Evidence, Jury Questions Taken Behind Closed Door in Twin Peaks Case


19th Criminal District Judge Ralph T. Strother has delayed justice in the cases of 177 arrested on May 17, 2015, for more than two years

Waco – As the world awaits the first trial of a biker charged with acting as a king pin mobster in the deaths of 9 and wounding of 20 others, the judge took all arguments about evidence and jury selection behind the closed door of his chambers.

Judge Ralph T. Strother adroitly managed the mood during the earlier hearing session when the drug test of a woman charged with theft showed positive for use of prohibited substances and he found her bond insufficient, ordering her arrest and remanding her to the Sheriff’s Office on an increased bail amount.

“I’m not guilty!” she cried. “I didn’t do it. I’ve got to go home. I’m pregnant! My child is waiting in the car,” she sobbed. The standing room only crowd of seasoned criminal defense attorneys and defendants laughed nervously at her histrionics. She slowed, lingered in the doorway, as the bailiffs led her away in chains.

A number of the learned counsel remarked, “He had to get her out of here…” The tension level of the courtroom rose and fell away quickly with her exit as the judge looked down and to the left, at an imaginary spot, somewhere in space, just in front of the bench.

However painful, it was a moment that did not go unremarked by all in attendance, the clear indication of a game played for keeps, the consequences of win or loss negated by the cruel realities of the circumstances. The mere serious nature of the accusation alone is punishment enough, and to be present at any part of the accompanying ceremonies is a torture to the mind, a reflection of the horrid realities of the conflict, with or without strict proof.

Bummer. Total. A street of no joy, a ville of no happiness.

NEARLY 28 MONTHS AGO, CHRISOPHER JACOB CARRIZAL, a Bandido from Dallas, rode his Harley Davidson into an L-shaped ambush at Twin Peaks Restaurant.

Police and rival biker club members formed the two arms of an opposing force.

Carrizal and less than a dozen other members of Texas’ dominant Motorcycle Club, the Bandidos, thought they were going to a political meeting of the Confederation of Clubs and Independents to hear about actions of the Texas legislature on a multimillion dollar motorcycle safety fund and the profiling of motorcycle clubs flying 1 % patches as criminal street gangs. Cops and prosecutors nationwide are hell bent on reinforcing the outlaw status of men and their women who have been placed beyond the protections of the law ; the media hammers at what is depicted as a sudden crime wave of inter-club warfare between “outlaw motorcycle gangs” competing for territory in armed confrontations at bars and restaurants, parking lots and filling stations.

A member of the national leadership of the motorcycle enthusiast movement was to appear and brief representatives from the north Texas metropolises of Dallas-Ft. Worth and the southern Texas cities of Austin and San Antonio who had met in the central Texas location of Waco, a place where bikers are notoriously unwelcome, especially if they are wearing patches with the 1% diamond.

They were met by an overwhelming force of dozens upon dozens of armed men wearing similar patches – of a different color. An undetermined number of police with AR-15 patrol rifles stood in concealment behind their battle line. There is considerable evidence indicating the probability that they were operating in collusion.

In terms of transactional analysis of human behavior, it turned into the gunfight at the I’m not okay, you’re not okay corral, a setting named for the spooky cult classic cable tv series about a ritual murder of a young lady in the dystopian setting of a one-horse sawmill town of the Pacific Northwest during an economic slump.

Certainly, the only difference in economic terms of the set and setting of the Gunfight at the OK Corral in territorial Tombstone, Arizona, was the central fact of a booming economy of silver mining. All the rest of the elements are there – overarching federal presence, extreme rivalry between local law enforcement agencies, and the attraction to the conflict of hired gun mercenary lawmen who drifted from hell town to hell town in the social uncertainty of an unsettled west.

That gunfight only killed three, but just like the Twin Peaks massacre, there had been a long and serial chain of murder and mayhem leading up to the climactic confrontation of legend.

Authorities charged all persons arrested at Twin Peaks with the murky conspiracy-based offense of engaging in organized criminal activity, a first degree felony that carries a penalty of 25 to 99 years if it can be shown on trial that a combination of two or more persons acted in a way that led to the capital murder or aggravated assault of another human being.

In a multi-count superseding indictment, the state has enhanced its allegation against Jacob Carrizal to a further violation of the same Chapter of the Penal Code, that of “directing the activities of a criminal street gang.” Conviction for that first degree felony carries a penalty of not less than 30 years imprisonment nor more than 99.

A unanimous decision of the jury must hold that Carrizal used a firearm, chain, whip, brass knuckles…or other object “unknown to the Grand Jury” to cause the deaths.

Two members of the Cossacks MC met Carrizal as he and the rest of his party arrived at a parking lot packed with the motorcycles of their uninvited number. What was said or done is a matter of dispute.

Clifford Pearce, a former Bandido who was prospecting in the Hill County Cossacks chapter and had been stationed to watch the bikes, told police from his hospital bed that he has no idea who shot him – or why.

In contrast to other persons’ statements, he told police officers he experienced no collision with his body, nor did anyone run over his foot with a vehicle. He said he did not argue with the other bikers as they arrived over where they intended to park their scooters.

He is paralyzed from the chest down as the result of a gunshot wound.

Similarly, Ray Nelson, president of the Cossacks chapter who had directed him to take that station, told the cops who interviewed him at the hospital the next day that he had no confrontation with anyone, and that he has no idea who shot him in the back, or why.

In contrast, video surveillance of the crowd of Cossacks in the patio of the beer garden as they awaited the arrival of the Bandidos depicts a throng of men openly displaying their weapons, checking their concealed carry holsters, and adjusting their draw.

To prove their most serious allegation, prosecutors must make the jurors perceive a man astride his Harley-Davidson, a machine that weighs more than a quarter-ton, brandishing a weapon of vague description, leading a charge of only a few against a much larger number of antagonists who lay in wait with firearms.

They have summoned 600 prospective veniremen for the case.

As the surveillance tapes released to the public show, events rapidly accelerated, with gun-wielding assailants cut down by withering gunfire from unseen snipers. There is evidence that the police who wielded the rifles held them on the wounded and unwounded alike, forcing them to remain prone on the pavement in their death agony until they bled out, only yards from emergency medical technicians.

Dead men tell no tales.

They do not testify.

They are unavailable for questioning.

The packed courtroom slowly emptied of defendants making a pre-trial appearance as the hour wore on toward 9 a.m., time for the arraignment of Christopher Jacob Carrizal, and Christopher Julian Carrizal, both of Dallas, members of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, both charged with engaging in organized crime.

And then the moment everyone awaited came with the arrival of Carrizal’s defense attorney, Casie Gotro.

Dressed in an off-white linen suit, tanned, fit, lithe and – well – bouncy, she strode into the room in a whirl of stylishly cut hair tinted ash blonde, strappy purse, briefcase, slender arms and legs – and took her seat on the newly vacated front row of a pew reserved for attorneys. The crowd of lawyers who were there for the show lingered in the rear of the gallery, waiting for the curtain to go up following the overture of misery in the long, drawn-out parade of the accused.

He associate, a young man dressed in pearl gray, behaving with the neutral affect of a dude on serious business, sat down with eyes roving all over the room.

They waited, and when their investigator, former Fire Lieutenant and arson investigator Kevin Fisk arrived with a large number of satchels and boxes of files stacked high on a little two-wheel cart, they put him to work pulling out folders, binders, DVD’s, photos and floppies.

In animated gestures Ms. Gotro inquired about other items and Fisk, whose shirt was soaked through with perspiration, left and returned schlepping another stack of wheeled suitcases, attaches, and the odd cardboard folder or two.

He pawed through that stack and found the items requested, and as the three sat and sorted through it all, they reached a consensus.

They were ready.

Fisk departed,  a look of relief on his face. As a certified peace officer, he has agreed with many others behind a badge that Judge Strother is his favorite judge who acts as a Magistrate in criminal cases. This is for one reason and one reason only.

Strother is thorough; he reads every word of an affidavit, offers constructive criticism, and won’t sign off until he’s dead sure that it’s a valid legal document.

He didn’t sign any of the affidavits of warrantless arrest used to charge the 177 people apprehended in the aftermath of the blood bath of May 17, 2015, at Twin Peaks Restaurant.

As if on cue, Judge Strother emerged from his chambers at stage left, like a leading lion of the legitimate theater, and the aborted show began and ended just as quickly as the Prosecutors, Michael Jarret and Amanda Dillon, joined the defense attorneys in filing into his private domain, where they remained for nearly a half hour.

When they emerged, all went their separate ways just as quickly as they had arrived.

It’s not yet clear what, exactly went on in there, but there are clear cut indications from earlier, fiery appearances by Ms. Gotro that there is great concern by the defense that the questions to be asked of prospective jurors in the all-important process of the removal for cause and for peremptory challenge of jurors deemed unqualified or undesirable is paramount to be examined, given a thorough airing in pre-trial hearings. Hurry up and wait just won’t do when it comes to eliminating prospective jurors until the twelve who are least objectionable to both sides are seated by an acquiescence of accommodation under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

She is not without the aplomb of a well seasoned barrister. Ms. Gotro has addressed the Court in public about discrepancies between the discovery of ballistics reports the state has so far turned over to the defense bar. There is the issue of the three rifles tested, which, according to former Police Chief Brent Strohman, who announced to the world press in a statement many months ago, before his ouster as top cop in Waco,  were the only rifles used and were used to fire only twelve shots in the gun fight so often described as a “melee.”

The only caliber 5.56 millimeter rifle recovered from a civilian in the aftermath of the melee was locked in the trunk of a parked car.

Ms. Gotro’s pre-trial preparation has disclosed another ballistics sample, a bullet taken from the head of a biker who bit the dust that day that does not conform to the characteristics of any samples either test fired or recovered from the other three.

Whose rifle is that? Have all the samples been processed? Does anyone know? Fair questions, all. The judge has yet to rule on the issue.

The rest of the defense bar waits – and waits. The trial of Jake Carrizal, who was riding point as the Bandidos arrived at the Twin Peaks Restaurant, is going to take place first. No one has indicated any willingness to plead out.

A well-experienced investigator remarked later that discovery is a foot-dragging death march designed to leave defense teams unprepared and in a constant state of suspense. “They have released this massive amount of material – in six sections. Now, our guy’s discovery is in the sixth section of stuff – and they haven’t released that yet.”

He shrugged, smiling wanly, an upraised palm at chest level, the universal sign of – like – who knows?

Casie Gotro’s demeanor is take no prisoners and direct, and she has repeatedly engaged in vociferous exchanges bordering on badinage with Mr. Jarret over procedural and evidentiary items. Jarret has actually appealed to the judge in open court to “make her” suspend certain behavior that he has complained violates his space.

Judging by the press she has received in the Bayou City of Houston, her performance is not untypical of her courtroom style, which is aggressive, forthright – and extremely effective.

The lady is all about assertion, from the hair flip to the way she shoulders in and out of her suit jacket, cocks a hip and cuts her eyes, then turns on her toes like a hard charging mare lithely dancing out of the paddock.

In the elevator, she told veteran court reporter Tommy Witherspon, who followed along beamishly, searching for a quotable quote, “I’m sorry it wasn’t sexy today.”

They both laughed.

And then she strode away down Washington Avenue, into the forenoon heat of a blackland dog day going into cotton season, a walking exclamation point of expression, all about the new millennium’s professional watchword for working women.

Athletic, toned – physically fit – is the new standard of beauty for today’s professional.

Casie Gotro, Esq., Counselor, Attorney-at-Law…in an opening statement to a Houston jury about a woman, a victim of domestic abuse who allegedly consented to letting her estranged husband torture her with burns to her breasts and genitals during an extended session of rough sex. 




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