The Harris County District Attorney's office this morning dismissed the indictments returned Thursday against Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina and his wife in connection with the fire that destroyed their home in Spring last summer.
A grand jury handed up the indictments despite objections from Rosenthal's office. Today, the district attorney's office said it would continue to investigate the fire in relationship to the Medinas but not in a prosecutorial mode.
In a rare move for a body that typically operates in secrecy, two grand jury members Thursday night publicly denounced Rosenthal's unwillingness to prosecute as politically motivated.
Rosenthal insisted there is not sufficient evidence to charge the Medinas with involvement in what arson investigators determined was a deliberately set fire. The blaze caused almost $1 million worth of damage to three homes in the Olde Oaks neighborhood in Spring.
Medina, the first Supreme Court justice indicted since Donald Yarbrough was charged with perjury and forgery in 1977, was indicted on a charge of fabricating evidence, specifically a letter he gave investigators about the incident. His wife, Francisca, is accused of setting the fire that destroyed their 5,000-square-foot home and damaged two nearby houses.
Bail was set at $20,000 for Francisca Medina and $5,000 for her husband. Both offenses are felonies. The arson charge carries a punishment of probation to 20 years in prison. Evidence tampering or fabrication would be punishable by probation to 10 years.
Grand jurors anticipated that Rosenthal would seek to have their indictments dismissed. Foreman Robert Ryan and assistant foreman Jeffrey Dorrell said that the district attorney's office made it clear, even before the grand jury started considering the case, that it was vigorously opposed to Medina being indicted.
Ryan said that about a month ago the assistant district attorney handling the case informed him that he had discussed it with Rosenthal, and neither thought charges were justified.
"This is ludicrous. This is not right. This is a miscarriage of justice," said Ryan, 63, a Republican who has been foreman on at least four grand juries. "If this was David Medina, comma, truck driver, comma, Baytown, Texas, he would have been indicted three months ago."
Dorrell and Ryan said that the grand jury is in session until February and that if the indictments are dismissed, the panel might reconvene and reindict.
"I've just never seen anything like the vigor with which these two defendants were defended by the Harris County District Attorney's Office," Dorrell said. "It was theater of the absurd. We knew before we handed the indictment down that the district attorney was going to refuse to prosecute, but we did it anyway."
It is possible that Rosenthal could seek criminal sanctions against grand jurors for speaking about a case while they are in session. His predecessor as district attorney, John B. Holmes, condemned grand jurors for their comments.
"It's not proper, not in accordance with the law," Holmes said.
That's really the key here. Again, I'm not saying that the Medinas are or even may be guilty of anything. I am saying that I think Chuck Rosenthal has prosecuted cases on lesser evidence than what he's got here. The Bradford case is again instructive, as it ended in a rare directed verdict for an acquittal, which is the judge's way of saying the DA had no case. Yet that didn't stop Rosenthal from pursuing it, against a man who would one day run for the office he now holds. His track record is clear: He's not judging these cases objectively, he's judging them politically. Lisa Falkenberg is thinking along the same lines. Perry also comments.
And given this, then how can we trust any judgment calls Rosenthal has made? Not just cases directly involving politics, where we can add this example to those of Steven Hotze, Jay Aiyer, Texans for True Mobility, and now possibly Borris Miles. How can we trust his judgment in ordinary criminal cases, when you add all that to his actions in the matters of Jesus Salazar, Josiah Sutton, and who knows who else? His judgment has always been subject to question. And now I say it's beyond that.
Finally, since I brought Bradford up again, I want to add a coda to my earlier post about the DA race in which I said:
[I]sn't it about time we heard what Bradford thinks about all this and what he'd do about it if elected? I don't know if he's not made himself available to the press on this issue, which was reasonable early on when there was a new revelation every five minutes about something stupid, atrocious, and/or potentially illegal that Rosenthal had been doing, or if they're not calling him. But now that this isn't a daily part of the news cycle, I think it's high time he and the newsies got together.