Source: Houston Chronicle
Author: Brian Rogers
Date: July 8, 2015
Photo Credit: Steve Campbell, Houston Chronicle
Ruling lists Siegler misconduct, urges new trial of Katy man in wife’s killing
David Temple’s attorneys have for years said legendary prosecutor Kelly Siegler’s courtroom tactics were out of bounds before, during and after the 2007 trial in which the Katy man was convicted of killing his pregnant wife.
Lawyers for Temple have protested that evidence was hidden, accounts by some witnesses were not disclosed and attempts to get records were thwarted.
In laying out 36 separate instances of prosecutorial misconduct in a ruling filed Wednesday, a judge agreed: Temple did not get a fair trial.
“The defendant has shown he was denied a fair trial because of the State’s failure to disclose or timely disclose favorable evidence,” state district Judge Larry Gist said in a 19-page decision. “And had that evidence been disclosed or disclosed timely, the results of the trial would have been different.”
The ruling was a staggering blow to Siegler, a long-time darling of Houston’s legal scene and role model for Harris County’s prosecutors who won dozens of convictions in her 21-year career. After leaving the district attorney’s office in 2008, she worked as a special prosecutor in neighboring counties and made headlines two years later by accusing a rural district attorney of prosecutorial misconduct in a death penalty case.
In recent years, Siegler has garnered a celebrity status, starring in “Cold Justice,” a nationally televised show in which she helps small law enforcement agencies across the country secure indictments in cold cases.
She did not return calls for comment about the ruling. Siegler has consistently maintained that Temple is guilty and that she did nothing wrong.
The decision concludes with the judge recommending a new trial for 46-year-old Temple, the first step in an appellate process that changes the trajectory of the infamous Katy case. The district attorney’s office has indicated it will challenge the ruling.
Details of the ruling paint a picture of Siegler as a calculating prosecutor who could not stand the thought of “losing” to Temple’s defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, another of Houston’s legal lions.
“Of enormous significance was the prosecutor’s testimony at the habeas hearing that apparently favorable evidence did not need to be disclosed if the state did not believe it was true,” Gist wrote.
Gist made his findings after a 10-week hearing that began in December, in which attorneys Stanley Schneider and Casie Gotro questioned prosecutors, investigators and defense attorneys about what happened throughout the murder trial. The two took over Temple’s appeal from DeGuerin.
“The evidence supports the findings,” Schneider said. “I feel relieved. The next step is getting David a new trial.”
The two lawyers cast a wide net during questioning but kept coming back to Temple’s alibi timeline, interviews with alternative suspects and shotguns that were discovered but not documented.
Katy High School teacher Belinda Lucas Temple was eight months pregnant when she was killed execution style in her bedroom closet by a single shotgun blast on Jan. 11, 1999.
Ballistics testing on shotguns to determine the exact murder weapon is not possible, but investigators know she was killed by a .12 gauge shotgun and a specific type of shell. The shotgun shell, which had been fired at least once and then reloaded, was filled with .00 buckshot-large balls packed together with wadding and gunpowder. In the weeks after the shooting, police investigated a teenager who lived in the neighborhood and his friends, and recovered several .12 gauge shotguns and reloaded shells.
Gist made several findings that Siegler should have turned over information about the teens, their guns and their numerous interviews with police.
Police also investigated other reports of possible suspects, including a Katy woman who told police she believed her husband was involved. Police interviewed the husband and confiscated a .12-gauge shotgun, ammunition reloading equipment and .00 buckshot shells from that man. However, Siegler decided it was not a credible story, so the police report was not turned over until 11 days before trial, a delay the judge criticized.
During an emotionally charged five-week trial beginning in October 2007, Siegler and DeGuerin fought bitterly over whether Belinda Temple was killed after interrupting a burglary or if her husband had staged a crime scene to cover his tracks.
The evidence focused on an extensive timeline that Siegler put together to show how much time David Temple would have had before being seen on surveillance video at a nearby grocery store.
Jurors sided with Siegler and found Temple guilty of murder, then sentenced him to life in prison. Afterward, DeGuerin told reporters Siegler had “finally convicted an innocent man.”
Won 68 murder cases
Temple’s conviction was the last of several high-profile Houston cases Siegler tackled. She left the DA’s office in 2008 after unsuccessfully running for district attorney.
During her years at the office, Siegler won 68 murder cases and earned fans and fame for swaying jurors in some of Houston’s most notorious crimes. In the trial of Susan Wright, who was convicted of fatally stabbing her husband more than 200 times while he was tied up in bed, Siegler famously re-enacted the stabbing while straddling a fellow prosecutor on the victim’s mattress.
Known for her courtroom theatrics as well as her hard-nosed tactics, Siegler often defended her actions as tough but legal.
Gist’s ruling takes note of one of those strategies. During Temple’s trial, Siegler called only a few of the many investigators who worked the case to testify. By doing this, the prosecutor would not have to give the defense team any reports from investigators who did not testify. This tactic was not prohibited.
The law surrounding that practice was changed in the wake of the exoneration of Michael Morton, an innocent man who was sent to death row for 25 years by an unscrupulous prosecutor deliberately withholding evidence. In 2013, a court of inquiry found the prosecutor in Morton’s case, former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, guilty of contempt of court for failing to release exculpatory evidence to the defense. Anderson was sentenced to 10 days in jail, fined and ordered to perform community service. He also resigned his law license. After Anderson’s actions came to light, legislators passed the Michael Morton Act, which requires Texas prosecutors to disclose most of the contents of their files.
Last month, Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta was disbarred in another Texas saga involving prosecutorial misconduct. In that case, Siegler criticized Sebesta for putting Anthony Graves, an innocent man, in prison for 18 years, including 12 on death row.
In that case, it was Siegler who was tasked with retrying Graves after his conviction was tossed. After reviewing the facts, she upbraided Sebesta for his tactics, which were later shown to include intimidating witnesses and lying to judges. Sebesta has maintained that he did nothing wrong and Graves is guilty.
In those cases, the State Bar of Texas investigated the prosecutors after receiving grievances that included sworn affidavits.
On Wednesday, critics of Siegler’s said they had not yet filed any grievances.
“I think it’s bad, and I think she ought to be held accountable,” DeGuerin said. “But I’m going to let someone else decide that.”
Joanne Musick, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said Gist’s findings show “egregious” conduct.
The organization of defense attorneys is reviewing transcripts of the hearing to determine if a grievance should be filed.
“Whether it’s Morton or Graves or whoever, we see prosecutors who want to win, so they don’t want to disclose everything,” Musick said. “If they’re hiding things or playing games, that’s not upholding their duty to do justice. That’s trying to win.”
Defense blasts Siegler
One of Temple’s attorneys who spent days questioning Siegler blasted the former prosecutor.
“Charles Sebesta was just disbarred for this same kind of conduct,” said Casie Gotro. “Dick DeGuerin stood on the courthouse steps and told the world Kelly Siegler had finally convicted an innocent man. These findings reveal exactly how she did it.”
In Temple’s case, Gist’s recommendation will be forwarded to the top criminal court in Texas where prosecutors could lodge objections that the high court would consider before granting or rejecting the motion for new trial.
A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said the office would file objections, but no other information was available Wednesday.
In similar appeals, courts often defer to the trial judge who watched all of the evidence, although it generally takes months. A recent high profile case took 18 months. Some cases have taken as long as three years. If the high court ratifies Gist’s findings, the district attorney’s office will have to decide if they can re-try the case and secure a conviction.