By OLIVIA MESSER email@example.com
McLennan County officials have reached out to other communities after an influx of more than 170 inmates from Sunday’s deadly shooting at Twin Peaks left the county without enough attorneys to represent those jailed.
Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court said McLennan County has 29 attorneys who are approved to handle first-degree felony cases for those who cannot afford lawyers.
He said so far 75 to 80 suspects in the Twin Peaks shooting have filled out financial affidavits to request indigent defense. Johnson noted that number may go up or down based on how many more apply and how many are approved for indigent defense.
Johnson said he has requested appointment lists for attorneys who handle first-degree felonies from surrounding communities, including Bell, Williamson, Travis, Dallas, Hill, Coryell, Limestone and Johnson counties. He said he has never needed to request this kind of assistance before.
“As long as they’re approved to handle first-degree felony cases, we are going to consider those attorneys,” he said, adding, “We will make sure they are attorneys who are qualified and who are willing to take on the case.”
Since suspects were processed Monday, several have hired private attorneys. Attorney Will Hutson said he’s representing Boyce Ray Rockett, 28, of Robinson. Hutson said he has filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus seeking a lower bond amount for his client, and that hearing is slated for June 5.
“We’re alleging that $1 million is unreasonable bail. He’s not a flight risk, he’s a local guy, he has ties to the community, he works here, his life is here,” Hutson said, adding that Rockett has no criminal history, to his knowledge.
Hutson also criticized the manner in which his client and the other 170-plus were jailed.
“You have to have adequate facts to create probable cause,” he said. “There is no burden for these people in jail to prove their innocence. That’s completely counter to what our system says. I think public safety was and continues to be an issue, but if you have said it takes $1 million to keep them there, then you better be able to tell us why.”
The first inmate who posted the $1 million bond Wednesday, Jeff Battey, 50, was released and fitted with an ankle monitor, per the conditions of his release, after officials met that morning to solidify the conditions.
District Court Judge Ralph Strother said he, Johnson, District Attorney Abel Reyna and McLennan County Sheriff’s Capt. John Kolinek made the decision to set additional parameters, including having no contact with biker gang members, surrendering passports, staying away from potential victims or witnesses in Sunday’s melee and not consuming alcohol or drugs, among others.
Johnson said Wednesday there was no plan to reduce the $1 million bond amount for the suspects in the immediate future.
At least one other suspect has been released since Battey, said McLennan County Recovery Healthcare Corp. Office Manager Ronnie Marroquin, who fits those released with ankle monitors.
Battey, a machinist in a production plant from Ponder, is represented by Waco attorney Seth Sutton.
“He was there to attend this regular meeting where the clubs come together to discuss issues that pertain to cycles as a whole,” Sutton said, conceding that Battey has an affiliation with the Bandidos motorcycle club.
He added, “There’s no organized criminal element attached to his group or his portion of the group.”
Battey was treated at a North Texas hospital the day he was released from jail because he still had a bullet in his arm, Sutton said. He was discharged later that day.
“Sons, daughters, dads, they’re just stuck (in jail) until we . . . sort it all out,” Sutton said. “That’s just not how it’s supposed to work.”
Sutton said he is only representing Battey but that he doubts police had probable cause to arrest the approximately 170 suspects.
“Anytime the police are arresting close to 200 people for engaging in an organized crime committing capital murder, what they’re saying is that they have probable cause that each and every one of these people committed capital murder,” he said. “Obviously, that’s absurd.
“There was nothing organized about this. To charge it like that when there’s obviously no probable cause that these people participated in an organized plot, then to set bond at 1 million dollars, it’s definitely not just.”
Melanie Walker, a defense attorney and former McLennan County prosecutor, is defending Seth A. Smith, 28, of Waco, in the case.
“I think the hope for all of us who represent guys who have been charged is that there will be some evidence that will allow them to weed out people who don’t need to be there,” Walker said. “I don’t think there’s any way there are 170 people who should be held in jail. I think everyone agrees with that.”
Walker said police did a “great job” in protecting the public from disorder in the wake of the shooting, and she said the mass arrest could be justified to prevent further violence.
She said that under state law, police can detain suspects for up to 48 hours without bond or charges but that authorities to this point have “failed to connect anybody by their acts and deeds to the crime.”
Walker said the $1 million bond might be appropriate for someone who shot at police, but no evidence has been presented to show that the bulk of inmates are guilty of murder.
“You legally have to be able to prove that the people were there to commit that crime,” she said. “I don’t think a patch on your back is enough.”
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday: “Probable cause is more than mere suspicion. We had probable cause to issue the arrest warrants and a judge said so, too.”
Swanton emphasized in a Thursday press conference that officials did not arrest everyone present that day, adding that of the more than 200 people present on the scene Sunday, many were intentionally released.
“If we thought you were innocent, you did not get arrested,” he said at the time.
Swanton declined comment on the issue Friday.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna declined any comment about the Twin Peaks shooting to the Tribune-Herald.
Rob Swanton, who is representing Nate Christian Farish, 30, said he also doesn’t plan to take on any additional suspects in the Twin Peaks case.
“I don’t know how you can possibly represent more than one person without a potential conflict of interest,” he said.
He would not comment on Farish’s club affiliations, injuries or role in Sunday’s events or say if he planned to file any motions in the near future.
Staff writer J.B. Smith contributed to this story.