UPDATE:The Department of Justice has dropped its investigation of former attorney general Alberto Gonzales regarding the firings of nine U.S. attorneys on political grounds.—July 22, 2010
It was a scene suspended between a Kafka nightmare and the lunacy of Lewis Carroll, a bizarre conclusion to the long national tragedy that began with the raid of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco in February 1993. Bill Johnston, the defendant who stood before a black-robed judge in a St. Louis courtroom awaiting sentencing, was charged, in effect, with concealing evidence of his knowledge of the FBI’s use of pyrotechnic weapons in its final assault on the compound.
Brent “Coondog” Coon, the Beaumont- and Houston-based plaintiff’s attorney who won millions from BP for his client Eva Rowe after her parents were killed in a plant explosion in Texas City in 2005 (which I wrote about in “Eva vs. Goliath,” July 2007), is now representing clients in the recent rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana.
John Browne of Madingley, the once hailed and now semi-disgraced former chief of BP, could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had bothered to educate himself in the folkways of southeast Texas and neighboring Louisiana before purchasing the refinery that exploded to such devastating effect on March 23, 2005.
The innocuous white office building at the intersection of Fitzhugh and the Central Expressway in Dallas is an unlikely site for a battleground. Speeding between Ken’s Mufflers and the headquarters for Young Life, most drivers miss it entirely on most days. Saturdays, however, are different. Picketers line the sidewalk, proselytizing (“Finding God is like a great sale at the Gap”) and handing out pamphlets (Children—Things We Throw Away?).
The most infamous phone call in recent Texas history came on the afternoon of September 25, 2007, when, at 4:45, Ed Marty, the general counsel of the Court of Criminal Appeals, dialed Sharon Keller, the court’s presiding judge. Both were in Austin; he was at the courthouse and she had gone home earlier to meet a repairman. One hundred and forty miles away, at the Walls Unit, in Huntsville, Michael Richard (pronounced “Ree-shard”) sat in a cell adjacent to the execution chamber.
IT WAS, BY ALL ACCOUNTS, the high court’s low point. A teenage girl named Deanna Ogg had been raped, bludgeoned, and stabbed to death on a late September afternoon in 1986 near the tiny town of New Caney, north of Houston.
There was a man—call him Max, the name he went by at work, or Pancho, as he was known to his family and friends, or Francisco Garcia-Rodriguez, the name recorded on his birth certificate, or Sealed Defendant 3, the title under which he would eventually be indicted by a grand jury in Texarkana.
As Ernest Willis tells it, he woke up in a house on fire. It was around four in the morning in Iraan, an oil-field town in West Texas, on June 11, 1986. He had fallen asleep on the living room couch fully clothed except for his eel-skin boots, which lay beside him on the floor. It was the smoke that awakened him, and he ran to the rear bedroom to get the woman who had passed out there a few hours earlier, but the flames and smoke pushed him back.