WACO, Texas -- A hearing began Monday morning to consider arguments to disqualify the McLennan County District Attorney's Office from two upcoming Twin Peaks shooting trials. But, in the end, an attempt to recuse 19th District Court Judge Ralph Strother became the focus.
Defense attorneys had filed motions to remove the McLennan County District Attorney's Office and DA Abel Reyna from prosecuting bikers Billy McRee and Jorge Daniel Salinas -- arguing that Reyna was a cocaine-user, who was under FBI investigation and had used "fill-in-the-name" affidavits to arrest 177 people after the 2015 Waco shootout. Reyna has previously denied the FBI investigation, the drug use and any wrongdoing. And, he did not attend Monday's hearing.
The DA's office filed a motion to quash Monday's hearing at 8:05 a.m., arguing prosecutors were only told about the hearing five days ago and did not enough time to prepare. The hearing was originally set for February 23.
“Under law we are provided to have ten days to prepare for a hearing like this,” Prosecutor Michael Jarrett said.
The defense team fought back, and the judge agreed, saying he wanted the hearing to continue as planned. However, before things could continue, a wrench was thrown during the hearing when it was announced that the state had filed its own motion to recuse -- not Reyna -- but Strother.
"It's nothing personal against the court, but the defendants deserve a fair and open trial," said Jarrett. “As prosecutors we follow the rules. We follow the decisions by the courts and we ensure that the public has trust in the system. In order to do that, the state felt it was imperative to ask for a different judge to hear these cases.”
Defense lawyers said this was a stalling tactic.
“This is a DA's office that's calling everything under the sun fake news. This was their opportunity to come in and tell the truth under oath. As they've done in previous instances they are trying to avoid that,” Defense Attorney Brian Bouffard said.
“They seem to talk out of both sides of their mouths,” said Defense Attorney David Conrad Beyer. “On one hand they are trying to keep him from being recused, now on the other hand they are trying to do so. Interestingly enough, they are doing so very hard in such a way as to keep us from having a hearing they don’t want to have.”
Strother responded by saying he was surprised by the motion and needed a moment to digest the state's argument for his recusal. After a brief moment, he decided he would not voluntarily recuse himself. That stopped the hearing in its tracks, ending the whole thing after a mere 30 minutes. Regional Administrative Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield will appoint another judge to hear the recusal motions.
No cameras were allowed in the courtroom during the hearing.