LAKE MURDERS: Smoking gun, still hot after 35 years, returns to Austin court tomorrow


Tony Melendez eating pizza with Truman Simons. He died in prison even though he could prove he wasn’t there when the murders happened. Why? They persuaded him to plead and get out in 10 years.

AUSTIN – When the gavel drops tomorrow at 9 am in District Court, what’s on the table is the possibility that evidence long witheld by a New York journalist may change the course of criminal justice at Waco.

The English law firm of Dallas is presenting procedural law that would allow a judge to make a finding of wrongful death in the execution of convicted murderer and rapist David Wayne Spence. He and two co-defendants went down for the 1981 murder of a trio of youths who had boarded at the Methodist Home prior to their frightful stabbing and slashing murders at a Lake Waco park.

The State of Texas has responded that there is no issue at law or in fact that would support such an allegation, but there are many who differ.

Here’s what is at stake.

Hundreds of hours of tapes recorded surreptitiously in the conference room of a law library at the McLennan County Criminal District Attorney’s Office allegedly detail how DA Vic Feazell, members of his staff, and Special Crimes Investigator Truman Simons persuaded two brothers, Gilbert and Tony Melendez, to cooperate in favor of lenient treatment. The arrangements never took place. Both men died in prison.

In a petition that is more than 40 pages in length, the attorneys representing Jason Spence make numerous references to evidence that was not included or overlooked in the prosecution.

Chief among those items are the tapes, which are now in the possession of former “New Yorker” Magazine writer Frederic Dannen.

He signed on as a paralegal with the law office of Walter Reeves, an Innocence Project attorney who represented Gilbert Melendez in a quest to compare DNA taken from the fingernails of one of the deceased, Jill Montgomery. Those efforts never succeeded, and when he left the states to live in Mexico, he took the tapes with him.

The tapes allegedly reveal negotiations with defense attorneys to guarantee early parole for each of the defendants, arrangements which never materialized. The tapes also reveal that the brothers had little knowledge of what actually happened at the crime scene and how the bodies were transported from where they were allegedly murdered.

Simons allegedly allowed them conjugal visits and fed them pizza during outings from jail where he constantly coaxed them and coached their audio-recorded statements, which were numerously re-written.

The Texas Rangers approached the present DA, Abel Reyna, for an invitation to investigate the matter of the DNA and the tapes, but Reyna has reportedly stalled on the issue for more than a year.

Of particular note is the allegation made by the ex-wife of Feazell, Bernadette, who reported on her blog Feazell and Simons spoke of a certain federal informant who made allegations about a racketeering case against the DA for bribery” “He was Confidential Informant #13 in Vic’s indictment. Vic was indicted on September 17, 1986 and Bowers was dead by October 16. There is a tape of Vic and Truman that morning talking about it, plus a confession from Alvin Collins, also known as Black Jesus, saying they hired him. Dannen the…played it for me and Judy Simons on June 8, 2002.”

In the alleged scheme, a man who had been charged and indicted for the assault of a police officer received a misdemeanor charge in exchange for a quid pro quo agreement arranged by a staff member to purchase a table at a campaign event for Feazell.

Dannen furnished a statement asserting that he presented his evidence to the FBI. In the statement he said he had fulfilled his “civic duty” to disclose the facts, and that FBI agents had received what he had to give them.

No evidence will be presented to the court in the hearing in state district court in Austin at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, August 3.

This is the strategy in overcoming the objections of the State of Texas to the lawsuit, according to a paralegal who works for the law firm:

“This is a 91a Motion to Dismiss hearing – similar to a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss in federal court. It is not an evidentiary hearing – so no evidence will be presented. Accordingly, Scott Perry will argue points of law and the Spences will not be present. Recall that this is a novel approach. While similar previous approaches in other cases have not been successful – we believe our argument has merit. There is at least one point of law on upon which Courts of Appeal across the state have disagreed, and the Texas Supreme Court has yet to consider. As such, it is difficult to predict an outcome,” according to G.P. Cantrell.