SAN ANGELO, TX -- Attorneys for John Young seeking a new trial put the prosecuting attorneys and investigator from the Texas Office of Attorney General on the stand Tuesday morning to testify in Young’s hearing for a new trial.
The bizarre turn of events was only the beginning in what became a trial more about the credibility of witnesses than the events surrounding Young’s conviction for theft, forgery and money laundering.
Defense attorney Frank Sellers called Assistant Attorney General Shane Attaway to the stand first. Sellers peppered the state prosecutor with questions about the law and the burden of prosecutors to turn over all evidence to the defense. The motion for a retrial was made after Katie Hartman, the ex-wife of Sweetwater attorney Chris Hartman, signed a sworn affidavit just five days after Young’s trial ended in November. In the affidavit, Katie Hartman swears she witnessed her ex-husband forge John Sullivan’s will in the back of a prayer book. That forged will left Sullivan’s estate to John Young.
At Seller’s questioning, Attaway testified that Katie Hartman called the OAG on Nov 1 during the Young trial and talked with Captain Greg Lucas. Sellers played the recording of that phone call in court. In it, Katie Hartman said she wanted to testify that Chris Hartman “had stolen a lot of money” and had a lot more information about his role in the John Sullivan estate case.
Sellers is asking for a new trial for Young because the OAG didn’t disclose that phone call until Dec 14, well after the trial was over and Young was sitting in prison. After testimony peppered with objections and discussions about the rules of evidence, Attaway admitted that, “I failed to forward that information” to defense attorneys.
This is where it gets weird. Attaway’s co-council, Jonathan White, had to question Attaway. During that questioning, Attaway said, “Information from Katie Hartman during Young’s trial would not prove Young’s innocence.”
Katie Hartman called the OAG after reading in the media that Chris Hartman was granted immunity for his testimony in the Young trial and admitted he lied under oath to the grand jury. Attaway testified that Chris Hartman did not have immunity from theft, forgery or money laundering.
Then it was White’s turn. Assistant Attorney General Jonathan White and Attaway switched places. White took the stand and Attaway took his seat at the prosecutor’s table. Attaway testified that, “Katie Hartman’s affidavit was completely inconsistent with what Katie told us before trial.”
Once the unique lawyers-questioning-lawyers episode was over, it was time for the OAG investigator to take the stand. Brandon Riser is a Criminal Investigator with the OAG. He was present for the Zapata trial and Young’s trial. Riser testified that he called Katie Hartman when his boss, Captain Lucas, told him too. That phone call occurred during a break in testimony at Young’s trial. Riser and Katie Hartman talked for 12 minutes but that conversation wasn’t recorded. Riser wrote a memo in December detailing his recollection of that conversation. He says Katie Hartman told him that she was at Sullivan’s residence in June of 2014 when Chris Hartman and Ray Zapata were taking boxes of documents from the residence. According to Riser, Katie Hartman told him she overheard Chris Hartman and John Young talk about needing to spend the money from the Sullivan estate as fast as possible before the boys Sullivan was accused of molesting could get it.
When Riser had finished testifying, Sellers said, “O.K., we’ve been talking for five minutes about your 12 minute phone call. Spend the next seven minutes telling us what else y’all talked about.” Riser said he told her that there were rules about testimony and that he would have to let the prosecutors decide whether she could testify or not. Katie Hartman would testify later that both Riser and Lucas told her it was too late for her to testify in John Young’s trial.
Riser then went through Katie Hartman’s affidavit and detailed the inconsistencies between it and his phone conversation with her.
Then just when it couldn’t become any more bizarre, Sellers introduced Katie Hartman’s phone record into evidence. To show that Katie Hartman tried to call several agencies in an attempt to be able to testify in Young’s trial, Sellers took his co-council’s cell phone and had Riser call numbers from Katie Hartman’s phone record live from the witness stand.
Katie Hartman in her affidavit said she tried to call Texas Ranger Nick Hanna on Nov 1 during the trial. Sellers had Riser call a number with the speaker on; what played from the witness stand was Ranger Hanna’s voicemail message.
The rest of Tuesday’s testimony was from Katie Hartman. While on the stand, Katie Hartman testified that she watched Chris Hartman write in the prayer book. She said Chris Hartman told her he was ‘doctoring’ the will. Defense attorney Dan Hurley showed Katie Hartman the prayer book that was in evidence and she said, “It looks pretty much like it.”
Katie Hartman testified that her ex-husband bragged about being in charge of the Sullivan estate; that he was the mastermind. She said he bought a $65,000 pickup and several rent houses after Sullivan’s will was probated and he was paid by John Young.
Under cross examination by Attaway, Katie Hartman testified that during her phone call with Riser, “I remember saying Chris was definitely the mastermind and he was proud of it.”
Prosecutors spent hours grinding away at Katie Hartman’s testimony and her affidavit.
Then there was another bizarre twist. San Angelo attorney Mark Brown was sitting in the courtroom taking notes. At one point, he passed a note to prosecutors. Sellers saw the note and literally stopped the proceedings demanding to see the note. Both prosecuting and defense attorneys were summoned to the bench before District Judge Brock Jones. The content of the letter was not disclosed.
John Young’s wife, daughter and brother sat through the long day’s proceedings a few rows behind Young. He was wearing an orange and white shirt, orange pants and had his hands shackled to his waist. He wore reading glasses and was actively involved with his defense team.
Both the defense and prosecution have additional witnesses to call on Wednesday. Judge Jones said proceedings will begin at 10 a.m.