Two dozen bikers indicted in the Twin Peaks shootout learned Friday the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office is re-evaluating their cases and likely will dismiss all but about 25 of the 154 indicted in the May 2015 brawl.
Judge Ralph Strother of Waco’s 19th State District Court summoned 24 members of the Cossacks motorcycle group or their support clubs to court to get answers about how the Twin Peaks cases, pending in court for almost three years, will proceed.
Assistant District Attorney Amanda Dillon told the judge that she and others on the Twin Peaks prosecution team have been re-evaluating the cases and likely will have recommendations on how to proceed to lame duck McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna by the end of next week.
Reyna, who directed the arrests of anyone associated with the rival Bandidos or Cossacks groups after the deadly shootout, did not attend Friday’s hearing. Since 177 were arrested on the night of the shootout, 154 have been indicted, including a handful who were not arrested immediately after the shootout. Only one case, which ended in a hung jury and a mistrial, has been tried.
Speaking for the DA’s office, Dillon, in court with newly appointed First Assistant District Attorney Robert Moody and prosecutor Hilary LaBorde, told the judge that “my idea would be to cut the number of trial cases, again just a ballpark figure, to 25 to 30 cases.”
“We are down already. It’s not 154 anymore,” Dillon said.
The DA’s office has not filed any formal dismissals since before Reyna was defeated in the March primary by Republican challenger Barry Johnson. Johnson faces independent candidate Daniel Hare in November if Hare gets the required 500 petition signatures from residents who did not vote in either party primary.
Reyna dismissed two cases which had been set for trial in April. So far, Reyna has dismissed 28 Twin Peaks cases that were indicted and refused 32 others that were not indicted.
The judge called the status conference because of the inactivity in the Twin Peaks cases since Bandidos Dallas chapter leader Jacob Carrizal’s trial ended in a hung jury in November, Reyna was defeated and two of the four prosecutors from Carrizal’s trial announced they are leaving Reyna’s office, former first assistant Michael Jarrett and Brody Burks.
“I would like to try to get some of the these matters disposed of so the next district attorney, whoever that might be, doesn’t have a lot of these issues to deal with,” Strother said. “I don’t know how possible any of that is, but that is the purpose of why I called the status conference today. I’m not insisting on anyone announcing ready for trial, but I want to find out where everybody is and get suggestions on moving forward without further delays.”
Strother and 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson divided the Twin Peaks cases equally, and the 75 or so cases added instantly to the courts’ dockets have taken dramatic tolls on the operation of the courts. Johnson has scheduled a similar status conference with the same number of Cossacks or support club members for May 4.
As Strother called the names of those summoned and their attorneys Friday, Dillon told the court many of their attorneys still have not picked up several rounds of discovery evidence from the DA’s office, which has grown to more than three terabytes of information, images and more.
Houston attorney Paul Looney, who represents Phillip White, filed a motion Friday seeking a speedy trial and asked the judge to set White for trial as soon as possible. He said he thinks the hearing accomplished what the judge intended.
“You know, with almost no fanfare, we just had the most significant day we have had in nearly three years,” Looney said. “The state just announced that they are going to dismiss all but maybe 25 of these cases. So in a nondescript afternoon courtroom, we and the judge found out the answer about cases involving about 100 folks, and that’s a pretty big deal. … The judge has been looking to the state forever and saying, ‘Who do you want to try? Who do you want to try?’ I think three years later, it is fair to say the answer is nobody.”
Looney said White, a disabled former construction worker, was living in Waco at the time of the shootout but has since moved to East Texas. White was walking in the parking lot and was shot in the mouth as the shootout erupted. The fight left nine bikers dead and more than 20 injured.
Looney said White ran to the bathroom at Twin Peaks, bleeding profusely from his wound.
“He has no clue who shot him. He didn’t even know there was a controversy happening at the time,” Looney said.
White is seeking a trial date because he has had the matter hanging over his head for three years, Looney said.
“I don’t want him to be on bond for a fourth year,” Looney said. “Just because they are hanging out a carrot that he may be dismissed, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to set a trial date. I want to have one or the other and let this man loose, soon. Let’s try him and let the jury cut him loose or let’s file a dismissal on him. I just want him cut loose soon.
“I don’t know what to say about his situation. You have never seen it. I have never seen it. America has never seen anything like this before. We don’t operate this way, and I think we now have an object lesson on never doing it again.”