The Press devotes a cover story to the David Temple case and the allegations that then-Assistant DA Kelly Siegler withheld evidence from the defense.
In July 2015, visiting Judge Larry Gist issued his damning decree: 36 findings of prosecutorial misconduct in which Siegler either suppressed evidence or disclosed it too late, depriving Temple of a fair trial. He also accused Siegler of interfering with developments in the case four years after she left office, saying she worked in concert with a detective to intimidate a witness who came forward with information pointing to the real killer.
Ultimately, Gist recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Temple’s conviction be overturned and that he receive a new trial. The appeals court decision is pending. When contacted by the Houston Press, Gist declined comment.
Siegler stands by her work on the case. As she told the Press, “David Temple was convicted by a fair and impartial jury after a long and hard-fought six-week trial. Nothing improper was done by anyone with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the DA’s office or by me on this case. Dick DeGuerin and his team have done everything they can to mislead…and manipulate the press and the system in their attempts to blame a 16-year-old teenage boy instead of Temple as being the murderer of Belinda and Erin. We believe in the system and that the truth will prevail.”
After Gist issued his findings, local media pounced on Siegler with a stinging rebuke of her performance in the Temple case. A tough-as-nails former prosecutor with a cable TV show was the perfect target, especially in Texas, which had recently witnessed the exoneration of Michael Morton, an innocent man who, like Temple, was convicted of killing his wife, and who spent 25 years in prison because an overzealous district attorney sat on exculpatory evidence.
The Houston Chronicle excoriated Siegler in an editorial: “While Temple has been sitting behind bars for eight years, Siegler has climbed the ladder to D-list celebrity status. That’s not the payoff the public should expect for prosecutors.” The editorial board stated, “For someone who built a career playing to juries, perhaps there should be little surprise that Siegler tried to pull the strings on the entire courtroom.”
Siegler’s career was tarnished overnight. Held to the highest standards — and rightly so — prosecutors can be accused of nothing worse than railroading an innocent defendant. And the proof seemed to be right there in Gist’s findings, just as Temple’s attorneys had promised.
But in the rush to persecute Siegler and make a martyr of Temple, the media neglected to compare Gist’s findings to the trial record. If they had, they would have seen that the findings don’t stand up to scrutiny — they’re a flawed and often contradictory assessment of what actually occurred at trial. A closer look doesn’t suggest proof of a reckless prosecutor caught in her tracks but of shrewd defense attorneys able to kick up enough dust to cloud a judge’s vision.
Gist’s findings state that witnesses said things they never said; they misstate when DeGuerin was given access to certain records; and they mischaracterize dubious statements as material and exculpatory.
Ultimately, the findings tell a misleading story of yet another innocent man sacrificed on the altar of prosecutorial ego. They don’t tell the story of what really happened at trial, or what happened on a January night in 1999, when Belinda Temple was killed with a shotgun blast to the back of her head, on her knees and in cold blood.
See here, here, and here for the background. The story is very skeptical of the allegations made against Siegler – it’s basically a fuller version of this post – and it does a good job of making Judge Gist’s findings seem shaky. Read the whole thing and see what you think. I can’t wait to see what the Court of Criminal Appeals does with this.