Several lackluster Cherokee County, Texas incumbents are seeking reelection in 2008 and are running unchallenged by either political party. Namely Elmer Beckworth, Cherokee County’s second term district attorney running on his 20 + years as assistant DA and his fictitious legislation co-written by the then State Senator district 3 Todd Staples (Rep.-Palestine, TX). Legislation he claims was designed “to allow state judges more discretion in denying bail to people who violate the terms of their bail.” As if the Texas constitution did not already allow for the denial of bail for repeat offenders. That’s why it is called “bail;” if you violate the conditions you get to sit in jail before your trial.
The lie is that before this ‘legislation’ a defendant on felony bond could have that bond reset repeatedly if the conditions of the bond were violated, even in a case of escalating domestic violence. The pretext of the 2005 proposition, Prop.4 was to pay homage to slain Jacksonville, TX resident Faye Harris, murdered in 2003 by her estranged ex-husband Michael Harris. Mr. Harris could have had his felony bond revoked with one phone call on the day he forfeited it and months before he eventually murdered Faye Harris. His restraining orders were not enforced by Cherokee County despite efforts after the fact to smokescreen with an insincere measure named after the victim. Has any other county in the state of Texas seen defendants out on felony bond violate restraining orders and get their bail set and reset and reset for each worsening occurrence while their trials are postponed indefinitely? While they are in protective custody and each time threatening to kill their wife?
Michael Harris was under watch at the Rusk State Hospital for drug treatment and had repeatedly violated the conditions of his bail AND the restraining orders against him. His initial bond for a pending felony arson trial (he allegedly burned down his ex-wife’s home) was set and reset and reset multiple times by the non-operational Cherokee County district court. Michael Harris’ pattern of increasingly violent terroristic threats and vandalism against his wife was documented up to his indictment and 2006 plea bargain (given to him by candidate Elmer Beckworth). Harris accepted life in prison and Beckworth accepted an honorary ‘victim’s rights’ award bestowed for the preventable death of Faye Harris. Cherokee County’s negligence was quickly turned into a publicity stunt by the district court, the sheriff department and the local state representative’s office.
This hoax of denying repeat offenders’ bail was voted and approved by amendment in 2006 after several Texas newspapers fell for the talking points. Other media outlets did not accept the legislation’s emotional overtones and saw Proposition 4 for what it was: excuse making by a negligent East Texas district court for the murder of woman whose protective orders were not enforced by local law enforcement. An avoidable malfeasance that did not result in a judicial reprimand, but the actual course of action Elmer Beckworth, et al hold as their political platforms. The amendment was so good in fact, it popped up again in 2007 (as a duplicate proposition written in committee) for another sympathetic vote. Voters got a second chance to vote twice for the same 150 year-old legal precedent, because legislators know most people don’t pay attention to the propositions on the ballot. And unknown backwater prosecutors begging for attention get their names in the paper by running a con game.
The same ruse with the same wording appeared in 2007’s list of proposed amendments, namely November 6th’s Proposition 13. Proposition 13 was worded as “the constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a person who violates certain court orders or conditions of release in a felony or family violence case.” Elmer Beckworth of Cherokee County told himself and the state legislature he alone had discovered that “flaw in the Texas constitution” and that hole was plugged in 2006. But you can bet the exact legislation will appear again by another ‘victim rights’ champion down the road, who sees the Bill of Rights and the Texas State Constitution as an obstacle. Just like the same repeat bills trying to ban abortion and drugs or making it illegal to do something illegal.
This type of legislation is co-opted to give the impression that Cherokee County has been lenient when assessing bail in the past. Proponents (feigning opposition) travel back to when Texas’ founding father Sam Houston was imprisoned for inciting a revolution. Poor Sam Houston couldn’t petition the Mexican government to set his bail back then, 300 something years ago…The fact is Cherokee County is always facing federal rights class action suits because of the policy of denying bail to defendants in order to extract confessions during incarceration in the county jail. And to stave off future lawsuits for the ongoing civil rights violations of minorities at the hands of Cherokee County law enforcement.
Elmer Beckworth’s logic in advocating stiffer bail requirements falls on deaf ears when in 2007 Cherokee County just watched their decorated Jacksonville, TX police officer Larry Pugh be sentenced to 12+ years in federal prison for multiple rapes and retaliation. After “Elmer’s Law” had already passed unanimously. However, Larry Pugh never had to face rigorous bond hearings because Elmer Beckworth did not indict him on state charges until AFTER Pugh was sitting in federal prison. And never investigated Pugh’s missing victims scheduled to testify against him, even though a complainant’s decomposed naked body was found in the national forest. Officer Larry Pugh’s federal bond was revoked after he was caught trying to pull his last rape accuser into a van with a belt around her neck. Pugh’s single state charge, levied by district attorney Elmer Beckworth, involved Officer Pugh having “sex with an inmate,” not him retaliating and trying to kill a protected federal witness. Or the 30 other official rape victims that came forward in Cherokee County. This surviving female witness filed a successful civil suit against the city of Jacksonville, TX.
The 369th District Court also had the opportunity to see their bailiff Constable Randall Thompson coordinate trials and provide security at the Rusk, TX courthouse, while simultaneously issuing subpoenas, writing speeding tickets, helping out on drug raids, etc. etc.—ignoring the fact that Thompson was out on federal bond for selling narcotics to an undercover federal agent. In 2006 Constable Thompson was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for intent to distribute meth. No state charges needed to be levied for Thompson’s drug dealing; nor any type of bond hearing or suspension of Thompson’s law enforcement duties until the US Department of Justice indicted him. And you can bet the Cherokee County at Law and District Attorney’s office continued to prosecute everything Thompson sent to them after his federal arraignment.
But let’s not digress.
The fact is the Texas Constitution has always REQUIRED a repeat offender to be denied bail. It REQUIRES a district judge to revoke the bond of a repeat offender, hence Cherokee County’s dragging of the heels and postponements when it comes to prosecuting the few cases that make it to trial. And besides, Cherokee County, Texas has never had a problem with denying anyone’s bail before. Because the 4th Amendment in the Bill of Rights is arbitrary in their eyes.
Let’s face it folks, the Texas Constitution has never been at fault for allowing some dirtbag out on felony bond to murder someone. It is the lack of initiative the Cherokee County district court has in enforcing the protective orders they themselves pretend to crusade. There were never any ancillary conditions of Michael Harris’ bond to keep him from killing his wife. In fact, in a county with only 1 or 2 murder trials every term of the district attorney, these homicides are lauded in the local media and reprinted over and over again. To make it appear to outsiders in civilization that the letter of the law is actual upheld, amongst multiple federal convictions of Cherokee County’s bailiff, constables, chief of police, patrolmen and correctional officers. To make it appear they are with the times and not immersed in racial tensions brought on by ingrained and outdated prejudices. To make it appear they are players in the State’s political arena. But just because they say it, don’t make it so.
Criminal negligence and propaganda might impress the local yokels in the upcoming March primaries, but it should not make an impact on the rest of the state. These hypocrites may go unchallenged in their respective political primaries, but hopefully they will stay in their East Texas rat holes. Until another violent homicide they could have prevented helps them find another “flaw in the Texas Constitution.”