Criminal Justice

No one will be convicted in deadly Twin Peaks biker shootout after DA drops remaining cases

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One hundred fifty-five people were indicted for a deadly May 2015 shootout at a Twin Peaks restaurant between rival motorcycle gangs in Waco, Texas, but none of them will be convicted.

On Tuesday, McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson announced that the remaining 24 cases will be dismissed, report the Waco Tribune-Herald, the Washington Post and KWTX. Prosecutors have obtained no convictions stemming from the melee in which nine people were killed and 20 were injured.

“The loss of life is a difficult thing,” Johnson said in a statement. “But after looking over the 24 cases we were left with, it is my opinion as your district attorney that we are not able to prosecute any of those cases and reach our burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Johnson said the prior district attorney had failed to evaluate evidence to eliminate weak charges and had brought rioting charges that were vulnerable to appellate scrutiny.

All the defendants initially had been charged with participating in organized criminal activity. The first case against a biker gang leader ended in November 2017 with a hung jury. No other cases were tried.

The prior district attorney, Abel Reyna, dismissed all the charges last May but re-indicted 24 people on charges of rioting. Special prosecutors dismissed four other cases in which Reyna’s office had recused itself.

Johnson cited alleged failures by Reyna in the statement.

Johnson agreed that there was sufficient evidence to provide probable cause to support the 155 indictments. But Johnson said Reyna failed to evaluate the evidence after the indictments to determine the full range of possible charges and to charge only those offenses where admissible evidence would support a verdict.

When Johnson took office in January, the statute of limitations on most additional offenses that could be charged already had expired, Johnson said.

Johnson said if he had pursued the cases against the 24 people, likely appellate issues could have resulted in reversals.

At issue was whether the re-indictment was actually an amendment of the prior indictment.

Another issue was whether provisions in the riot statute could be used to increase its classification from a misdemeanor to a felony based on the conduct of any people involved in the riot. If he pursued only misdemeanor charges, the maximum penalty was 180 days in jail.

Reyna told the Waco Tribune-Herald he absolutely disagrees with “the overall result as well as several statements and accusations within Mr. Johnson’s press release.”

More than 130 bikers have filed civil rights cases against Reyna and other officials in the city of Waco and in Texas.

Dallas lawyer Don Tittle, who represents most of the bikers, told the Herald-Tribune that things might have gone differently if law enforcement had focused on the people involved in the violence.

He said prosecutors had based their case on “an imaginary conspiracy theory, which to this day there’s not a shred of evidence to support.”

Hat tip to the Marshall Project.

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