As we begin the new year, I want to reflect on 2018 and highlight some of the accomplishments and goals of your District Attorney’s Office for 2019.
Since taking office in 2017, there’s been a renewed sense of vigor and justice in the courthouses throughout the district. The district judges, district clerks’ offices, and community members serving on both grand juries and jury trials have all worked diligently to ensure the wheels of justice turned smoothly and swiftly. We want to continue that momentum.
Starting day one, our team worked through the backlog of cases left untouched by the prior administration. That backlog resulted in a record 1,443 felony cases indicted in 2017 (a 43 percent increase over the average of 822 cases per year under the prior administration). That increase in indictments resulted in larger court dockets and more trials for 2018. After clearing the backlog of grand jury cases, 2018 yielded 949 felony indictments. To prevent future backlog, we will continue to hold monthly grand jury sessions in Wilson and Atascosa Counties, which I implemented last year.
With the collaboration of the district judges and district clerks, the goal of 2018 was to have jury trials on as many of the old cases left behind by the prior administration as possible. Some of these cases were over four years old. Several cases were very tough cases without a lot of evidence; however, our office does not and will not shy away from doing the right thing. Doing the right thing includes trying the hard cases, which occasionally may not result in a conviction. If a prosecutor’s office has a 100 percent conviction rate, they are probably not trying the tough cases they should be.
Providing some closure, peace, and justice to families has been a primary goal of mine and my office, and we worked hard to make that happen in 2018. Too many families have waited years under the prior administration for their cases to go to trial. Because of the renewed focus, I’m proud to highlight some of those cases:
1. January 2018 began with a four-month long capital murder trial in Jourdanton. San Antonio Police Officer, Bobby Deckard was killed in the line of duty in 2013 while chasing robbery suspects into Atascosa County. The shooter was tried by a jury, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole. The co-defendant is slated for trial this month.
2. Shortly thereafter, we tried the man that murdered Lindsey Wadkins in 2014. An Atascosa County jury convicted and sentenced him to 72.5 years in prison. The remaining co-defendants are set for trial this year.
3. Our office also tried a man for the 2015 murder of Lawrence Cole. This murderer was convicted and sentenced by a jury to a prison term of 30 years.
4. An Atascosa County jury convicted and sentenced Ariel Fernandez’s killer to 35 years in prison for her 2015 murder, and 10 years for the non-fatal stabbing of her brother.
5. A LaSalle County jury heard, convicted and sentenced a man with an extensive violent history to a prison term of 40 years for choking and stepping on his estranged girlfriend’s neck.
In addition to those cases, juries also heard and convicted defendants for Possession of a Controlled Substance (illegal narcotics) and DWI 3rd. In spite of the many trials held and cases closed by my office, the barrage of new cases continue.
With the addition of a full-time Victim Assistance Coordinator in 2017, our victims of violent crimes and their families continue to receive guidance before and during court proceedings, as well as assistance with reimbursement for certain costs through Crime Victim’s Compensation. Victims and their families are being informed of the criminal justice process, the status of their cases, and we are lending an ear to those in need. Our coordinator has made an impact on many of our families who have suffered tremendous loss, the likes of which most of us hope never to endure, including helping those families involved in the Sutherland Springs shooting.
Another big accomplishment was our office successfully transitioning to a paperless case management system, which increased efficiency and accuracy. Our office represented our communities on many serious and aging cases this year, some of which I have mentioned, which only happens through the hard work of my entire team. I am grateful for them every single day. In 2019, we will continue to strive towards decreasing the time between indictment and trial for our victims and their families. Working closely with the Texas Rangers on solving cold case murders will remain a priority. Our office will additionally be offering Open Meetings Act training to municipalities, school boards, and the community. We will also offer law enforcement training throughout the district, aspiring to make our cases the best they can be.
There is still much work to be done! With this position comes great responsibility, I continue to be humbled and honored to serve.