Dusty Thompson's Request for New Trial Flames Out
SAN ANGELO, TX — Convicted cattle rustler Dusty Thompson was back in the Tom Green County Courthouse requesting a new trial. His argument was twofold. First, he alleged the jurors read the daily dispatches on San Angelo LIVE! about the trial as it unfolded. Second, he alleged that jurors who had experience with ranching offered their opinions of Thompson’s offense during the deliberations against the jury instructions. Judge Carmen Dusek ordered the jury to only consider evidence presented during the trial. Both the reading of San Angelo LIVE! articles and discussing knowledge of ranching — what was characterized as techniques for the feeding of livestock in general — by jurors tainted their decision and conviction, Thompson’s attorney Gonzalo Rios argued.
In the packed Courtroom B, Thompson’s 13 witnesses, including the 12 jurors and one private investigator who interviewed jurors, sat before Judge Dusek who dismissed the subpoenaed citizens to a secluded conference room before the hearing began. Each was to be brought in one at a time to testify under oath if they broke the rule and took a peek at media coverage, and specifically at San Angelo LIVE! articles, about Thompson during the trial. Each was admonished with what Dusek called “The Rule.” The Rule stated that none of the witnesses could discuss with anyone, and certainly not amongst themselves, what was said inside the courtroom this day as they were shuffled in and out.
Before Rios started his argument, prosecutor Brent Ratekin made a motion to dismiss the request for a new trial because Thompson’s primary argument broke longstanding Rule 606. The Rule in state and federal statutes protects the jury deliberations from snooping defense attorneys. The rule states that a juror may not testify about any statement made or incident that occurred during deliberations, the effect anything had on the juror’s vote, or any juror’s mental process concerning a verdict. The rule was very cut and dry and had been upheld in many court proceedings, Ratekin argued. Judge Dusek seemed to agree, but allowed Rios to open and present his arguments.
“I’m not ruling on the motion yet, so let’s get Mr. Rios’ witnesses recorded on the stand just in case,” Dusek said.
In a series of objections by the prosecution, Rios’ presentation was diminished into a moot, fruitless exercise. Rios wanted to ask each juror what influenced their decision in an attempt to have a juror testify that several on the panel were self-proclaimed ranching experts and those jurors injected information into the jury deliberations that was not presented in court testimony, and against the jury’s charge.
Dusek’s rulings basically denied Rios from asking those kinds of questions. So, the remainder of the hearing became a focus group discussion about the popularity of San Angelo LIVE! with Rios calling each juror to the stand one-by-one and asking each if they were tempted to read the news platform’s coverage of the trial while impaneled.
The first juror, a Wall resident, was called first. He apologized to Dusek for breaking her jury charge.
“I had a Jeep, doors and a camper shell I was selling on the ‘swap and sell,’” he said. “When I was doing that, I got a notice from San Angelo LIVE!” Facebook has a myriad of swap and sell groups where local residents sell and trade items as if it is an online garage sale.
Under cross-examination, the Wall guy said the headline he saw was about the ‘Big Bag of Crazy.’ “That’s that Strube girl, and I wondered what kind of trouble she was into now,” he said. The temptation was too much, and he clicked. “You don’t see that headline often,” he said.
The Wall guy admitted he accessed social media 4-5 times a day and saw San Angelo LIVE! headlines often when doing so.
“How were the headlines? Were they slanted against my client?” Rios asked.
“No, they were pretty level,” Wall guy said.
The next few witnesses denied any interaction with social media or even traditional media during the trial.
Then prosecutor Ratekin objected. “Your honor, we are on a fishing expedition,” he said. Ratekin made a motion to shut it down.
“No, I will allow it,” Dusek said. “Overruled.”
In all, eight jurors were called and only the Wall guy said he saw headlines about the Dusty Thompson trial. Rios seemed to admit defeat and didn’t call the four remaining jurors or his star witness, private investigator Kate Long who purportedly would shine the light to how San Angelo LIVE!’s journalism tainted the jury.
Judge Dusek promised a decision quickly on if she will order a new trial. Not even Rios appeared to be holding his breath.
Dusek declared the hearing over, then Thompson and his posse cleared the courtroom and stood outside glaring at the founder of San Angelo LIVE! who was covering the hearing.
By noon, in a ruling made from her office desk after much reflection over this morning's hearing, Judge Dusek denied a new trial.
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