Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New Post at Fault Lines

I'm going to start doing better about posting a link over here to the Fault Lines blog whenever I post a new column over there.

If you aren't reading the columns over there, you are missing some great insights from some of the best legal bloggers in the country.  Check it out.

I did a new post this morning on some controversial opinions about addiction in an Op/Ed piece from Sunday's Washington Post.  You can read it by clicking here.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Clappart's Warrant: Judge for Yourself

While much has been said, about Steve Clappart's warrant for the arrest of Cody Ray Ellis as an alternate suspect in the murder of Belinda Temple, it appears that David Temple's defense team has been reluctant to publish the warrant itself.  Additionally, many of the local media outlets, specifically the Houston Chronicle have decided not to delve into the details of it.

Let's take it page by page --

So, to be clear, in this document, Steve Clappart is attempting to have Capital Murder charges filed against Cody Ray Ellis.  For those of you outside of the legal field, Capital Murder can be punished only by Life in Prison or the Death Penalty.  By signing off on this warrant, Clappart is verifying that he is completely comfortable with this.

Clappart then goes on to explain how experienced he is as a police officer.  He also goes on and on about how experienced John Denholm was as a police officer.  This isn't necessarily abnormal, but it is pretty excessive for a standard warrant.  Clappart is basically just illustrating that he is writing the warrant at Denholm's behest, but it should make no difference, because they are both just amazingly experienced.

Clappart then goes on to state that Denholm got all of his information after being contacted by David Temple's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin.  This was what I criticized Lisa Falkenberg for being so ambiguous about in her article praising Clappart and Denholm.

On to Page Two . . .
Okay, so let's start with the fact that when John Denholm brings this case to Steve Clappart, all the research that he has done into this new "star witness" Daniel Glasscock is watch a video deposition of Glasscock that is conducted by David Temple's attorney, Dick DeGuerin.  As noted, based on solely having watched the video where Glasscock is questioned by a defense attorney, John Denholm has decided that the testimony is credible and David Temple is wrongfully convicted.

Um, okay.  

So, Clappart decided to watch the video deposition, too.  He also decides it is credible, and puts the details into the Probable Cause statement.

Let's breakdown what comes out of that deposition, shall we?  Basically, Glasscock is saying that he went over to Riley Joe Sanders house with a guy named Carlos Corro.  Corro tells them "things were fucked up in a robbery."  While at Sanders house, Glasscock joins a conversation between Corro, Sanders and Cody Ray Ellis, where he hears Sanders tell Corro "that the dog attacked him when he went up the stairs, he shot the dog, heard Belinda [Temple], put the dog in the closet and they panicked and ran."

Let's assume that Glasscock was telling the truth (which is a big assumption to make) and that he actually heard these words uttered by Sanders.  These words are still a far cry away from being a confession to Capital Murder.  This is an admission to shooting a dog, and then fleeing when they hear a person [alleged to have been Belinda Temple].  

Let's also look at the plausibility of this conversation taking place.  Glasscock states that he just wandered out of the bathroom as the three boys were standing around talking about committing a home burglary/animal abuse/capital murder.  Rather than stop the conversation, they keep on talking about it as if they were talking about an Astros game?  At some point, they throw in the name of Belinda Temple, presumably so Glasscock won't feel left out of the conversation?

Clappart notes that Belinda Temple's dog was not in her house at the time of her murder, rather it was closed in the garage.  Many investigators would have found this fact as evidence that Glasscock was not a reliable witness.  Inexplicably, the dynamic duo of Clappart and Denholm find that it somehow strengthens his credibility.

Page Three . . .

Although it isn't clear whether or not law enforcement or Dick DeGuerin had Daniel Glasscock polygraph tested, Clappart notes that Glasscock has shown No Deception to "all pertinent questions asked."  He doesn't list what those "pertinent" questions were, but okay.  He is clearly doing everything he can to portray how amazingly credible Glasscock is.

At this point, Clappart starts looking into the background of Corro, Ellis and Sanders and notes that Corro and Ellis (along with a third party) had been arrested two months after Belinda Temple's murder for criminal mischief.  He notes that Corro had been driving a white car during the criminal mischief and then points out that a witness had seen two white males "in an off-white or creme or light beige colored vehicle speed away from the area of the murder around 4:30 p.m. on the date of the murder."

So, I guess there are so few white cars in the world that this is somehow incriminating?  Not to mention, the witness seems clear that it wasn't a white car, but an "off-white or creme or light beige" vehicle.  To Clappart, this appears to be immensely damning.

Clappart also notes that Corro and Ellis had committed a burglary along with Casey Goosby, eight days before the murder.  He notes that the target of this burglary was Goosby's mother's boyfriend and was done in retaliation for him cheating on her.  He also notes that shotguns and jewelry had been taken in the burglary.  

I can actually see where Clappart could find this significant.  Burglaries in the area are certainly relevant.  Burglaries are also frequent, and the typical things taken in burglaries are guns, jewelry, electronics and cash.  Clappart then points out that Sanders (who was NOT part of the Goosby burglary) had a grudge against Belinda Temple.  

This seems to be a case of two plus two equalling five, in my opinion.  So, one of the Clappart/ Denholm suspects committed a burglary shortly before the Temple murder and a different one of them had a grudge against Belinda Temple.  If we combine the two, does that point to Capital Murder?

On to Page Four . . .
 Clappart then moves in a strange direction with the warrant, by interviewing Riley Joe Sanders' ex-girlfriend, Niki Biondi Lundes.  Clappart finds some level of significance in the fact that in 1999, Lundes was reluctant to admit that Sanders was her boyfriend.  I'm not sure what that has to do with anything.  Lundes tells him that Ellis, Corro, and Sanders were associates and that they had committed crimes together before.  I don't know that this was really in question.  More significantly, Lundes tells Clappart that Belinda Temple had been a tutor to Sanders on difficult subjects, and that Sanders called her the night of the murder, crying because he had heard Belinda Temple was dead.

Clappart then returns to shoring up his "star witness", Daniel Glasscock.  He interviews Glasscock's father, who states that Daniel had told him about the information he had overheard Corro, Ellis and Sanders talking about.  Mr. Glasscock said that his son had been threatened about not talking, but he encouraged his son to talk to the police, anyway.  Mr. Glasscock said that Daniel ultimately talked to his minister, Jeff Adams, who had also told Daniel to tell the police.

I'm not really sure of the significance of this either?  So, Mr. Glasscock can offer some hearsay evidence about something his son told him he heard?  Maybe Clappart is going for some bolstering here, but I don't understand why it is in the warrant. 

Page 5 (we're almost done here) . . .

Clappart states that he personally interviewed Glasscock on July 16, 2012, and points out that (just in case anyone forgot), he, Clappart has been a police investigator for 44 years.  He points out his experience before deeming Glasscock to be "very credible."   I've read hundred of warrants in my career, but I've never seen this level of Credibility Gymnastics ever put into a warrant.  The reason Clappart is working so hard to make Glasscock seem credible is pretty apparent once Glasscock starts talking.

Glasscock tells Clappart of his own life of crime, but how now he is reformed and teaches gymnastics for children.  He confirms the information from the deposition he gave to Dick DeGuerin.  He recalls coming out of the bathroom at Sanders' house and finding Corro, Sanders and Ellis smoking on the back patio, talking about "shit was fucked up."  Glasscock tells Clappart "'they had broke in the next door neighbor's house' and later in the interview said that Sanders was very panicky and told Corro that they had shot the dog and put it in the closet."

Here's where things get even more ridiculous.
"Your affiant said that Daniel Glasscock then told your affiant that 5 or 6 months ago, Glasscock had learned that the dog had not died and that it was Belinda Temple's body that was found in the closet . . ."
Wait, what?

Clappart is interviewing Glasscock in July of 2012.  The murder happened in 1999.  Glasscock stated that he just learned of the murder in January of 2012?

Hang on, Glasscock has an explanation:
"Glasscock told your affiant that one night in May 2012 he could not sleep and woke up and turned on the television and was flipping through the channels when he saw a television program on the Temple murder and then recalled what he knew and what he had heard and began to think about what it would be like if Glasscock's father was in prison for a crime that he did not commit."
Well, I guess if you put it that way, it makes perfect sense, right?

Finally, Page 6 . . .

So, to summarize, Glasscock, an ex-criminal (per the warrant) didn't know about the murder for twelve years, sees a TV show, remembers an obscure conversation from twelve years earlier, and contacts a convicted murderer's lawyer with some new information about shooting a dog.

Yep, that's what Capital Murder warrants are made of, according to John Denholm and Steve Clappart.

Upon reading the entirety of the warrant, it should become obvious why Temple's team didn't want it published.  It should also become obvious why no judge in the courthouse would sign it.  

It should also be noted that no prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office, other than Jim Leitner thought it was should be signed.

But, then again, Leitner was having the Office recuse itself in favor of Brad Beers -- who had been Steve Clappart's attorney.  That makes it more fair, right?

If you're a prosecutor reading this, would you have taken Capital Murder charges based on that information?

If you're a judge, would you have signed the warrant?

And if you're a defense attorney, what would your reaction be if your client got arrested on a warrant like that?

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Denholm and Clappart Column

For those of you who have subscriptions to the Houston Chronicle, you may have seen that Lisa Falkenberg had a column yesterday morning praising defense attorney John Denholm and his friend, former Harris County District Attorney's Office investigator, Steve Clappart.  In a moment of very dramatic titling, the headline reads "Former officers saw through evidence, sought truth in Temple case."  ( NOTE:  Unless you have access to the Chronicle's premium content, I don't believe you can read the full article online.)

I talked to Lisa on Friday about the article and gave her my thoughts about Clappart and Denholm.  Although Lisa is a friend of mine, this was one of those many moments where we agreed to disagree.  I've read her article a couple of times now, and I think she misses the mark on many, many points.

To be clear (again), I am very biased on this topic.  John Denholm and I are not friends and we don't care much for each other (to put it mildly).  I used to be friends with Steve Clappart and I like him as a person, but his actions on the Temple case have made me question his judgment.  That being said, I still fail to understand what the big contribution was that Clappart and Denholm are alleged to have provided to the Temple investigation.

Clappart and Denholm were chomping at the bit to get a young man arrested for Capital Murder based on the word of a guy named Daniel Glasscock.  As I pointed out in this post and this post, in 2012, Glasscock had a "sudden memory flashback" to a conversation he had overheard in 1999.  In that decade old memory, he seemed to recall having overheard three of his then-teenage friends talking about killing a dog and throwing it in a closet during a burglary.  Clappart and Denholm surmised that they were really speaking "in code" about the murder of Belinda Temple and tried to get a Capital Murder warrant signed against one of the teens.

No judge in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center would sign that warrant.

In Judge Gist's (now infamous) findings of fact on the Temple case, he specifically rejected Glasscock's testimony as being inconsistent and not credible.  So, although Denholm and Clappart are getting a very large column on the front of City/State section of Sunday's Chronicle, Gist's findings dismissing their findings are never mentioned.

Despite this invalidation of their investigation, the column treats Clappart and Denholm as tragic heroes who lost friends and colleagues for their dogged pursuit of justice.  The article claims that they were ostracized for daring to question the ruling by "Siegler loyalists."

It is very true that Denholm and Clappart lost friends and were ostracized by former co-workers.  A detective I know mentioned to me a few weeks ago that he doubted the Sheriff's Office could "drum up enough people to carry a casket" for Denholm.  However, stating that they earned these feelings simply because they went against Siegler loyalists is simply false.  It was the way they went about it that earned them the distrust and alienation that they now lament.

Despite the animosity between me and Denholm, I actually identify with his motivations in several aspects.  He was a law student (as well as a Lieutenant with the Sheriff's Office) when Kelly Siegler asked him to take part in a mock trial as she prepared for the Temple case.  Like any law student would be in that situation, he was motivated to do a good job and dazzle the Office's best prosecutor with his skills.  As noted in Lisa's article:
"Denholm told Siegler her case had problems.  Her response, according to Denholm's sworn affidavit, was that most of his questions were improper and she would have objected to them anyway.
"'You know, to me,' Denholm says, 'if it's about procedure and not justice, that's a big problem right there.'"
Well, that's a bit disingenuous, isn't it?  Kelly told him that many of his questions were objectionable and, in her opinion, inadmissible, and he had a problem with that?  I understand the hubris of being a law student in a mock trial.  Trust me, I do.  Those pesky rules that keep us from making the points we want to make, however, are the Rules of Evidence that we have to follow.  With all of the allegations being hurled at Kelly Siegler right now, I think it is kind of ironic that Denholm would make such a statement.

Lisa's article goes on to point out how Denholm bashed his fellow detectives for their shoddy work on the Temple investigation.   It does not point out, however, that he told Kelly Siegler and his co-workers he would have gotten a confession out of Temple, if he had been running the investigation.  Denholm's surprise that he is no longer beloved by his brethren at the Sheriff's Office is amusing -- everybody loves a co-worker who tells you how much better he is than you!

Denholm was very proud of the job he felt he had done during the mock trial.  As he transitioned from Homicide Lieutenant to defense attorney, he was not shy about telling people of how he had made short work of the State's case during a mock trial on David Temple.  Nobody faults him for that.  When you are a defense attorney in private practice, you should be able to proclaim your courtroom prowess.  That's just good business.  I would have done the same in that situation.

Eventually, Denholm's tales of his mock trial skills got back to Temple's trial attorney, Dick DeGuerin.  DeGuerin, who believed Temple's conviction and subsequent Life Sentence were wrongful had a golden goose with Denholm.  The Harris County Sheriff's Office's Homicide Division had investigated the murder of Belinda Temple, and here he had a former Lieutenant of their own Homicide Division talking about how insufficient the evidence was.

Lisa's column is highly ambiguous about Denholm came to be involved in the re-investigation into the Temple case.
"Years later, in 2012, Denholm heard that a new witness had emerged, someone who'd overheard one of the youths confessing to the murder."
Hmm.  I wonder how Denholm heard that.  You don't suppose Dick DeGuerin called him up, by any chance, do you?

Don't get me wrong -- DeGuerin was doing what a good defense attorney should do.  He was capitalizing on a person who had the pedigree to give his client's innocence claims a higher level of credibility.  He would have been a fool not to contact Denholm and ask for his help.  However, Lisa spinning it like Denholm was just sitting around stewing over the injustice done to David Temple is misleading.

And stating that the one of the youths was "confessing to the murder" is an outright lie.

Enter Daniel Glasscock -- the witness who allegedly overheard someone confessing to a murder.

In 2012, thirteen years after the murder of Belinda Temple and five years after David Temple's conviction for that murder, Glasscock came forward after having his memory "jogged" by a television show covering the murder.  Glasscock was claiming that he had forgotten about a conversation that he had overheard thirteen years earlier between three friends of his.  Glasscock stated that he had only learned of Belinda Temple's murder in 2012.  The conversation he was now remembering was one where the three friends admitted to burglarizing a house, shooting a dog and throwing it in the closet.

Under DeGuerin and Denholm's belief, Glasscock's information was a confession to the Capital Murder of Belinda Temple.  (NOTE:  If you agree that this was, in fact, a confession to a capital murder, then you might as well stop reading now.)   Pretty much everyone else (outside of David Temple's circle of supporters) thought that was the biggest stretch of logic that the Harris County Criminal Justice Center had ever seen.

Let's take a moment and pretend that instead of Glasscock's highly attenuated story, DeGuerin had come across a story that had more teeth to it.  Tweak the facts of Glasscock's testimony just a little bit and pretend that instead of hearing his friends admitting to killing a dog, he overheard them admitting to actually killing Belinda Temple.  Don't you just know that DeGuerin would have bypassed Denholm and gone straight to the media?  He would have had Glasscock interviewed in an exclusive news story and made sure there was an outpouring of support to have David Temple released from his Life Sentence.

But the reality is you gotta dance with who brung ya, and at the end of the day Glasscock's story was a steaming pile of crap.  Denholm was an experienced Homicide detective and he knew that.  That's why he pitched it to the only person who might indulge this incredible stretch of a story -- his dear friend of 20 years, Steve Clappart.  As I mentioned in the earlier blog posts, Clappart shopped the new information to Jim Leitner, who wanted it kept quiet -- a strange position for the 1st Assistant to a District Attorney that had campaigned on transparency.  One of the lesser publicized portions of Kelly Siegler's transcript during the Temple hearing was when she spoke of Clappart calling her on her cell phone, crying, and saying that Leitner and DeGuerin were forcing him to look into the Glasscock story.

After I ran a blog post exposing the secret investigation, Leitner decided a Special Prosecutor was needed.  The District Attorney's Office passed the investigation off to Brad Beers, who had once been Clappart's lawyer when Clappart "had been the subject of what he calls a couple of baseless accusations of wrongdoing."  Team Temple did not see any conflict of interest or anything wrong with that.  I wonder if they would feel the same if Devon Anderson recused the Office from Temple now and appointed me as a Special Prosecutor now.  I'd be glad to help out!

Clappart and Denholm sang "woe is me" over how many friends that they lost because of the Temple investigation.  Those damn Siegler Loyalists are a bitter bunch of people, right?   Lisa's column painted a vivid picture of misunderstood law men with the courage to go against the grain in their unbending pursuit of true justice.
"'Someone blew this woman's head off,' Denholm says.  "Why wouldn't you want to find him?"
To the prosecutors and Sheriff's deputies who worked on the case, "this woman" was a pregnant mother named Belinda Temple and they very much wanted to find who did it.  As a matter of fact, they believe strongly that they did find who did it -- her husband.  A jury agreed in record time and now David Temple sits in prison.

The lack of respect and friendship that Clappart and Denholm are experiencing now isn't because they "went against the grain."  It is because they tried to use such a weak story to free a convicted killer.  The fact that they were going about it through back channels made it all the more distasteful. The fact that they were willing to let somebody else go down on a Capital Murder charge for it is terrifying.

Whether or not David Temple gets a new trial will be up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, of course.  They have many things to mull over.  The information provided by Denholm and Clappart is not something that is likely to be a factor in that.  Judge Gist was quite clear that the newly found Glasscock information was not reliable.

Apparently, the folks at the Chronicle haven't been very interested in hearing any other side to the David Temple story, unfortunately.  That's not surprising, since it is run by an editorial board that took it upon themselves to run an entire editorial dedicated to bashing Kelly Siegler with the ridiculous accusation that she intentionally prosecuted an innocent man just to get a television show.  Apparently the idea that Kelly prosecuted David Temple because the evidence showed he murdered his pregnant wife was not something the Chronicle editors were interested in examining.

To my knowledge, neither Lisa nor Brian Rogers has interviewed anyone from the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the Harris County District Attorney's Office, or Belinda Temple's family about their perspective on the case.  I know that none of the concerns that I shared with Lisa on Friday managed to make it into the article.

When I talked to Lisa, she did ask me what would be the incentive for former Homicide guys like Denholm and Clappart to do what they did on the Temple case.  I told her that Dick DeGuerin was a highly respected defense attorney who was considered one of the best (if not THE best) in Houston and Texas -- being in his good graces had benefits.

Having a Sunday morning Houston Chronicle article painting you like God's gift to criminal justice is a pretty good benefit too.

It makes for a better story that way, I guess.

Episode Seven: The Voters Awaken - A One Act -Sci-Fi Play

SCENE:  The Death Star orbits over Downtown Houston. [INTERIOR] The Imperial Council Chambers. EMPRESS OGG sits at the head of a long table ...