Assistant D.A. Ratekin Corrals Convicted Cattle Thief Bringing Reign of Terror to an End
SAN ANGELO, TX – Jurors in the cattle theft trial of Tom Green County resident Dusty Thompson took less than three hours Wednesday to find him guilty of the third degree felony and he was visibly shaken when District Judge Carmen Dusek read the unanimous verdict.
Thompson, 44, was standing with his attorney Gonzalo Rios when Judge Dusek pronounced him guilty. Dusek asked if the attorneys wanted her to poll the jurors individually. Assistant District Attorney Brent Ratekin declined, but Rios requested they be asked individually. Judge Dusek called each juror by name and as they were responding, Thompson slumped down into his chair with his head in his hand staring at jurors. Thompson's supporters, who were laughing and joking in the hallway minutes earlier, sat dejected behind the now convicted felon.
Judge Dusek told jurors and attorneys they would break for about an hour while attorneys prepared for the punishment phase of the trial. After jurors were released for a break, Judge Dusek ordered Thompson to be taken into custody by Tom Green County deputies and he was not allowed to leave the courthouse.
Here's how Wednesday's jury trial went down. The guilt innocence phase of the trial continued with Thompson's defense attorney calling witnesses. David O'Banon was first on the stand. O'Banon told jurors he is a rancher from Sonora and Thompson's friend. O'Banon is a 'cow expert.' Thompson called O'Banon when the first of the three cows he penned gave birth. The calf was laying on the ground and O'Banon advised Thompson about what to :. "Get the calf off the ground and head toward its mother." O'Banon testified.
Prosecutor Ratekin asked O'Banon if he'd do that because that calf meant money; he said yes. Ratekin then asked O'Banon what he would do if he found cows on his place and didn't know who they belonged to. "I'd call the Sheriff!" he said. That would be reasonable.
Next on the witness stand for the defense was Darwin Peak, who appeared in court wearing a T-shirt. Peak testified he has property near Eola he leases to Thompson and considers him a friend.
Rios then called retired San Angelo Police officer Mike Peterson to the stand. Peterson lives near Thompson and called him a friend. The 31-year law enforcement veteran said he didn't know calling the Sheriff about stray livestock was the law but admitted under cross examination that since Thompson was arrested, he did some research and now knows Thompson should have called the Sheriff's office immediately when he couldn't find the owner.
While Peterson was on the stand, a familiar face entered courtroom A on the second floor of the Tom Green County Courthouse. Chelsea 'Big Bag of Crazy' Strube, who earlier this year was convicted of arson, works for local attorney Stephanie Goodman who works with Thompson's attorney. Strube was there to provide technical support to play an edited audio clip for Rios.
After Peterson's testimony, Judge Dusek met with attorneys in her chambers to discuss the audio clip which Thompson secretly recorded of his renter Hannah Bryant after Thompson was arrested and out on bail. There were hushed tones in the courtroom while the judge and attorneys were in chambers. Thompson talked with his posse and Strube.
While the jury was outside the courtroom and when the judge and attorneys returned, defense attorney Rios called Hannah Bryant back to the stand. The audio recording included a statement from Bryant where she seems to contradict her earlier testimony about not remembering the conversation Thompson secretly recorded where she told him how to change a brand on a cow. "I don't remember that conversation." Bryant said after hearing the audio clip, but she admitted that was her voice and her comments on the recording.
Judge Dusek then ordered a one hour break so attorneys could edit the audio to just include Bryant's comments about how to change the brand on a cow.
When the trial continued, jurors heard Bryant say she recognized her voice but alleges that she does not remember that specific conversation. The defense played the tapes and even after hearing them she alleged she didn’t recall the conversation. She says that on the tape she is telling them of a method she knew to block a brand on cattle. The recording happened after Dusty had been arrested and charged and no one told her the conversation would be recorded.
Bryant, who rented property from Thompson at the time, testified that she was “scrambling to get out of there” because she was afraid of them and that they were both intimidating, “they are scary.”
Bryant told jurors she figures she agreed with them because she wanted to be on good terms as she tried to move out.
Bryant may have said “you did the right thing” as it is heard on the audio, because she probably meant it was good that Dusty had removed the cows from the road and harm’s way. On the recording she says, “As people who don’t have a lot of cattle, you guys did the right thing."
Next came closing arguments.
Ratekin went first:
Finding the cows, penning the cows, and moving the cows is appropriating property. He had complete control over the cattle, Ratekin argued.
Dusty didn’t have permission from the owner and what is being debated is the intent that he had. The actual owner of the cows isn’t as important as the intent of keeping the cows from their rightful owner. Look at the context, inferred by his actions, he said. Walter Bryant told him to pen them up. Then he brought up Walter’s past. Dusty didn’t tell any of his neighbors or law enforcement about the cattle and decided to pen them up.
The statement from Thompson, “Don’t say anything about the beef to anyone…it looks tasty," shows intent he said.
According to testimony, Dusty looked at videos on how to butcher cows – that shows intent, Ratekin said.
Why feed the coows and give them water is he wasn’t going to keep them? Why didn’t he try to return them? Hannah Bryant did the right thing, if it wasn’t for her, Thompson would have a “fridge full of beef," Ratekin said.
His own words show intent, Ratekin concluded.
Rios' defense closing went like this:
“It’s easy to critique what other people have done,” Rios said. Rios asked jurors to "put yourself in Dusty’s position." He’s a busy man and the last thing he wanted to do was deal with cows.
He “improvised” and dealt with the cows so he could go on with his busy day.
He’s done pretty good in life, why would he give that up for three cows, he could buy a herd, Rios argued.
They didn’t find any searches of cow butchering videos on Dusty’s phone, Rios claimed.
Thompson was too busy to call the authorities all the while he was “blowing and going," Rios said. He didn't have the time to do anything else.
Rios asked jurors to, “Look at the actions not the words."
Then Assistant District Attorney Ratekin wrapped up the state's case.
"This is not about motive, it’s about intent," he countered again.
We don’t know if Dusty googled the cow butchering videos on his home computer
“Don’t say anything about the beef to anyone,” Ratekin reminded Dusty texted to his neighbors and friends. "Why would he say that? Because he expected to keep them," Ratekin said.
If he wanted to return the cows, he would have looked for the owners, call his neighbors, call the authorities, put up a sign, not just put them on a pasture near the highway; a black cow looks like a black cow from the highway, so people wouldn’t be able to identify the cows just by driving down U.S. 277, Ratekin argued.
Thompson never once asked how to return the cows even though he had friends who worked in law enforcement and even though he asked a rancher friend about how to save the calf, Ratekin said.
After closing arguments, the jury was retired to the jury room to deliberate Thompson's guilt or innocence.
It took the jury less than three hours to find Dusty Thompson guilty of felony theft of livestock.
The punishment phase of the jury trial began at 4 p.m.
Prosecutor Ratekin began by telling jurors the punishment range for Thompson's crime was 2 to 10 years in state prison and a maximum fine of up to $10,000. As we reported earlier, Thompson is eligible for probation. Ratekin told the jury he wouldn't ask them for a punishment because that was their job as the jury.
Ratekin's only witness was Mike McClellan, Thompson's neighbor. McClellan testified that after Thompson was arrested, he went to McClellan's house and threatened him. McClellan testified that Thompson became vindictive, harassing him and his family including giving him the finger as they drove by on the highway, playing loud music at odd hours of the night, playing loud 'varmint calls' at all hours of the night. Ratekin went through a laundry list of Thompson's intimidation tactics and how those had impacted McClellan and his family.
Then it was the defense attorney's turn. Gonzalo Rios told the jury Dusty Thompson had never been convicted of a felony before and was eligible for probation.
Rios proceeded to call five character witnesses for his now convicted felon client Thompson.
Rios put Dusty Thompson on the witness stand again. Thompson told jurors he never harassed or intimidated anyone.
Thompson cried on the witness stand when his attorney asked him about his family. Thompson, visibly shaken, told jurors, "I'm the only provider for my family; my wife and my daughter and employees. They depend on me.
D.A. Ratekin asked about the varmint calls from previous testimony. Thompson admitted he used varmint calls regularly at his property and he admitted to having loud music at his shop as accused by his neighbor.
Thompson's neighbor Mike McClellan accused Thompson of unrelenting harassment including giving him and his daughter 'the finger' when they drove by. Thompson denied that allegation.
Thompson's defense team called several character witnesses, all of whom testified Dusty Thompson was a giving, charitable saint who'd help anyone he came across.
Rios then called Mormon Bishop Jarrod Stevens who was listed as the Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of San Angelo.
Stevens testifies that Thompson is an active member of his church and a charitable man.
At 5:25 p.m. testimony in the punishment phase of Dusty Thompson's trial came to an end.
There was extra security in the courtroom throughout the evening's proceedings.
Judge Dusek dismissed the jury for the night instructing them to be back Thursday morning for the final phase of the trial.
The judge also ordered that under the circumstances Thompson be taken into custody and spend the night in jail.
The jury will decide Thompson's fate Thursday.
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