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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Even Texas news wonders if defendants in Waco, TX incident will get a fair and impartial hearing/trial. - Thanks Kat..


Editorial: With Waco detective on grand jury, can bikers arrested in shootout get a fair hearing?

 Waco Police and other law enforcement agencies recover a weapon from a vehicle in the parking lot of a Twin Peaks restaurant Tuesday, May, 19, 2015. A deadly weekend shootout involving rival motorcycle gangs apparently began with a parking dispute and someone running over a gang member's foot.

The case of 177 bikers jailed in Waco after a deadly May 17 gun brawl gets more bizarre by the day. Mass arrests after nine people were killed outside the Twin Peaks restaurant landed them all in jail, most of whom struggled for weeks to organize bond payments of up to $1 million each.
We suspect that many of the arrested bikers were doing what normal people would do during a shootout – ducking for cover and getting out of the way. But they were jailed anyway, along with some hardened motorcycle gang members.
In the newest twist, McLennan County has seated a new grand jury that includes James Head, an active-duty detective with 26 years of experience on the Waco police force. The likelihood is high that Head knows officers who were at the shootout scene, and that he’s discussed the case in detail. That’s reason enough to question his objectivity.
Instead, Head will serve as foreman, with strong chances that the shootout case will be among the 100 criminal cases the grand jury will hear. State District Judge Ralph Strother, who approved the grand jury’s 12 members and two alternates, defended the appointment based on Head’s experience and the fact that he was randomly selected.
Rather than viewing him as too connected to give defendants a fair shake at avoiding indictment, Strother says Head might be among the best people for the job. “We have lawmen who get on jury panels all the time. Who is better qualified in criminal law than somebody who practices it all the time?” Strother says.
That might be true in a general sense, but not when prosecutors and arresting officers likely are people with whom Head serves and socializes.
McLennan County has adopted new selection procedures for grand juries now that the Legislature has abolished the old “pick a pal” system that, in some cases, skewed the appointment of members favorable to prosecutors. Head was chosen through a random process, which means his presence when prospective jurors showed for duty was pure coincidence. State law allows defendants the right to challenge any juror’s presence, but the bar is high for removal.
We fear that negative publicity from initial reporting of the shootout, along with the establishment of high bail amounts and long incarceration for most defendants, may already have compromised the presumption of innocence that’s supposed to be the starting point for any fair trial.
Head’s presence on the grand jury seems to make it even harder for the defendants to argue their cases. Those who did the shooting and participated in the brawl absolutely deserve rigorous prosecution. But fairness at every stage of this process is the only way to ensure justice is properly served.