Waco, Texas – Women who are involved as victims of the brutal torture slayings of three teenagers at a lakeside park say men will never understand. Come back when you are sister, mother, daughter, grand daughter, or neice, they say. It’s a woman to woman thing.
The fact that per capita more Texans are locked up on any given day than any other nation in the world, and with more than 500 executions since 1980 leads the list of places that execute capital criminals for their ill deeds, fails to impress them. You see, if all that led to their safety and security, they would be satisfied. The truth is, they seriously believe that three of the real killers of Jill Montgomery, Raylene Rice, and Kenneth Franks are still living free in neighborhoods both in and near this central Texas city.
Two happenings occurred in rapid succession last week in this complex case that has raised doubts for more than 30 years. Both are signs that the public – including cops and prosecutors – never really bought in to the theories about who did it and why that were sold by the prosecutors and bought by juries in trials held in multiple changed venues.
The only living person convicted for the torture slayings of two young women and a boy, all in their teens, is demanding that his appeals attorney take a more aggressive stance in proving that he was never guilty of the crime for which he entered a plea for the simple reason that his trial attorneys and prosecutors promised him he would receive a short sentence and serve his time at a federal prison.
If he did not, he and the attorney handling his appeals maintain, he would have surely died with an executioner’s needle in his arm. Both his lawyers, and the cops and prosecutors said so. He believed them.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles notified Walter Reaves and the Innocence Project of Texas that their staff will conduct an investigation of his allegations of innocence laid in a clemency petition he wrote in order to make a recommendation to Governor Greg Abbott. (click here to read the petition)
And after 16 years of waiting, Anthony Melendez finally acknowledged to his lawyer that in essence he realizes DNA evidence that could exonerate him is held hostage by a testing firm that refuses to turn specimen over to another firm because it is “work product,” and the simple fact that a New York journalist who has written a book under contract with Simon & Schuster and paid for the testing is acting as a legal assistant to Reaves, subject to attorney-client privilege.
Former “New Yorker” staff writer and best-selling author Frederic Dannen (“Hit Men,” Random House) is living in Mexico and claims he has not released his book-length work on the Lake Murders case to Simon & Schuster because of his involvement with the legal case.
Furthermore, abundant evidence exists that Anthony Melendez was not present at the scene of the crime on the day it occurred. His boss told lead investigator Truman Simons and the District Attorney, Vic Feazell, that he and Melendez were painting apartments a hundred miles distant in the city of Bryan on the Tuesday in August, 1982, when the killings took place. He furnished payroll records to corroborate his statement, records which clearly showed Melendez worked from Monday until Friday and lived in a motel there before returning to Waco for the weekend. The lawyer whose voice is captured on the tapes talking about an “air tight” alibi, says so.
Melendez wrote Reaves demanding that 1) he give statements to the media; 2) that he be allowed to talk to media; 3) that he be informed of the whereabouts of DNA samples to be tested; 4) that he be informed if the DNA testing has been funded. Most of all, he wants to know why the samples that could exonerate him have not been tested after a decade and a half.
In a letter to State Senator Rodney Ellis, he says after serving time for three decades, and after being promised he would do less than 10 years in a federal facility, “I have felt so lost and helpless; I have a group of supporters, however, my attorney once again refuses to answer their questions or do anything to help me.”
In a recent letter, Reaves wrote Melendez to say if he can find another attorney he thinks can do a better job, to go ahead and hire him.
In an interview held long ago in 1992 in a judge’s chambers on the eve of a retrial of Mohammed Muneer Deeb, who was convicted of the murder for hire of Jill Montgomery, a teenaged girl whom Simons believed was actually mistaken for another young woman Deeb allegedly wanted dead, Lt. Truman Simons protested that other Waco cops would doubt his veracity, no matter what he said. Deeb was acquitted after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that testimony offered to that effect was hearsay of a jailhouse snitch who quoted yet another jailhouse snitch not present in the courtroom. Simons worked for Vic Feazell as a special investigator after he quit his job as a Sergeant on the Waco police force and promised the Sheriff he could clear the crimes in less than a week if he was hired as an entry level jailer. It was not a happy day for him as the lawyers hammered out where the retrial would take place. What with suppression of the hearsay testimony, the verdict of acquittal was a foregone conclusion, the upcoming trial a mere formality.
Feazell faced federal prosecution under the RICO statutes for accepting bribes to trade with members of the defense bar to share in their legal fees in exchange for dropping cases or pleading offenses down to misdemeanors. After his acquittal, he won a judgment against a Dallas television station for $40 million in punitive damages and $18 million in actual damages, later settled out of court for a reportedly much smaller amount.
In a bizarre twist, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas offered famed Dallas criminal defense lawyer Billy Ravkind a chance to see his client Dick Kettler plead guilty to a lesser charge carrying a maximum sentence of 3 years and a $5,000 fine in a tax dispute in exchange for his testimony against Feazell and his wife Bernadette about fee sharing and bribery “to influence the disposition of criminal cases in McLennan County, Texas, any crimes arising out of that conspiracy and any tax violation except as agreed above for the years 1981 through 1984.”
Former DA Vic Feazell and Lt. Truman Simons
In an audiofile obtained from a confidential source of a taped meeting between the DA, Melendez’ trial lawyer Jim Barlow, Truman Simons, and Melendez, the quid pro quo worked out for a guilty plea to capital murder is clearly to be heard. In exchange for a sentence of 10 years or less to be served in a federal correctional facility, Melendez is to testify against David Wayne Spence, who was later executed for two of the killings. He allegedly completely severed Ms. Montgomery’s nipple from her breast with his teeth.
Critics say there is clear-cut and abundant evidence that someone else committed the murders, but witnesses who saw the youngsters leave with other actors are afraid to come forward, and exculpatory evidence has been mishandled, destroyed, or withheld, according to the clemency petition.
The new Michael Morton law that took effect on January 1, 2014, has a statue of limitations that tolls on the 25th anniversary of the convictions. There is no statute of limitations on the crime of murder.