This is a case that two of my officemates and I took on the basis of the principle of the matter. We represented three homeless people charged with felonies in an APD sting operation. The charges were dismissed.
At press time, three of seven homeless men caught in the APD's four-day sting operation (code-named Operation Out of the Box) back in January have been no-billed by a Travis Co. grand jury, and the charges against them have been dismissed. According to a Jan. 20 APD press release, downtown cops stung more than a dozen folks in the operation, arresting and charging them with "felony arrest by appropriation," and arresting a handful of others on drug-related charges. The cops targeted downtown and West Campus neighborhoods where it appeared a fencing operation was, perhaps, fueling the "increase in burglary of vehicles, businesses and residences." All but one of those arrested, noted APD, had a prior criminal record for a host of charges.
Still, news of the arrests didn't go over well with everyone, including Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless, who argued that the sting was less about clearing the streets of criminals and more about clearing the street of homeless. According to at least seven affidavits filed in connection with the sting, police targeted a downtown area known to have a "significant" homeless operation. An undercover cop posed as a bicycle thief, looking to fence a nearly $1,800 bike for money or drugs. (The bike's value, of course, meant anyone picked up in the exchange would be charged with a felony.) In one case, a man – who listed his address as the Salvation Army – offered to trade a day planner, a jacket, and a pair of sunglasses; in another, a man who also listed the Salvation Army as his residence offered the cops $2 for the bike. The ridiculousness of the trade infuriated Troxell, who suggested the "sting" sounded like entrapment at best, and mean-spirited cruelty at worst; tempting a poor, homeless person with a high-dollar item that they could use for transportation, pawn, or turn in for a reward is like tempting a "person in the desert, dying of thirst, with a canteen of water," he said. It turns out Troxell isn't alone in his assessment; last month he succeeded in securing legal representation for seven of the men. Attorneys Keith Hampton, Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez, and Linda Icenhauer-Ramirez agreed to take the cases pro bono, and have so far been successful in having three of the cases dismissed. At press time, two of the cases – involving a man who traded $2 for the bike (a case the attorneys suspect will also be dismissed), and one who traded what appeared to be a small amount of crack cocaine for the bike – are still pending. Two other men who traded drugs (one traded .1 gram of crack for the bike, the other – in a stepped-up version of the sting – traded .3 grams of crack for a Pontiac Bonneville) received six-month terms in state jail.
The attorneys were unimpressed by the police work in the sting operation. "It was appalling," said Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez. "It's not legally entrapment, but it's just wrong – like offering a hungry guy some food. [And] they set it up so it would be a felony." Hampton agrees. "It's a waste of police resources," he said. "It's like going to a heroin addict and asking that person to do something [in exchange] for heroin – these people are desperately poor and they're going in there [with an expensive bike]. You're the cops; act like [cops].
Gregory Steen murder case
Mar 07, 2002
Not Guilty by Jury
Gregory Steen was charged with Murder. After a week long jury trial, the Travis County jury found him "Not Guilty." Here is an excerpt from a newspaper article about the case. This was before the case went to the jury and Mr. Steen was found "Not Guilty."
"The case is turning out to be not as simple as the prosecution would like -- but it has featured a local rogue's gallery more colorful than most run-of-the-mill Travis County trials, making it more difficult than usual to sort out the guilty from ... the less guilty. And as defense attorney Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez would have it, an apparently incomplete investigation by Travis County Sheriff's Office detectives, coupled with the state's reliance on a less-than-credible star witness, has left Steen -- already notorious for being shot in the back by an Austin police officer while fleeing a crack house in October of 1997 -- to take the rap."
"According to Kelly McGary, Steen's ex-girlfriend and the state's only witness connecting Steen to the crime, Dunham was killed some time around 10:30pm -- which would make Green's account impossible.
Unless, of course, McGary is wrong -- and there is considerable reason to believe she has a less than unbreakable relationship with the truth.
McGary, a convicted forger, got an immunity deal from the DA's office in exchange for her testimony. As she tells it, after she and Steen discovered the cocaine they bought wasn't very pure, she rode with Steen in her car, following Dunham and another man to Platt Lane, where Steen and the other man walked up to Dunham's open window. She said she heard gunfire and that Steen and the other man returned to her car, where Steen handed her a pistol. (McGary once positively identified the other man as Timothy Chandler, but later recanted, saying she could not be "100% sure" -- so the state dropped murder charges against Chandler two weeks ago.)
But the trial testimony is just McGary's most recent version. Since 1997, she has given roughly four different renditions of what happened that night, accounts she admitted Tuesday were rife with lies. "I was on a lot of drugs at this point," McGary said. However, she insists that since she was given immunity in March 2000 she has told the truth about the murder. In court, Icenhauer-Ramirez pointed out that her various stories -- including her alleged truthful testimony -- don't seem to add up. At one point, McGary told investigators that she had been riding in the victim's Ford Escort, behind the driver. McGary testified Tuesday that she was mistaken, and that she had never been in the Escort, "because I don't like to ride in other people's cars."
After the murder, McGary said, although she said she was frightened of Steen and afraid for "what might happen" to her, she didn't part company with him until she made sure he gave her some cash -- money she said she assumed he got from Dunham. She waited another four days before fleeing to Houston, where she pawned one of two pistols she said Steen gave her, before going to New Orleans -- where she was arrested for another forgery.
"So, you're telling this jury that you were at the murder scene," Icenhauer-Ramirez asked, "that your car was used in the getaway; that you've got the cash [from the robbery that allegedly motivated the murder]; [that] you've got the murder weapon; that you fled to Houston. ... but that you're not involved in this homicide?"
"Correct," McGary said.
The defense will begin presenting its case this week."
"On March 7, after six hours of deliberations, jurors found defendant Gregory Steen not guilty of the 1997 murder of homeless drifter Jim Dunham."
Mercado v. Austin Police Department
Mar 14, 1985
Case dismissed against my client
This was a case that I handled early in my career. I represented the Austin Police Department in a case in federal court. What is interesting is that I cross-examined the opposing party at trial and my cross-examination was the subject of part of an opinion written by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The following paragraph is a quote from their opinion:
"Defense counsel (Mr. Icenhauer-Ramirez) impeached Mercado's credibility in many ways. She admitted that a key Police Department supervisory official whom she charged with prejudice against Mexican-Americans was in fact married to a Mexican-American. She also admitted that she chose to be discharged rather than to accept assistance from the City's personnel department in locating a nonsupervisory job with the City of comparable pay grade and job classification. In sum, the evidence garnered on cross examination from Mercado herself was so damaging that, after she left the stand, virtually no later witness could have helped her to establish a prima facie case."
The case cite is 74 F.2d 1266.
The results of this case showed me, early on, the value of a meticulously prepared cross-examination.
Curry Franks Assault case
After a jury was seated, the State put their complaining witness on the stand. After several hours of cross-examination, her credibility was placed in such a compromising position that the State dismissed the case. The jury was released. Charges against Mr. Franks were dismissed.
The Yogurt Shop case
Capital Murder charge dismissed
Forrest Welborn was charged in the Capital Murder of four girls, a crime known locally as the Yogurt Shop murders. After a lengthy hearing, a juvenile court judge bound him over for trial but ordered him released on bond. The hearing was hard-fought and there was evidence adduced by his defense team that struck at the heart of the police theory of the case. A Travis County grand jury declined to indict my client for the murders.