The drama in Day 3 of the abuse of official capacity trial against Pct. 1 Liberty County Commissioner Mike McCarty was only interrupted by the occasional train breaks - a brief moment everything seemed to come to a complete halt while the nearby trains blowing their horns passed by. They were annoying, particularly to the jury and courtroom observers, who were glued to their seats listening to testimony.
For two days, prosecutors forged a strategy around the misuse of a motor grader or maintainer on a private road that provided access to a facility operated by Triangle Petroleum Services, a McCarty venture, including the subpoena of a witness now living in Tennessee.
The piece of machinery in question was in desperate need of repair and was sent to a repair shop near Hull and repaired by a Mr. Frautschi.
A grader, also commonly referred to as a road grader, motor grader or maintainer is a construction machine with a long blade used to create a flat surface during the grading process. They are commonly used in the construction and maintenance of dirt roads and gravel roads.
David Tanner, a former Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office deputy and patrol sergeant in Calhoun, became employed with Precinct 1 in November of 2012.
Tanner said he was instructed to take a maintainer to a mechanic in Hull to fix a terrible oil leak.
"I was told to get it hot and test it out on a road to make sure there were no more oil leaks," he told Prosecutor William Hon.
Frautschi did the repairs changing out the seals, replacing oil and the fluids - all external work costing the county close to $3,000. The transmission was also bad but would cost $10k – $15k to repair.
"I can't test it myself since I don't know how to drive one," Frautschi told the prosecutor, so he instructed Tanner to get it hot and test it on one of the roads nearby before returning to Raywood.
"I was told to take it take it once in, once out and the last push to crown," he said. He performed the light grade (only three passes) on a road he was instructed to use by McCarty.
Tanner testified that there were no county road signs and only no trespassing signs. Once he finished the rock road that runs east and west, he didn't notice any oil leaks and drove the maintainer back to the barn in Raywood, several miles away.
Frautschi also told them the maintainer was old and they should get it to Ritchie Brothers, an auction house, to sell and get rid of it.
McCarty was being accused of fixing up the private road that led to his business, which would have been illegal; however, the first witness called by the defense after the prosecution had rested started with a quick geography lesson.
Armed with Google maps, Appraisal District maps, and even a map dating back to the 1800s, County Clerk Paulette Williams schooled the jurors and court on the maps that were about to deliver a bombshell to the prosecution's allegations.
"These maps are the official county maps adopted in 2007 by commissioners court," she told the courtroom.
Then Williams, with the help of Defense Attorney Neal Davis, held up a map detailing county roads in the area of question.
"The county roads are in green and private roads are marked in brown," she told the defense attorney.
Then Williams pointed to the road thought to be a private road and said, in fact, that the little road that was supposed to be a private one, was marked as County Road 2015 in green.
Earlier in his testimony, Texas Ranger Ryan Clendennen out of the Livingston office, admitted he pursued the investigation on the misuse of the county equipment based on the interview he had with Commissioner McCarty who said the road was private.
"There are signs there that say it is a private road," he said and he confirmed that there were no county signs anywhere and he assumed that it was, indeed, private.
"Did you bother to ask anyone who might have put up those signs if it was truly private?" defense attorney Neal Davis quizzed him.
"I didn't feel like there was a need," McClennen said.
"Did you go to the county clerk's office to see if the road was a county road?" Davis asked.
"Sir, I had a county commissioner telling me that it was not a county road. Mike McCarty advised me it was not a county road," McClennen responded.
"It's possible that Commissioner McCarty could have been wrong, right?" Davis continued.
"Sir, it's possible," McClennen answered.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors questioned Tony Scott who has a barbecue restaurant in nearby Raywood.
Scott testified that he had a lot of potholes in his driveway and he drove his tractor over to the Precinct 1 barn, while no one was there, and preceded to get four to five buckets of road base to fill in the holes.
"You didn't pay for the rock, did you?" Prosecutor Hon asked.
Scott had asked McCarty for the rock in a trade, he said.
Again, Williams demonstrated on one of her maps, a plat of Raywood from March 5, 1895, that the road was actually 70-foot wide at the barbecue stand where it intersects with US 90 and CR 119 in Raywood. Most of the area where the potholes were filled could be found in the county right-of-way.
The case is expected to wrap-up and go before the jury on Thursday following the important testimony of Commissioner Mike McCarty. The trial is being held in the 75th State District Court in the Liberty County Courthouse.