• September 19, 2014

Hearing turns into tense legal wrangle

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Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 4:30 am

BELTON — What could have been a simple sentencing hearing turned into tense legal arguments Tuesday, with accusations made against lawyers for the defense and prosecution.

The question was whether all evidence in the case against 50-year-old Killeen resident Eugene Kelly Wolfenberger had been given to defense lawyers before his May 31 guilty plea to a charge of intoxicated manslaughter.

Wolfenberger attempted to withdraw the guilty plea Dec. 5. He is accused of killing Killeen resident William Allen Reed, 47, on Aug. 11, 2010, while driving drunk.

An arrest affidavit states Wolfenberger had a blood-alcohol level nearly four times the legal limit when arrested. He claims to not remember anything about the incident, including his reported confession to police.

Wolfenberger’s lead defense attorney, Mike Rizzo, surprised the court at the outset of the hearing by calling prosecutor Mike Waldman to the stand. Through intense questioning, Rizzo insinuated that either by accident or on purpose, Waldman did not give several pieces of evidence to the defense before Wolfenberger’s guilty plea.

The items in question included multiple dash camera videos from responding police officers, a 911 phone call and photos of the crash scene.

Waldman maintained he gave the evidence to the defense in early 2011, showing a received date for the evidence from his personal case file. The defense questioned whether the date was accurate.

Rizzo also took the stand, with his co-counsel Jeff Pritchard questioning him. Rizzo testified he did not receive the evidence until well after the guilty plea.

But prosecutor Fred Burns, who sat in on the proceeding after Waldman took the stand, attempted to show that Rizzo may have lost the evidence — seven DVDs — by calling the lawyer “disorganized” and ineffective.

When asked to go through his case file to find a specific document, Rizzo flipped through his file, which he called a “mess,” for nine minutes before telling the court he could not find it. He then requested a recess to look into the file further.

The antagonistic hearing left lawyers repeatedly interrupting each other, with presiding Judge Martha Trudo having to intervene several times.

Wolfenberger also took the stand, where he told the court he had never seen the video evidence. But when questioned by the prosecution, he admitted that he was the driver of the Toyota Camry that struck and killed Reed.

Trudo reserved making a ruling on whether the plea should be withdrawn. The next hearing date was not set either.

Wolfenberger also is charged with failure to stop and render aid. He pleaded guilty to that charge as well and is seeking to have it rescinded.

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