Ronnie Earle

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For the blues musician with a similar name, see Ronnie Earl.
Former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle speaks at a panel on ethics and government at Netroots Nation in Austin, Texas in July, 2008.

Ronald Dale "Ronnie" Earle (born February 23, 1942) was, until January 2009, the District Attorney for Travis County, Texas. He became nationally known for filing charges against House majority leader Tom DeLay in September 2005 for conspiring to violate Texas' election law and/or to launder money. Earle has also prosecuted other politicians, including Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and State Representative Mike Martin. On one occasion, he prosecuted himself for an election law violation after missing a campaign finance filing deadline by one day; he was fined $212.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Earle was born in Fort Worth, Texas and raised on a cattle ranch in Birdville, Tarrant County. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, earned money working as a lifeguard, played football, and was president of his student council at Birdville High School, Haltom City, Texas.[citation needed] After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law in 1967, Earle served as a municipal judge in Austin from 1969 to 1972. Earle was elected to the Texas Legislature as a Democrat in 1972, serving until 1977. Earle was elected district attorney of Travis County in 1976.[citation needed]

Earle has been married to his second wife, Twila Hugley Earle, for nearly three decades. With his first wife, Barbara, he had two children: Elisabeth and Jason Earle. He also has one stepdaughter, Nikki Rowling, and two grandchildren.

Career as the District Attorney[edit]

The Travis County District Attorney's office investigates and prosecutes crimes related to the operation of the Texas state government. Earle was elected as a Democrat in the city of Austin. He was, and his successor now is, the only Democrat with statewide prosecutorial authority.

In late 2007, Earle announced that he would not seek reelection to his post. His departure precipitated a race to fill his seat. Four Democrats, all employees of his office, ran for the seat. In the primary election held on March 4, 2008, no candidate received 50 percent of the vote. A runoff election was held between the top two finishers, and Rosemary Lehmberg – who Earle had endorsed – won handily. She faced no Republican opponent in the general election. She took office in January 2009 and is the first woman district attorney in Travis County history.[citation needed]

Investigations conducted by Earle[edit]

Investigation and indictment of Kay Bailey Hutchison[edit]

Earle filed charges against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, then Texas State Treasurer, for allegedly misusing state telephones and allegedly assaulting a staffer. Earle attempted to drop the charges on the first day in court — in fact, at the pre-trial hearing — after the judge in the case questioned the admissibility of his evidence. The judge refused to allow it, instructing the jury to return a "not guilty" verdict so the charge could not be brought against her again.[1]

Investigation and indictment of Tom DeLay[edit]

For over two years, Earle and eight separate grand juries investigated possible violations of Texas campaign finance law in the 2002 state legislative election. Earle denies that his pursuit of Delay was part of a "fishing expedition." His investigation of two political action committees that spent a combined $3.4 million on 22 Republican Texas House races focused on a political action committee founded by DeLay, (Texans for a Republican Majority PAC). During the investigation, DeLay charged that Earle was a "runaway district attorney" with "a long history of being vindictive and partisan".

On September 28, 2005, a grand jury indicted DeLay for conspiring to violate Texas state election law. Texas prohibits corporate contributions in state legislative races. The indictment charged that Texans for a Republican Majority, DeLay's PAC, accepted corporate contributions, laundered the money through the Republican National Committee, and directed it to favored Republican candidates in Texas. The presiding Democrat judge in the case, Pat Priest, eventually threw out this charge and the Court of Criminals Appeals upheld his decision in 2007.[2]

Earle's second attempt to secure indictments against DeLay failed. That grand jury returned a "no bill" due to insufficient evidence. The jury member questioned stated that Earle appeared visibly angry with the "no bill" decision.[3]

Earle eventually received an indictment against DeLay from a third Austin grand jury that had been seated for a few hours.[4] This indictment was on charges of conspiracy to launder money. DeLay's lawyers asserted the indictment was flawed legally, as laundered money is defined in the Texas Penal Code as money gained in the "proceeds of criminal activity". DeLay's defense stressed that corporate donations to political campaigns are a normal, legal business activity. Due to a House rule requiring a party leader to step down if indicted, the indictment compelled DeLay to resign as Majority Leader.[5]

In a counter complaint, DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, filed a motion against DA Earle, charging him with prosecutorial misconduct in the DeLay indictment. DeGuerin sought court permission to depose grand jurors.[6]

DeLay filed a motion for a change of venue from the Democrat stronghold of Travis County to Fort Bend County, where he resides. The motion was denied by Judge Pat Priest, and a trial date for October 2010 was set. On November 24, 2010, Delay was convicted of Money Laundering.[7] The conviction was overturned by the Third Court of Appeals for the State of Texas in September 2013. The court found that "there was no evidence that [the PAC] or RNSEC [the Republican National State Elections Committee] treated the corporate funds as anything but what they were, corporate funds with limited uses under campaign finance law."[8] In its opinion, the court decided that "...the evidence shows that the defendants were attempting to comply with the Election Code limitations on corporate contributions." The court not only overturned the verdict, but took the step of entering a full acquittal.[9]

Indictment of State Rep. Mike Martin[edit]

On July 31, 1981 during the First Called Session of the Sixty-seventh Texas Legislature, Republican Representative Mike Martin, then of Longview, was shot in the left arm outside his trailer in Austin with 00-buckshot. Soon after the shooting, unidentified spokespeople from Earle's office released information to the Austin American Statesman that they felt Martin was telling inconsistent stories to the police. They claimed he first said he had no idea who did it; later he said it was a Satanic cult; in the end, he accused his political enemies.

Martin responded to the leaks by saying he was asked to give police all possibilities and said he had no idea why the district attorney's office would be saying such things. Earle personally made a public announcement that Martin was cooperating with police and that no one from his office was releasing information saying otherwise to The Statesman. Earle formed a grand jury to look into the shooting of Martin and invited him to attend without issuing a subpoena. Martin refused to appear by issuing a statement that he had already given officials all the information he knew. Gregg County District Attorney Rob Foster shortly arrested Martin on a three-year-old assault charge. The charge was immediately dismissed due to time limits and lack of evidence. Upon release, Martin appeared before reporters and accused Gregg County officials of using their offices to ruin him politically.

The day after his release on the assault charge, Martin voluntarily appeared before Earle's grand jury. At the time he didn't know that his first cousin, Charles Goff, had previously appeared before the grand jury and admitted he helped Martin stage the event to advance Martin's political career. He claimed Martin offered him a state job as payment, though Texas has strong nepotism laws forbidding the hiring of relatives. Goff had served prison time and had three outstanding felony warrants pending at the time of his testimony; however, the grand jury took his word over Martin's. After Martin’s denial of Goff’s accusations before the grand jury, Earle filed felony perjury charges against the freshman legislator. Martin pleaded not guilty and, a year later, worked out a plea bargain with Earle by admitting to misdemeanor perjury charges relating to the renting of a car around the time of the shooting. Martin resigned his House seat on April 22, 1982 and withdrew from the upcoming election. Martin filed several suits against Earle, Rob Foster, and his cousin, Charles Goff for civil rights violations. A federal judge dismissed the last case in June 1985 on grounds that prosecutors are immune from civil suits. Martin still claims he is innocent of Earle's charges.[citation needed]

LaCresha Murray case[edit]

In 1996, Earle indicted 11-year-old LaCresha Murray for capital murder involving two-year-old Jayla Belton - the youngest homicide prosecution in Texas history. Earle's evidence rested on an alleged confession by Murray, obtained by interrogation at a children's shelter in the absence of any attorney or family member. Murray's case provoked several public protests of Earle's office and at the Texas State Capitol from her detention in 1996 until her release in 1999, when the case was reviewed.[10]

Murray was again tried and convicted of intentional injury to a child, receiving a 25-year sentence. In 2001, the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals reversed and remanded her sentence after finding that her confession was illegally obtained. Furthermore, a liver tissue examination by a pathologist expert in the field showed that the injury was inflicted hours before and thus not by Murray; and clothes worn by the toddler had no blood traces that were inevitable given the injuries—indicating the clothes were changed after the toddler was beaten.[11] Faced with the evidence Earle eventually dropped all charges against Murray. In 2002, a suit was filed against the Travis County District Attorney's Office and a host of other individuals and various agencies. The lawsuit alleges that the Murray family has been victimized by malicious prosecution, defamation, mental anguish, libel and slander. Charges of racism are also raised in the suit, suggesting that the Murray family would have been treated differently had they been white. Murray's suit was dismissed; on November 28, 2005, the US Supreme Court refused to revive the lawsuit.[citation needed]

Maurice Pierce case[edit]

On December 6, 1991, four teenage girls were murdered inside a local yogurt shop in Austin. In 1999, Earle led the "Yogurt Shop Murders" case against suspect Maurice Pierce, leading to a grand jury indicting him on four counts of first degree murder.[12] Pierce was arrested along with Robert Springsteen IV, Michael Scott, and Forrest Welborn for the murders of four girls.

Springsteen and Scott eventually confessed to the crime. Springsteen was convicted and sentenced to death. Scott was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Welborn was never indicted for the crime.

Pierce continually maintained his innocence up until his release, occurring three years after his arrest. The state could not use Springsteen's and Scott's confessions against Pierce, so, without a confession, and only circumstantial evidence to connect him to the yogurt shop, the state had to either try Pierce or release him. Earle released him and dropped all charges citing a lack of evidence. The case against Pierce remains open. On December 24, 2010, Pierce was shot dead by Austin police officers in an incident during which Pierce allegedly stabbed a police officer with the officer's knife.[13]

2010 Texas Elections[edit]

Immediately after Earle announced his retirement as District Attorney of Travis County in December 2007, he began being mentioned as a possible statewide candidate.[14] In the spring of 2009, Earle's name began being mentioned specifically in context with a race for either Texas Attorney General or Texas Governor.[15]

Earle has said he is considering a run for one of the two posts.[16] On June 30, 2009, an Internet draft movement, DraftRonnie.com, was launched to urge Earle to run for Texas governor. The Draft Ronnie website and draft movement ended in September 2009, when Democrat Hank Gilbert entered the race for Texas Governor. On December 18, 2009, Earle filed the necessary paperwork to run for Lieutenant Governor of Texas. He was defeated in the Democratic primary by Linda Chavez-Thompson, a union activist.[17] She, in turn, was defeated in the general election by the incumbent Republican David Dewhurst in November 2010.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Axtman, Kris (December 3, 2004). "The Texas DA pitted against the power of Tom DeLay". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  2. ^ Copelin, Laylan (June 27, 2007). "High Court Upholds Dismissal of Indictment Against DeLay". Austin American Statesman. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  3. ^ Gamboa, Suzanne (October 6, 2005). "Other jury declined to indict DeLay". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. Retrieved 2006-10-19. 
  4. ^ Shenon, Phil (October 3, 2005). "DeLay is indicted again in Texas; Money Laundering is charge". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  5. ^ Novak, Robert (October 3, 2005). "Criminalizing politics". Townhall Magazine. Retrieved 2013-12-15. 
  6. ^ Associated Press (October 7, 2005). "DeLay's Attorney Files Motion Against DA". Retrieved 2013-12-15. 
  7. ^ "Tom DeLay Convicted of Money Laundering". Fox News. 2010-11-24. 
  8. ^ Memmott, Mark (September 19, 2013). "Tom DeLay's Conviction Overturned On Appeal". Retrieved December 15, 2013. 
  9. ^ Dinan, Stephan (September 19, 2013). "Tom Delay's Money Laundering Conviction Overturned". Retrieved December 15, 2013. 
  10. ^ The Austin Chronicle: Lacresha Murray suit proceeds; accessed March 15, 2014.
  11. ^ Murray's Law
  12. ^ News 8 Austin | 24 Hour Local News | Yogurt Shop Timeline[dead link]
  13. ^ The Austin Chronicle: News: Pierce Freed After Three Years: "Godspeed"
  14. ^ Austin news, sports, weather, Longhorns, business | Statesman.com
  15. ^ "Former Travis County DA Ronnie Earle contemplates Texas AG run; old office in crosshairs of two GOP lawmakers", texaswatchdog.org; April 2009; accessed March 15, 2014.
  16. ^ Austin news, sports, weather, Longhorns, Statesman.com; accessed March 15, 2014.
  17. ^ Chavez-Thompson wins Democratic nomination for Lt. Gov. over Ronnie Earle
  18. ^ David Dewhurst defeats Linda Chavez-Thompson, dallasnews.com; accessed March 15, 2014.

External links[edit]