BELTON — One of Killeen’s most powerful families is in court for a lawsuit where they claim a conspiracy existed to defraud them of millions.
The Purser family is seeking a total of $4 million in damages from two local attorneys and their former clients in a suit involving the mental decline of their former patriarch, Gary W. Purser.
The lawsuit has been the talk of the Belton courthouse, with several attorneys stopping in frequently to watch how the fate of two of their colleagues, Killeen attorney Jerry Scarbrough and Temple attorney John Redington, will play out.
The trial began Sept. 4 after more than three years of extensive litigation. Lawyers representing the Purser family rested their case Tuesday.
The case also has drawn the attention of some of the county’s power brokers, including at least one former Killeen council member in attendance and testimony from Precinct 4 Bell County Commissioner John Fisher.
The lawsuit has given a view into the inner workings of the Purser family, which heads Purser Construction and Chafin Purser Inc. Together, the companies amount to one of the largest real estate developers in Killeen.
The family also includes former Killeen Councilwoman and current Killeen Independent School District school board trustee JoAnn Purser.
Testimony has depicted the gradual decline of Gary W. Purser, who died in July 2011. According to testimony and court documents, Purser suffered from dementia in his final years.
Gary W. Purser’s son, Gary “Bubba” Purser Jr., testified through tears Tuesday about how his father’s dementia began to affect his work at construction sites.
Wanting his father to maintain the illusion that he was in charge, Gary Purser Jr. would travel to sites to make sure his father’s directions were not followed.
It is while he was in that state that the Pursers contend Temple resident Melissa V. Deacon and former Killeen resident Mary Denise Bohannon Steele ingratiated themselves to Gary W. Purser and entered into an improper relationship with him.
Their dealings with Purser involved secret recordings of sexually charged conversations. JoAnn Purser called their actions “brainwashing,” when called to the stand Monday.
How it started
The lawsuit originated in May 2009 when a former employee of an irrigation company owned by the Pursers sued them for wrongful termination. As that lawsuit progressed, the plaintiff, Clayton Olvera, alleged that Gary W. Purser had an extramarital affair with Olvera’s girlfriend, defendant Steele.
But the Pursers had already been investigating Gary W. Purser. JoAnn Purser told the court she began in late 2008 to routinely track the movements of her father-in-law by tracing the location of his phone.
That led her to Deaton’s home in Temple, where Purser waited for hours, unknowing where Gary W. Purser was until she saw Deaton’s garage door open, revealing his truck.
When he was tracked to Deaton’s home again, Gary W. Purser’s sister Elizabeth Tipton, Gary Purser Jr. and JoAnn Purser confronted the women.
It led to an altercation on Deaton’s property referred to in trial as the “backyard incident.”
JoAnn Purser shot video of the incident depicting a struggle between Gary Purser and his son. Deaton alleges she was assaulted during the altercation, though no charges were filed.
Another incident took place at Deaton’s home two months later. JoAnn Purser went to the home after her mother-in-law, J. Helen Purser, informed her that money was missing from the family safe.
She confronted Gary W. Purser in the driveway of the home as he counted out $9,300 in $100 bills. It led to an altercation between the two, in which JoAnn was able to take the money from him.
Police intervened after Deaton called 911. She alleged JoAnn assaulted Gary W. Purser, though evidence later showed that the only injuries sustained during the incident were to JoAnn Purser.
Again, no charges were filed.
Ultimately, the family appears to be after the law license of Scarbrough, the Killeen attorney.
They accuse Scarbrough of hiding evidence, perjury, making false statements to police and slander.
Following Gary W. Purser’s death, he contacted Killeen police, Temple police and Texas Rangers alleging the family had murdered Gary W. Purser.
He also filed complaints with Adult Protective Services, alleging elder abuse.
But the main point of contention has been whether Scarbrough hid secret recordings from the Pursers’ lawyers. Throughout the case, the Pursers asked for copies of the recordings.
It was only when Commissioner Fisher obtained the recordings through a third party that they were given to the family.
The civil trial is taking place in 169th District Court with visiting Judge Alan Mayfield presiding.