|June 8, 2002 Waco Tribune Herald
Libel case involving Lake Waco murders pushed back to October
A libel case centering on the investigation of the 1982 Lake Waco murders
was postponed until late October after a full, often lively day of
pretrial proceedings Monday.
The suit, which pits the former district attorney and main investigator
in the case against a Waco businessman who argues that the wrong man was
executed for the triple murders, was scheduled to start today with jury
selection. That changed Monday afternoon when the judge granted a defense
motion for interlocutory appeal, preventing the case from moving forward
until a ruling by an appellate court.
The appeal, filed on behalf of defendants Brian Pardo and John McLemore,
challenges the denial of three motions the defense made Monday morning to
have the case dismissed on the basis that no grounds exist for a libel
claim. Judge Don G. Humble of Cameron, who is hearing the case because
74th State District Judge Allen Mayfield recused himself, denied the
motions for summary judgment.
Dallas attorney Armando De Diego, representing Pardo, said the motion
gives the defense the right to an expedited appeal that must be decided
before final judgment in the case can be made. In this case, De Diego
will argue to Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals that Humble erred in not
granting the defense motions for summary judgment.
If the appellate court agrees, the suit could be dismissed in whole or in
part, De Diego said. However, if the appellate ruling favors the
plaintiffs, the case will proceed to trial. A tentative trial date of
Oct. 21 was agreed upon Monday by all lawyers in the case.
The motions for summary judgment revolved around the defense’s contention
that neither of the two documents central to the case constituted libel
against the four plaintiffs. Those plaintiffs are former McLennan County
District Attorney Vic Feazell, former assistant district attorney Ned
Butler, former Sheriff’s Department Deputy Truman Simons and Homer
Campbell, who testified as a forensic dental expert in the case.
They filed the lawsuit in February 1998 against Pardo, McLemore and
Pardo’s company, Life Partners, alleging that Pardo libeled them in a
story that appeared in the March 1997 edition of his self-funded
newsletter, as well as a March 31, 1997, letter Pardo wrote to 54th State
District Judge George Allen asking for a stay of execution for David
Spence received two death sentences and was executed April 3, 1997, for
the murders, which claimed the lives of Kenneth Franks, 18, and Raylene
Rice and Jill Montgomery, both 17.
McLemore is named in the suit because he wrote the article that appeared
in the newsletter. Pardo’s company was dropped from the suit after Humble
granted a motion for summary judgment in February.
Feazell, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, said Monday’s appeal
was a stall tactic by the defense. He said he was ready to start the
trial today , adding it was unfortunate witnesses who were flying into
Waco Monday night would have to leave town without testifying.
De Diego, however, said the appeal is a way to make sure a level playing
field exists in the suit. He was alluding to other pretrial motions taken
up Monday that dealt with whether Feazell and Simons had withheld
information from the defense.
On Friday, De Diego filed a sanctions motion against the plaintiffs,
alleging they failed to turn over all documents and other items relating
to the case. He claimed Feazell and Simons had tapes and documents at
their homes that were not included in the plaintiffs’ disclosure of
The documents and tapes include conversations between the plaintiffs
about case strategy, as well as conversations with various witnesses in
the case, De Diego said. Because of their nature, most of them would help
the defense, he said, adding that he hopes the appeal will give him time
to locate the items in question.
De Diego said he learned of the items’ existence last week when contacted
by Fredric Dannen, a contributor for The New Yorker magazine who is
writing a book highlighting the lake murders. Dannen had knowledge of the
items because he made electronic copies of them after Feazell gave him
access to his personal files, De Diego said. He introduced an affidavit
from Dannen to support that argument.
During the sanctions hearing, Feazell denied willfully not turning over
materials relevant to the case. The items Dannen refers to in his
affidavit were stored in boxes in a crawlspace at his home, Feazell said.
Because he had not reviewed them in years, he had simply forgotten there
were any items relevant to the lake murders in them, he said.
In addition, Feazell and the lawyer for the other three plaintiffs, Waco
attorney David Deaconson, argued that many of the items had in fact been
made available to the defense or are available in the form of court
Feazell said he could no longer furnish the evidence because Dannen never
returned them. He said he is investigating whether to file criminal
charges against Dannen for what he said amounts to stealing.
Feazell’s testimony was countered by his ex-wife, Bernadette Feazell. She
testified that the boxes in question had been in a room next to Feazell’s
home office for years and that she had seen them as recently as April.
Feazell called her comments “a total fabrication and outright lie.”
Although Humble denied the defense’s sanctions motion, Feazell may still
encounter trouble over the issue. In his affidavit, Dannen stated he not
only returned all the items he borrowed from Feazell but that he also
gave him electronic copies of them. Reached by cell phone Monday, Dannen
made the following statement:
“I did not attend today’s hearing. If, in fact, Vic Feazell has accused
me of stealing, I will seriously consider filing a grievance against him
with the bar association seeking his disbarment.”
(source: Waco Tribune)