
The girl was actually an undercover police officer, according to the release. Police arrested him when he arrived at the meeting, the release said.
Johnson, a federal agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was booked into the Williamson County Jail on Wednesday and released Thursday, according to court records.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Michael Morton/Ken Anderson Court of Inquiry; State Trooper Bullies

‘Monster transcript’ focus of Morton hearing

Williamson Co. District Judge Ken Anderson is in the hot seat in a court of inquiry over his prosecutorial misconduct in sending Michael Morton to prison for life for a murder he didn't commit. Anderson was the DA at the time, and he hid critical evidence from the defense. From the Statesman:

"On Tuesday, the court also heard from one of Anderson’s former assistant prosecutors, Kimberly Gardner, who said not only was Anderson aware of the “monster transcript,” but he discussed strategies for dealing with Eric’s testimony should it come up during Morton’s trial.
Gardner recalled an informal meeting at the district attorney’s office with Anderson and Mike Davis, an assistant prosecutor in Morton’s case. “Ken was talking about the Morton case. He said, and I remember him leaning up against a door jamb … with his arms crossed, and he said, ‘The kid thinks a monster killed his mother,’ ” Gardner said.
Gardner also read from an affidavit, which she had provided to Morton’s lawyers shortly after he was released from prison, in which she recalled Anderson and Davis discussing a possible rebuttal argument — that Morton was the killer but wore his scuba diving wetsuit to hide his identity and portray himself as the monster that Eric saw."
I don't know how Anderson can look in a mirror without puking.

Big Texas banker, donor alleges trooper misconduct
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A prominent Texas political donor and IBC Bank executive said Friday that state troopers harassed his family during routine traffic stops, and has now secured a meeting with the state's top law enforcement executive over those and other allegations of trooper misconduct statewide.

IBC Bank Zapata CEO Renato Ramirez said his own experiences are emblematic of larger problems at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Earlier this week, the department fired a female trooper near Dallas whose videotaped body cavity search of two women went viral on the Internet.

"These guys feel empowered to do what they want to do," said Ramirez, who said he came forward as a board member of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Ramirez said he has been personally pulled over "8 to 10 times" over the past few years for violations he described as mundane. But he said he was most angered by a September 2011 incident in which his son and 13-year-old granddaughter were pulled over on their way to the dentist.

According to an affidavit provided to The Associated Press by his father, Ricardo Ramirez said a trooper pulled him over for driving in a turn-only lane. Ricardo Ramirez, who is president of IBC Bank Zapata, said the trooper made him stand behind his truck and questioned his daughter over how they paid for the $52,000 vehicle.

"Even after I identified myself as President of a $500 million bank, his hostile and aggressive demeanor persisted," Ricardo Ramirez wrote. "His interrogation is a violation of my civil rights as an American citizen."

3 deputies fired over alleged trysts in patrol cars
llegations of sexual misconduct while at work led to three Harris County sheriff's deputies losing their jobs, officials said.

On Monday, the now-former deputies, Michael Medina, Robert Johnson and Adam Wright, were fired after an internal investigation.

Sheriff's officials said the three used their patrol cars for sexual trysts with a woman with the department's Citizen's Police Academy.

Miami-Dade Police Kendall Squad Caught Ignoring Emergency Calls, Shopping On Camera (VIDEO)
An entire Miami-Dade Police squad in Kendall has been disciplined -- several of the officers, fired -- after what CBS Miami reports is one of the worst dereliction of duty cases in the department's history.

One officer, Dario Socarras, was filmed drinking coffee for nine minutes while allegedly ignoring emergency dispatch orders on a call for an unconscious 5-month-old baby, Local10 reports.

His supervisor, Sgt. Jennifer Gonzalez, was sitting at the cafe with Socarras -- and was also recorded shopping while on duty at stores like Target and Lowes, brushing off work to rendezvous with her boyfriend, and visiting her parents in Cutler Ridge when she should have been on the job, according to CBS.

Socarras was also filmed twice kissing and spending time with a girlfriend in the parking lot of the Dadeland mall, allegedly while ignoring calls for armed robbery and burglary -- forcing officers from other units to respond from greater distances.

Matt Moore, 'Ex-Gay' Christian Advocate, Exposed On Grindr

An "ex-gay" Christian advocate, who blogs about how religion saved him from a life of homosexual sin, was recently discovered on gay hookup app Grindr.

Matt Moore, a blogger for the Christian Post, writes extensively about how Christianity has helped him to turn away from a gay lifestyle. But, apparently it didn't help him quite enough to steer him away from Grindr.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Getting deported for misdemeanor offense

I practice law in a small town (20,000). In the past 18 months, I’ve represented two Legal Permanent Residents (LPR’s) who came to me after they plead guilty to minor offenses, were placed on probation, and shocked when immigration agents arrested them and locked them up pending deportation.

One was a 20 year old woman, born in Mexico, who moved to this country with her parents when she was six months old. She was put on probation and deferred adjudication when she pled guilty to using a fake driver’s license. Immigration Customs Enforcement agents arrested her, and took her to the detention center in Pearsall, a hundred miles from home, and ICE started the process of expelling her from the US.

The other case involves a 38 year old man who has lived in this country since he was two years old. He was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm, a .380 semi-auto pistol. Neither of these people had any criminal history. This gentleman also got probation and deferred adjudication. Two weeks later, he was snatched up by INS when he stepped out of his car to go to work.

The nightmare for both these people started when their lawyers failed to advise them that the offenses to which they were pleading guilty were grounds for automatic removal from this country, under the federal immigration laws (8 U.S.C. 1227(a).

In the young woman’s case, the DA had some compassion and allowed her to withdraw her plea, and enter a new plea to something that wouldn’t result in deportation. In the second case, the prosecutor is more of a John Calvin/Ayotollah type, who sees the world in black and white. You do the crime, you pay the consequences. I have filed for habeas corpus relief and believe that we will prevail, but meanwhile my client sits in a detention center in the middle of nowhere.

Lessons Learned/Practical Advice:

If you are a non-citizen, do not plead guilty or no contest to anything until you know the immigration consequences. A seemingly minor offense, even theft by check, misdemeanor possession of marijuana, or of a firearm, may be grounds for removal. Your lawyer should give you competent advice, but not all of them do. If you can afford it, you should have a criminal defense lawyer to represent you in the criminal case, and retain an immigration lawyer to advise you on the immigration consequences. If you are indigent,and have a court appointed lawyer, you should request - in writing - that he research the immigration issues and advise you - in writing - of the consequences.

If the horse is already out of the barn, you need a competent criminal defense lawyer to review your case. The Supreme Court held in the 2010 case Padilla v. Kentucky, 466 U.S. 668, 130 S.Ct. 1473, that, when the deportation consequence is truly clear, defense counsel is required to advise his client that removal is a virtual certainty. It’s not enough to just say that it’s “possible.” The court held that the defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of the 6th Amendment.

The problem arises, of course, of when are the deportation consequences “truly clear.” The lower courts are trying to sort that one out. A panel of the Texas Court of Appeals - San Antonio held recently that in cases where a non-citizen may be eligible for cancellation of removal through a petition to the Attorney General, that the consequences aren’t truly clear. The defendant has filed a petition for discretionary review with the Court of Criminal Appeals. ex parte Rodriguez, 378 S.W.3d 486, Tex.App.-San Antonio 2012, PDR #0081-13).

Other cases, where courts granted habeas relief, are also before the CCA. See Tanklevskaya v. State, 361 S.W.3d 86 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2011 PDR filed);
Enyong v. State, 369 S.W.3 593 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, PDR filed).

Texas prosecutor's tough, softer sides recalled

Hasse, 57, was shot multiple times the morning of Jan. 31 while walking from his car in a parking lot about a block from the courthouse. The brazen crime has sparked an investigation that includes both local and federal authorities, many of whom attended the Saturday ceremony.

Good Cops, Bad Cops. Mostly Bad Cops.
Longform’s guide to murder, corruption, extortion, and incompetence–committed by police offers across the country.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Gerry Spence and His Manque Warriors

I occasionally receive invitations/solicitations by email to attend one of the regional seminars produced by the Trial Lawyers College. That's the outfit Gerry Spence started years ago to train criminal defense and plaintiffs' personal injury lawyers to be better advocates. Spence's methods are unconventional - sort of a blend of method acting and encounter group. Those who can afford to be away from work and home, and pay the tuition, can attend Spence's month long residential program at his ranch outside Jackson Hole, WY.

I attended a short seminar at MO-Ranch, outside Kerrville about 12 years ago. I benefited from it, mainly by getting loosened up and more natural. I especially enjoyed, and benefited from, the sessions with Josh Karton, a screenwriter, actor, and acting coach.

Of course, the great man himself was there. I was a little disappointed. I had built Spence up in my mind as this legend, not only a great lawyer, but a humanitarian, who genuinely cared for people. It was hero-worship. The one time I tried to talk with him one on one, he wouldn't make eye contact, and seemed bored, going through the motions. There was another incident I've remembered, that has stuck in my mind. He didn't wear his trademark fringed buckskin coat or cowboy hat. Instead, he wore your basic Nike track suit and running shoes. After one of his talks, he stepped off the little stage, and his leg buckled and he almost fell. The mask fell away, and a look of fear - of falling, of failure? - crossed his face. He caught himself, straightened up, and the mask descended again.

We were, we were told, all "warriors." That's what Spence and his organization call themselves and their the "Alumni Tribe."The College even has its own magazine, called "Warrior."

There were about three days of training. The last session was held on a Sunday morning. There was nothing of substance in that session. We all sat around and talked about how we had been transformed by our three and a half days with "Gerry." Then he got down to business, asking us to pledge money so that the good work of the Trial College could continue, and our less successful (financially) brothers and sisters could partake of the wisdom and magic. It was like some of the revivals I had to attend in the Baptist Church, with people trying to out-hallelujah each other. Only here, it was like bidding, with Spence's shills writing down how much the acolytes pledged on big sheets of paper. Others made sure they got the names of the "donors" written down. I got caught up in it, and stood up, just like I did when I gave my life to Jesus, and said I would pledge $5,000 from a big case, that I was sure was going to pay the jackpot when I got back to Houston and used my new Gerry Spence mojo. I got so worked up, I bid against myself, up to $10,000. Of course, the big jackpot didn't materialize. But that didn't stop Gerry, who barely lowered himself to converse with me, from writing me florid letters, calling me his good friend, profusely apologizing for not personally thanking me for my generous "gift," and so on.

When the great one had to leave us to catch a plane, the crowd (me too) began chanting, just like the morons on the old Jerry Springer show, "Gerry! Gerry! Gerry!"

Scott Greenfield, from New York dares ask the question in his blog Simple Justice- a New York Criminal Defense Blog, is TLC a cult? He asks, "What hole exists in the psyche that makes some people, some lawyers, feel the need to make someone their leader, and them his follower? Whatever it is, whether the cool-aid, the fear, the lack of self-esteem, it's flowing freely at Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyer College. And Norm Pattis has become the target of their ire."

I am frankly embarrassed when I reflect on how gullible and foolish I was. The only reason I'm telling this story on myself is this: today I got another email announcement of a TLC regional seminar, wit a picture of some of the "Warriors" sitting listening to the guru. It just strikes me as pretentious and wrong, when we have real warriors serving this country at great danger and sacrifice in hellholes like Iraq and Afghanistan. Go to San Antonio some time to one of the malls and you'll see some of the wounded vets on leave from Brooks Army Medical Base, missing limbs, blind, and burned. It is an affront to them for anyone who didn't wear a uniform to call himself or herself a "warrior."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Slave Ranch Redux

The San Antonio Express News Sunday edition has a long article with lots of creepy pictures of Walter Wesley Ellebracht, Sr. and his brood. To read the article, you'd think that Joyce Ellebracht, the wife of Walter, Jr., was just an innocent bystander. The truth is otherwise. I have written a book about the case, based on the court's file and contemporaneous news accounts. I print here an excerpt from The Texas Slave Ranch - How a Degenerate Ranching Family Got Away With Murder (Texas Grotesques) [Kindle Edition]. The setting: three hitchhikers who had come in the night before told the ranchers they wanted to leave.

A couple of minutes later Boyd and his two companions were surrounded by men pointing rifles, shotguns and pistols at them. The old man said, “You ain't going nowhere. We spent twenty dollars in gas to to get you up here, and fed you and gave you somewhere to sleep, now you want to split. You might never get out of here.”

Boyd knew they were in bad trouble, and said, “Just let us work a day and then we'll split.”
"We're going to kill you, you'll die a slow death. That's what you get for having a loud mouth,” said the old man.

“You won't really kill me, will you?” Boyd said.

Junior piped in, "My dad's already killed two. I've killed one.” He looked like he was proud of himself.

The men flinched when a gun went off. When they turned to look, they saw Joyce pointing a rifle at them. Junior opened the back of the van and pulled out a brand new chain with padlocks. He chained them together at the ankles. The prisoners were loaded into the back of a pickup, and Mark Hamilton drove while Junior stood in the passenger door pointing a gun at them. Armed guards walked alongside the truck. They were driven to a hog pen about a quarter mile from the main house, where they were given steel bars and shovels and ordered to dig trenches. Junior said that before the day was out, they would be digging their own graves. As they worked, some of the guards shot around their feet, seeing who could hit the closest without shooting them. Soon Joyce joined in in the fun. This continued until she hit a rock, and a bullet or a rock fragment ricocheted and hit his leg. He fell to the ground, moaning and holding his knee. “I didn't mean to shoot you,” Joyce yelled. “I didn't mean to hit you.” When she saw that it had barely broken the skin, she told him to quit carrying on and get back to work. They dug for five hours in the hot sun, without water. Junior produced a cattle prod, made by Hotshot. “Take off your shirts,” he ordered. “You're not working fast enough,” then poked them with the cattle prod.

“We'll make you work a little faster.” As they worked, Junior continuously threatened and taunted them. “You guys will do anything we want, won't you?” he said.

Around two that afternoon, Junior announced he would let one of them go and asked his audience, “Which one of these guys do you think is the nicest one?” They agreed, the one in the middle, McCafferty.

Boyd whispered to McCafferty, “My name is Travis Boyd. I'm from San Antonio. If you get out of here go right to the cops, please!”

Junior handcuffed McCafferty, and removed the chain from his ankle, and ordered him to climb into the bed of the truck. When they got back to the house, the old man came out holding a rope, tying a noose as he walked. He threw the rope over a tree limb. “Boy, you’re going to die now.” He slipped put the noose over his head and tightened it around his neck. McCafferty was pleading for his life, when the old said he’d spare him if he sign some release forms. McCafferty had no choice, and readily assented. Junior paused from poking him with the hotshot, to let him sign the papers. The whole extended family was present – Junior and Joyce, Mark and Sherri Hamilton, Pete, and some others. Surrounded by people pointing guns at him, he signed and wrote his social security number on the forms. The first one said he no been mistreated, and had enjoyed his stay there. Another said he had been paid what he had coming to him. But the ranchers weren’t through toying with him. “Tell me why I shouldn't kill you,” the old man said.

“I have a young daughter in California who needs me,” McCafferty said, trying not to totally give into the fear. That wasn't good enough. The old man ordered him to write a suicide note. When he refused, they chained him to a tree and began shocking him again, until he agreed to sign the note. The ranchers forced him to write that he didn't enjoy living, and so was ending his life.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Boyd and the other prisoner were chained to a tree in the hog pen. When Junior returned, he showed them a bag of blood. He said that McCafferty had gotten smart-mouthed, so he killed him and drained his blood. He was going to kill them too. Junior went to work with the hotshot. The torment went on for a couple of hours. Joyce showed up a bucket full of blood, and threw it on the two chained men. All this time, there were men pointing guns at them, as Junior taunted them that that they were going to die.
It got even more dire when the old man came back. He pushed Boyd to his knees
with the hotshot, and grabbed him by the hair and held a knife to his throat, and told
him to start praying. Boyd, terrorized that he was going to die and be fed to the hogs,
began praying, crying and screaming all at the same time. . . .

That night, Joyce made a bowl of red jello for the men in the bunkhouse. When they started
to eat it, they saw it was molded around a piece of raw, bloody meat. She cackled, and said that Wes had cut it out of one of the men they had taken away.

Copyright, 2012, by Richard L Ellison