After retiring from the Harris County District Attorney's Office some time during the Pat Lykos Administration, he probably thought that he put all of the uncertainty and acrimony of being a prosecutor behind him. While most prosecutors who leave the Office make some effort to keep in touch with one another, he kind of faded into oblivion.
He hadn't been gone all too long before he found himself in the crosshairs of the Houston Chronicle's Lisa Falkenberg, who was working on a story about the potential abuses of the Grand Jury system. Initially, the story Falkenberg was working on dealt with how Rizzo and a member of the Grand Jury had used the Grand Jury's power to intimidate a potential alibi witness on a capital murder case.
It just so happened that the case where that occurred was the State of Texas vs. Alfred Dewayne Brown, which Rizzo not only presented to the Grand Jury, but also prosecuted at trial.
The case itself was a bad one, but it didn't grab as many headlines as some other capital murder cases in Harris County. At least, it didn't until Falkenberg's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation.
The allegations were that on April 3, 2003, three men robbed a check-cashing business where a woman named Alfredia Jones was working. One of those men, Elijah Joubert, held a gun to Ms. Jones' head during the robbery, but Ms. Jones was able to notify her supervisors of a robbery in progress. Because she alerted a supervisor of what was happening, the Houston Police Department dispatched patrol and Officer Charles Clark was the first to arrive on the scene. When the police arrived, Joubert is believed to have executed Ms. Jones by shooting her in the head. A second person (allegedly Alfred Dewayne Brown) shot and killed Officer Clark.
A third person, Dashon Glaspie, acted as a lookout and he named both Joubert and Brown as the principal shooters.
As noted in Falkenberg's original articles, Rizzo used the Grand Jury to bring in Alfred Dewayne Brown's girlfriend, Erika Dockery, as a witness. Dockery had initially attempted to alibi Brown, but the transcripts from that Grand Jury meeting ultimately led her to recant the alibi testimony. Before doing so, she was threatened with a multitude of things -- from charges of aggravated perjury to never being able to find employment. Dockery not only recanted her alibi, but testified against Brown in trial, testifying that he admitted his presence at the check-cashing business at the time of the murder.
However, Dockery's original alibi of Brown actually had some corroborating evidence in the form of phone records. Those records as (also) reported by Lisa Falkenberg were never admitted into evidence. They were ultimately found in the garage of Homicide Detective Breck McDaniel. Those records are what ultimately led the Harris County District Attorney's Office to agree that Brown was entitled to a new trial. When the Court of Criminal Appeals granted that new trial, the D.A.'s Office decided that there was no longer sufficient credible evidence to retry him.
As I noted in a blog post last June, Alfred Brown decided to seek compensation for the time he spent on Death Row. The trouble with that was that he had to be found "factually innocent" for the compensation to kick in. Under Devon Anderson's Administration, that was going to be an uphill battle for Brown. The Anderson Administration as well as the Homicide Investigators on the case believed that Brown was factually guilty, although they didn't feel they could prove it at trial. What I wrote back then was that it put District Attorney Kim Ogg in a difficult position -- if the D.A.'s Office were to agree that Brown was factually innocent, it would be damaging to relations with HPD. If she refused, it would be damaging to her relationship with a Defense Bar that looked to her to be a progressive and open-minded District Attorney.
A couple of things have changed since that blog post. First off, D.A. Ogg has proven that she isn't really all that bothered about upsetting the Houston Police Department. More importantly, however, was Ogg's revelation last week that an email had been discovered from HPD's Breck McDaniel to Dan Rizzo, notifying him of the corroborating phone calls.
"I was hoping that it would clearly refute Erica's claim that she received a call at work," McDaniel wrote, later continuing: "But, it looks like the call detail records from the apartment shows that the home phone dialed Erica's place of employment on Hartwick Street at about 8:30 a.m. and again at 10:08 a.m."To put this into context, prior to the e-mail revelation, Rizzo had been able to maintain that he didn't know that there were phone records in existence that corroborated Erika Dockery's alibi of Alfred Brown. It was a mistake. A miscommunication. McDaniel's e-mail clearly shows that Rizzo was informed of it. He just chose not to disclose it to the defense. He also lied about it later.
And because of that e-mail, Rizzo is now joining the ranks of vilified ex-prosecutors at the levels of Charles Sebesta and Ken Anderson.
As well he should be.
I knew Dan when he and I were both at the Office. He was a Division Chief and far senior to me. Although I didn't have a personal problem with Dan, I didn't trust him. I thought he was a dishonest guy. I can think of at least two different scenarios where he lied to me personally. The reason I knew that he was lying was because he contradicted himself. They weren't on big issues. They were pretty minor, but the guy couldn't keep his stories straight to save his life. He just wasn't bright enough, quite frankly.
If you were to ask me if I thought Dan would downplay or neglect to mention some exculpatory evidence on a case, I would tell you that it wouldn't surprise me if he did. It wasn't that he was evil. He just suffered from tunnel vision. He regarded the phone records in question to be an inconvenient piece of evidence that would distract from his firm belief that Alfred Dewayne Brown was one of the shooters. He didn't think that it proved Brown's innocence, so therefore it wasn't exculpatory.
He was wrong about that.
Whether or not those phone records conclusively prove Brown's innocence or are something that could still be explained away is an argument that I will leave to someone more familiar with the case than I am. But the records are most definitely exculpatory.
Exculpatory evidence is evidence favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial that exonerates or tends to exonerate the defendant of guilt. It is the opposite of inculpatory evidence, which tends to prove guilt.The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association today called for Rizzo to be prosecuted for Attempted Murder for seeking the death penalty on Brown. That earned a big eye roll from me. They know that is never going to happen and to pen a public letter to the D.A. advocating for it is just grandstanding.
But an investigation should be launched into whether or not Rizzo should hang on to his law license. If proven to be true, his actions are no different than those of Sebesta or Anderson.
If his actions were no different, then the consequences for those actions should be no different, either.