FRISCO, Texas — Members of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association plan to attend an upcoming hearing to protest what they say is a highly unusual search of a defense attorney's office in connection with a murder-for-hire case in suburban Dallas.
Collin County prosecutors seeking the death penalty against a man accused of being a contract killer requested a court-ordered search of the offices of the man's lawyers, saying they believed defense attorneys were hiding incriminating evidence.
Attorneys for defendant Mark Lyle Bell and members of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said the February search violated attorney-client privilege.
"I think it's unconscionable," David Schulman, one of Bell's attorneys, said in a story in Sunday's editions of The Dallas Morning News.
Craig Jett, a former president of the defense lawyers association, said defendants should be able to have private communications with their attorneys and that such a search violates that right.
"I thought it was pretty outrageous to issue a search warrant for a lawyer's office," Jett said.
Prosecutors defended the search, saying they believed the defense was hiding evidence, including the boots Bell wore the night of the alleged killing. The search turned up no boots but did yield a sealed box, documents and handwritten letters from Bell to his wife.
"No one has a right to conceal evidence in a criminal case, including attorneys," prosecutor Greg Davis said.
A hearing is scheduled Aug. 5 to determine whether state District Judge Mark Rusch, who signed the search warrant, can stay on the case. Bell's lawyers want him off the case.
Rusch declined to comment. The Texas Attorney General's Office said Rusch should be able to stay on the case and should not have to testify at the hearing.
Southern Methodist University law professor Linda Eads said lawyers can be subject to search warrants, but it's considered an extreme and rare measure to execute one against an attorney. Courts must balance "the level of probable cause against the incredible importance of the attorney-client relationship," she said.
No trial date has been set in Bell's capital murder case. He is accused of fatally shooting 36-year-old Craig Nail in his Frisco home in December. Authorities said Nail's estranged wife, Vera Elizabeth Guthrie-Nail, wanted him dead. She and another man, Thomas Edward Grace, face charges of conspiracy to commit capital murder.
All three defendants remain in the Collin County Jail.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Did Chuck Rosenthal hide evidence?
Check out the following AP article and keep the following in mind:
Chuck Rosenthal is guilty of hiding evidence when he prosecuted Ronnie E. Johnson for capital murder back in 1994. Six weeks before his execution, Lonnie’s lawyer and private investigator found missing evidence contained within police reports at the Harris County District Atorney's office that supported his claim of self-defense. But the courts said that it was always available in the DA's files and refused to stay his execution.
Six of Lonnie's attorneys over 17 years have signed affidavits saying they never saw these reports that would have supported Lonnie's claims of self defense.
Lonnie's case is one of a Black man accepting a ride late one night from two white teenagers at a convenience store. They took him the wrong way and when he asked them where they were going, one of the youth put a gun to Ronnie and told him, "this was the end of the ride, N - - - - r."
They ordered him out of the car, beat and kicked him repeatedly and urinated on him. Lonnie grabbed the gun during a lull and killed both teenagers. Though Lonnie was able to defend his life during this hate crime, the State of Texas wrongfully executed him for the “double murder” of his two attackers.
So, I wonder if all defense attorneys would now ask for a search warrant for the DA's offices, if that would be granted. It might have helped save Lonnie Johnson's life if his first attorneys could have searched for the exculpatory evidence that the DA, Rosenthal, had hidden.
Defense lawyers group upset over search of office