A South Carolina Criminal Defense Blog

Someone’s gonna pay

You’ve probably heard about the Texas prosecutor who was gunned down in broad daylight in front of the Kaufman County Courthouse last week.  I don’t know anything about Mark Hasse, how he handled his cases, or his personal life, but I can surmise that he died for a cause that he believed in and that he is a hero.  I would like to know more about him.  If the killers’ intent was to send a message I expect and I hope that it was a failure – law enforcement and prosecutors will continue to do their jobs, likely with more conviction than ever before, inspired by Hasse’s memory.

The reports say that one or two gunman shot Hasse, in front of the courthouse, that they were masked, that at least one wore a tactical vest, and that they left the scene in a silver, older model Ford Taurus.  According to reports, there are still no leads, although the report linked to above names two members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, linking them to the crime only because they pled guilty to unrelated crimes on the same day.

Which brings us to the question of whether the murderers will ever be brought to justice.  I predict that someone will be “brought to justice,” the question is whether it will be the killers.  A lack of credible information at the scene of the crime + outrage and a mandate to catch the killers = a recipe for charging and convicting the wrong person:

During an afternoon press conference, Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes, District Attorney Mike McLellan and Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh begged the public for any information that could identify those responsible.

“We’re very confident that we’re going to find you, we’re going to pull you out of whatever hole you’re in, we’re going to bring you back and we’re going to let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” McLellan said.

As I type every defendant charged with a serious crime in federal or state court in Texas is brainstorming trying to figure out how they can provide information that will lead to an arrest in Hasse’s case.  If I have charges pending, I can rest assured that if I have information that will lead to an arrest and conviction I am going to walk – this case is too important to not make an arrest.  For the coming weeks, months, or years, information will be pouring into every DA’s office, agents will be debriefing defendants who claim to have information, defense lawyers will be passing along information provided by their clients, and as the mountains of information grow, detectives and prosecutors will have their pick of suspects and testimony to support a prosecution, and they will need only pick the one that seems most credible to them.

I have a theory that, whenever a “professional hit” takes place, someone takes the fall for the killers.  I imagine that is part of the beauty of a true professional hit – once someone else is charged and convicted, the killer no longer has to worry about that particular job.  Case closed.

We want to believe that this doesn’t happen, but it does – I can point to local cases where a murder prosecution has survived directed verdict and an accused person has been convicted based solely on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch, and I bet most defense lawyers nationwide can point you to similar cases in their states.  In a high profile, high pressure case, law enforcement and prosecutors will charge, prosecute and convict a person based on whatever they have available, and there will always be a jailhouse snitch available.

Are we confident that the right people were charged and convicted in these cases?  Someone had to pay, and the police and the prosecutors had to answer to the public if there was no arrest and conviction.  The truth is that police and prosecutors can charge and convict anyone of anything, with testimony from jailhouse informants who are desperate to save themselves, and the fact that courts allow this type of uncorroborated testimony is a crack in the system that allows for injustice to prevail in many cases.

Someone’s gonna pay.  I predict that someone will be charged and convicted in Hasse’s murder – I hope that when it happens there is more evidence than uncorroborated testimony from informants, and that they get the right people – this is too big and too important to fail.  It’s also too important to get it wrong.

 

 

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