Marvin Louis Guy has been in the Bell County Jail without a trial date set for nearly three years. Some in the community have wondered if that’s an unusually long wait.
Guy is accused of killing Detective Charles D. Dinwiddie, the leader of Killeen’s SWAT team, as a no-knock search warrant was executed at his home. He awaits his capital murder trial, in which Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza announced in September 2014 that he would seek the death penalty.
Guy was indicted on June 18, 2014. That was a little over a month after he was arrested.
Guy is not the outlier here. Of six people charged with 2014 murders, two entered plea bargains and were sentenced. Another, Damarcus Kardel Bronner, is serving 25 years for murder.
But Thomas Jeremy Jones, who was indicted on May 7, 2014, and charged with the stabbing death of Kirsten Farr in an IHOP parking lot, and Andrew Leonard Hardesty, who was indicted on Dec. 16 in the murder of Christine Watkins, both await trial dates in the Bell County Jail.
The Herald spoke with several lawyers who work in Bell County, as well as District Attorney Henry Garza. The common opinion among all of them, is that three years isn’t an unheard of amount of time to wait for a trial.
Sometimes, that’s even a part of the defense attorney’s plan.
Jim Kreimeyer has been a criminal defense attorney in Killeen for decades, and spent another 25 years as a judge. Ed Laughlin, another local attorney, called him the dean of the criminal defense attorneys in this area.
“He’s forgotten more about law than most people around here have learned,” Laughlin said.
Before Kreimeyer discussed murder trials, he referenced Percy Foreman, one of the most famous criminal defense lawyers in Texas. Foreman represented James Earl Ray in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and claims that out of 1,500 death penalty cases he handled, only 53 were sentenced to death.
“Percy Foreman always said that he never had a client convicted that didn’t go to trial,” Kreimeyer said. “You can hurry up, but it isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the defendant, because as things go on, things change.”
Kreimeyer said that with all the different pieces that go into a murder trial — ballistics evidence, DNA tests, witnesses — lawyers typically don’t want to rush through the pretrial process. Not only the outcome of a case, but the reputation of a lawyer depends upon him or her having every single bit of piece of information possible, so there are no surprises once the trial begins.
“Nobody should be in a hurry to get the case over with because as long as they don’t got to trial, they aren’t convicted,” Kreimeyer said.
Though that might be conventional thinking for a lawyer, it’s difficult to get that point across to a defendant who sits in jail awaiting trial, especially one who believes he or she is innocent.
Michael White is a defense attorney who joined Garza on a conference call to the Herald Friday afternoon. He was also Guy’s attorney, before a disagreement led to Guy’s request for another. White said that most of the time, a defendant doesn’t understand the process. Often, the defendant feels as if a lawyer is biding the state more time to build up a better prosecution.
“You have clients who want the most favorable result, but if you go as fast as you can toward that result, you’re going to get blindsided,” White said. “You have to constantly ask the prosecutors if there’s any new information, or they’ll have an expert that comes up with a new conclusion, or they’ll find a video that exists just a week or two before trial. You have to be extremely more thorough now than three or four years ago.”
Sometimes, that long wait period will cause a rift between an attorney and a defendant. The defendant will feel as if his attorney isn’t doing enough to help, and the attorney grows weary of his or her client yelling at him or her meeting after meeting.
Often, the judge will grant the defendant the opportunity to get another attorney. But once that happens, the whole process is “basically at square one again,” as Garza puts it.
A disagreement led Judge John Gauntt to allow Guy to switch attorneys. White originally pursued the possibility that Guy may have an intellectual disability. But in an interview with the New York Times’ Kevin Sack, White said that Guy refused to accept that theory, and instead wanted him to pursue a theory that relied on the idea that Dinwiddie was killed by friendly fire.
“Usually, a defendant can’t get it out of his own head; it’s not easy to get across,” White said in his interview with the Herald.
Garza said that in his experience, a typical wait period between indictment by a grand jury and a trial date set is 12 to 24 months. White said 12 to 36 months is a more accurate representation of the time frame in his experience.
Garza cited the Michael Morton Act as something that’s led to a more drawn out process. In 2013, The Texas Legislature enacted a measure that required prosecutors to give defense attorneys any evidence that is relevant to the defendant’s guilt or punishment. Garza said that’s prolonged things by about six months to a year.
“It didn’t have much teeth in it in the beginning,” said White. “The problem is that the DAs can be ineffective if we don’t get everything, and with appeal attorneys, I’m starting to be put out on the witness stand a lot more than I have ever had to before.”
A newfound complexity that surrounds forensics can be blamed as well. When Garza tried murder cases back in the 1980s and 1990s, a murder case could be disposed in 10 to 14 months. Some of that can be blamed on the increase in population. Killeen’s population was around 63,000 in 1990. Now, it hovers above 140,000, and Bell County as a whole is around 335,000.
Much of it, however, can be attributed to the increase in technology.
“DNA didn’t come into admissibility and it wasn’t used to the great extent that it is today,” he said, “It’s much more prevalent in any investigation today than it was in the early ’90s, but you’ve also had an increase in a number of cases.”
Austin Shell is an attorney based out of Marble Falls, who said he’s represented a number of people charged with murder in the past. Three years, he said, seems like a long time, especially if the defendant is in prison.
“My opinion is that that’s excessive,” he said in a phone call. “Especially if that person is in jail and has their liberty restrained. If they’re out on bond, I have a little more tolerance, because not if they’re not in jail, their liberty is not restrained as much.”
Garza declined to compare the wait time in Bell County to other areas of either the state or the country, but White said that he has represented defendants in Lampasas County and Harris County in addition to Bell County, and he said that wait time is consistent across the board.
Laughlin thinks that the wait in Texas might be on the shorter end.
“You get to a city like Chicago, and there might be a three- to five-year wait to get to a jury trial,” he said.
There is no statute of limitations on a murder trial; therefore, there is no real clock that prosecutors are up against.