The grotesque harlequinade of justice strutting and preening in Waco has reached a jaw dropping low. One of the Waco police “investigators” of the Twin Peaks Massacre has been appointed foreman of the grand jury that will decide which of the 177 people accused of murder will be indicted and have to stand trial.
James Head, photo above, will lead the panel of 12 jurors and two alternates that will also consider whether police acted legally when they fired into a crowd of motorcycle enthusiasts who had assembled to eat lunch and talk politics at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco on May 17. Nine people died and 18 were wounded. The day after the massacre, Police spokesman W. Patrick Swanton said 192 people had been “detained.” On June 12, Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman said 239 people had been “detained.” An unknown number of those detainees were transported to the Waco Convention Center. That is where Head interviewed an unknown number of those detainees on May 17 and helped decide who was naughty and who was nice.
The men and women arrested in the aftermath of the Twin Peaks massacre were illegally ordered held by a caricatured justice of the peace named W.H. “Pete” Peterson. Peterson based his decision on false statements made by Waco detective Manuel Chavez.
A Little History
Head’s appointment is worse than an obvious conflict of interest. It also turns the whole point of a grand jury inside out. Grand juries in the English speaking world have protected free men from reckless accusations since the year 978. The “right” to a grand jury is specified in the first sentence of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution which reads “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.” Texas has now transformed the core meaning of a grand jury from “protector” to “accessory after the fact.”
In United States v. Mandujano Justice Warren Burger, who was hardly a bleeding heart liberal, wrote, “The grand jury is an integral part of our constitutional heritage which was brought to this country with the common law. The Framers, most of them trained in the English law and traditions, accepted the grand jury as a basic guarantee of individual liberty; notwithstanding periodic criticism, much of which is superficial, overlooking relevant history, the grand jury continues to function as a barrier to reckless or unfounded charges…Its historic office has been to provide a shield against arbitrary or oppressive action, by insuring that serious criminal accusations will be brought only upon the considered judgment of a representative body of citizens acting under oath and under judicial instruction and guidance.”
In a recent case that became notorious after the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Falkenberg took a long look at it last year, a Houston police officer named James Koteras headed a grand jury that indicted Alfred Dewayne Brown for the murder of Houston Police Officer Charles R. Clark. University of Houston law professor David R. Dow told Falkenberg that the appointment of Koteras to the grand jury “would scream conflict of interest to nearly all reasonable people.”
Nevertheless, there are no state or federal laws that address conflicts of interest for grand jurors. Head’s appointment is perfectly legal.
“That’s the way it turned out,” State District Judge Ralph Strother told the Waco Tribune-Herald’s Tommy Witherspoon. “There was nothing to prevent the detective from being a qualified member of the grand jury, just like there is nothing to prevent him from being a qualified juror. If there is nothing that challenges his impartiality, he is qualified. We have lawmen who get on jury panels all the time. Who is better qualified in criminal law than somebody who practices it all the time?”
McLennan County District Attorney Abelino “Abel” Reyna told Witherspoon “That’s the system. He was chosen totally at random, like the law says.”
What’s That Smell
Dallas Attorney Clint Broden, who is representing Scimitar Motorcycle Club member Matt Clendennen in the Twin Peaks case, thinks the system stinks.
This morning in a supplement to a Writ of Mandamus addressed to the Court of Appeals for the Tenth District of Texas Broden wrote, “There is a noxious odor surrounding the investigation by the Waco Police and the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office with regard to the ‘Twin Peaks Shooting’ and the wholesale arrest of 177 motorcyclists. This odor continues to waft and intensify with Detective Head serving as the grand jury foreperson over the investigation.”
Broden and Clendennen are both restrained from commenting on the case by a gag order so Broden has been compelled to communicate with the press and the public at large by way of written requests to the court for rulings.
“Mr. Clendennen is unable to respond to Judge Strother’s comments and point out that, even if possibly lawful, Detective Head’s participation in the grand jury process makes any grand jury decision unworthy of public confidence and that Detective Head should recuse himself from consideration of the motorcyclists cases,” Broden wrote to the world in this morning’s motion. “Indeed, it would be as if a relative of the defendant was the foreperson of the grand jury.”
Broden may be shouting into a storm. So far just about every cop, prosecutor and judge in Waco has made it clear they don’t need no stinking “public confidence.”