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.


Anonymous said...

Does the law allow a prosecutor to weigh the merit of potentially exculpatory evidence before turning it over to the defense?

Unknown said...


Anonymous said...

Well written discussion as usual - An opinion and word to the wise, however, including your friend's current heroes. I would encourage each of you to take some advice from this old lawyer. Do not befriend any reporter. You are their friend only so long as it benefits them. If the occasion arises they will stick the proverbial "shiv" in you. Reporters are to be dealt with at arm's length with one being aware that they will turn on you at any moment. As to the Comical, the agenda from that rag publication is so patently left-wing liberal that I am surprised that it has any customer base. Having recently seen its six page edition at my local barber shop (I remember the days when the daily was thirty and forty pages) I suspect that its readership is less than that of Look magazine - oh that magazine has been out of business too. Therefore, I guess that the newspaper must be less expensive than cat litter.

Anonymous said...

well stated, Murray. Lisa Falkenberg only writes the side of the story she sees fit write. Its not the first time she has done it, and probably won't be the last. Ask folks like Judge John Phillips of the 314th District Court and you will find the same story, time and again. She is a sad excuse for a journalist. Two sides of a story mean nothing to her. She routinely tells people she speaks with that she "is not writing THAT story" and disregards any view that is not in line with what she wants to put out there as "award winning". Its sad, but its the state of our media.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Truitt:

So if I called the DA's office from my locked cell in the mental ward where I have lived for the last 40 years and told them that Elvis "The King Himself" Presley was actually not only alive and living next to Dick DeGuerin in West U.; but also that he told me he killed Belinda Temple would the DA's office's failure to report this to DeGuerin constitute a Brady violation?
How about if the DA's office was notified that a US Marshall also lived on the Temples' street and owned a shotgun would failure to disclose that constitute a Brady violation?
How about if I told them an aborted baby from Planned Parenthood came back from the dead as a ninja and killed Belinda Temple?

C'mon bro' common sense ought to play a role here……………people who are being wrongfully victimized in a blatantly obvious manner merely to erroneously excuse the criminal conduct of another ought to have some protection from exploitation

Just Sayin' said...

Jason, since Belinda Temple was killed with a 12 gauge shotgun does Brady therefore compel the prosecutor to reveal the names and addresses of every individual the prosecutor knew or should have known owned or had access to a 12 gauge shotgun at the time of the shooting?
Would you limit this to Texas 12 gauge shotgun owners or require the prosecutor to include the entire U.S.?
How would you suggest the prosecutor provide this information as to 12 gauge shotgun owners residing outside the U.S.?

Jason do you own a 12 gauge shotgun?

Just Sayin'

Anonymous said...

I get that tabloid magazines, such as the Houston Chronicle, are allowed to print what they do about public figures, especially celebrities. The Constitution provides greater freedom to comment on and criticize those people in the public eye and they are not given as much protection from defamation as are private citizens.

My question is: at what point will Kelly Siegler lawyer-up and say ENOUGH--the Houston Chronicle has acted with a pattern of "actual malice"-knowingly printing false information, or acting recklessly as to whether it was false or not. Siegler has the money to go after Hearst Corp's. deep pockets and she should also go after the shallow pockets of "reporters" Brian Rogers and Lisa FAKEnberg individually. It's time, not only for the Houston Chronicle, but also for bullies like Rogers and Faulkenberg to be exposed and held accountable for their abuse of our Constitution.

Unknown said...

8:21, when you reach the realm of reality, let me know.

For example, one instance of when a prosecutor didn't believe evidence was exculpatory was when a bandana was found with blood on it at a construction site near a murder scene. The prosecutor didn't turn it over because he thought it was common to have blood on bandanas at construction sites. But it was the blood on that bandana that helped set Michael Morton free...

10:10 No, I don't own a 12 gauge shotgun. I own six of them. My favorite is my Uncle Buddie's WWI Browning trench gun.

Otherwise, your example is too absurd to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

I overheard a guy who heard a guy talking about a guy that met a guy who knew a guy that was in Somalia when he met a jihadist who swears he heard someone talk about killing an infidel pig in an Afgan hut and then putting the body in a closet.
I gave all this information to the HCDAO because I am sure this is the real killer of Belinda Temple but none of this Brady info was turned over to Team DeGuerin/Leitner/Faulkenberg! WTF?

Just Sayin' said...

Jason, that was precisely my point--some things are, in fact, too absurd to be taken seriously. Hence your comment at 6:31 is not so black and white.

Would you agree that If someone was killed in your neighborhood with a 12 gauge shotgun it would be absurd for Brady to require the prosecutor to turn over your 12 gauge info. and that of everyone else similarly situated in the area based on mere gun ownership alone?

I've been passed down an 1897 Winchester trench gun with affixed bayonet and am impressed with your Browning, however, neither makes us murder suspects.

Just Sayin'

Anonymous said...

"It was like he went a full 360 on us," says Schneider, Temple's appellate lawyer. "He went from 'David Temple is guilty. I know he's guilty' to 'damn, this guy may be innocent.' "

Clearly Don Hooper taught Schneider geometry. There are not 320 degrees in a circle.

If he did a 360 he would be right back where he started.


Anonymous said...

There are not 720 degrees in a circle

Anonymous said...

I heard Marcia Clark put in to be the Special Prosecutor in the event the Tex. CCA has a meltdown.

Don Hooper appears convinced that Temple may be as innocent as OJ!

Who knew?

Unknown said...

If the shotgun was the only connection, you'd be right. That is almost never the case, though.

Anonymous said...

And Falkenberg is at it again with another biased report on a oublic figure who happens NOT to be as leftist as she is.. Maybe her slant on Paxton will be an award winning pile of bat guano. Can anyone think of an article she wrote that was targeted at a public figure on the left?

The Comical deserves her. And we need some better journalists in Houston. The Houston Press is better than the Comical and they only publish once a week.


Anonymous said...

Well now you've gone and done it Jason. You're applying Constitutional common sense instead of emotional hatred. Team Temple is not your friend anymore.

Anonymous said...

As to all the comments about absurd witness statements, what is wrong with turning all of that over to the defense? If the defense wants to try to find the guy in jail who says Elvis told him he killed Belinda, or that a guy who knew a guy, who knew a guy....said he did it, let the defense have that information. As a prosecutor, wouldn't you want the defense to be chasing those trails? Many of those statements would be hearsay anyway, totally ridiculous and/or inadmissible at trial. The point is that the prosecutor turned it over and wouldn't be in a position that Kelly now finds herself.

Ex Post Facto said...

Anon 8:46,

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful luxury for the critics. We can all totally agree that adherence to the current HCDAO open file policy renders the Brady issue moot.

However, there was NOT an open file policy at the HCDAO at the time of the David Temple trial. Instead, ADAs were instructed, AT THAT TIME, to turn over to the defense any credible evidence they believed to be exculpatory.
Would that instruction therefore render not only David Temple, but also every single conviction by every single ADA tried under Johnny Holmes' and Chuck Rosenthal's administrations in violation of Brady as well? Of course not.

Given all the Temple "Brady" evidence in question, please enlighten me with specificity as to what evidence was not actually presented at trial and was deemed credible and exculpatory, Gist's findings notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:46,

So are you saying Brady compels the State to turn over hearsay, totally ridiculous and/or all other inadmissible evidence in the name of political correctness? What would James Madison have to say about that!

Wow! What's next? Before we know it an ADA will have to sit 2nd chair with defense counsel.

Anonymous said...

Another issue anon 8:46 touched on but might not have fully considered is the consequence of turning over massive amounts of misinformation under the guise of Brady.
If ADAs turned over volumes and volumes of "evidence" they knew to be false and/or inadmissible the defense might argue that true exculpatory evidence was intentionally buried by a deluge of inadmissible nonsense which essentially constituted a constructive withholding of actual exculpatory evidence.

Anonymous said...

Falkenberg is just left wing hack

Anonymous said...

Look, it isn't that complicated. It isn't the prosecutors's job to determine what is credible or not in regards to Brady. Turn it all over whether the prosecutor believes it or not. That is the only fair thing.

Anonymous said...

Is there anyone in prison who Falkenberg believes is actually guilty? She is still celebrating the release of a cop killer, facts be damned.

Anonymous said...

If you are interested in reading the Chronicle's subscriber only stories, you will find them all by searching Google or other search engines in their entirety. There are several ways to do this but the easiest is to cut and paste the headline into a Google search box and you will find the granted access version. The downside is that the writing is still just as poor, the editing just as rare, and the slant just as obvious.

Love her, hate her, or just find her work to be completely unremarkable, Falkenberg writes a column or op-ed, not actual news articles based on balanced reporting. It is commonly believed that she has long been tasked with attacking the death penalty from any angle possible as her primary duty, her recent award laughable except that it is like other winners tied to the Pulitzer committee's ongoing agenda. She doesn't have the ability of a real reporter and her employer clearly doesn't want that from her in the first place, her attacks on the Harris County criminal justice system long biased against the truth in favor of the agenda. The paper continually attempts to re-write history regarding her work but I've seen middle school students write better stories on matters she stumbles through, her attitude regarding "the" truth versus the op-ed she is writing at any given time well known in the community.

As long as you stay away from any topic of substance, she is pleasant enough as a lightweight conversationalist but her willingness to avoid or ignore reality makes her a total bore in mixed company according to those who've had to suffer through it. As charming as you are Murray, trusting her given her attitude toward her work, is a mistake.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:03

There has been an open file policy at the HCDA's office since the Brady opinion came out in the late 80s. That's why the prosectors put all the files out on counsel tables. This was a rule established by JBH.

I don't know who can be enlightened about what evidence was withheld except by what the hearing produced and apparently Kelly's statement that she did not think she had to turn over anything she didn't believe was true.

Anonymous said...

For the record John Denholm was NEVER a homicide investigator. He worked as a supervisor in homicide, but was never an investigator or homicide case agent. Denholm biggest accomplishment in my opinion is the work he did in the traffic division at the Sheriff's Office. He is responsible for the training in Chicago the new traffic investigators attend even now.

Denholm was either loved or hated by those he worked with, but even those that liked him will tell you he is an ass.

Anonymous said...

7:44, unless my first wife is involved in the, I have no hatred for anyone.

And I was being logical from the start. The ones with the alien conspiracies weren't.


Anonymous said...

Anon 7:34,

The JBH policy only allowed defense counsel to take notes; NOT photo copy everything like we do today--that is a way different policy, bro'.

The State bears a unique obligation to (1) balance the net effect of any given piece of favorable evidence in order to determine whether that evidence is material, and (2) disclose any evidence about which such a conclusion has been made. This is not an easy task and the prosecutor would be well-served by disclosing any evidence that he thinks is potentially favorable. It is better to disclose all the evidence than run the risk of being second-guessed on appeal.