Just how weird and ugly were the so-called Mineola Swingers Club cases? Not weird and ugly enough, according to recent court hearings in Tyler. The cases, which I wrote about in the April 2009 issue, involve five young children accusing six adults of running a sex kindergarten in Tyler and a series of child-sex shows at a swingers club in nearby Mineola. There was no other evidence except for the words of these kids—no tangible physical evidence and no adult witnesses—but it was enough to send the first three defendants to prison for life in 2008. To advance the state’s theory in all three cases, the prosecutor hammered away at a main theme: The children were, from the start, consistent and firm in their stories about the unbelievably horrible things that had been done to them.
Well, not so fast. The fourth trial, that of Dennis Pittman, is coming up on July 20, and pretrial hearings held July 2 and 9 in Judge Jack Skeen’s courtroom in Tyler show a shaky case getting even shakier. At the hearings, Pittman’s lawyer Jason Cassel was able to get investigators and social workers to admit that there was plenty of evidence that never made it into the first three trials—evidence that would tend to make any jury highly skeptical of the charges. To wit: seven different interviews with those five children in which they either never mentioned a sex kindergarten or sex club or they denied that they knew anything about either one. There were also two additional interviews with the two main child witnesses that were not turned over to the defense. In fact, none of these interviews had been turned over by prosecutors to defense lawyers in the first three trials, even though various investigators, social workers, and lawyers working for the state knew about them. In addition, the hearings revealed the existence of interviews with eight other local children, all of whom also denied knowing anything about a sex kindergarten or club. Again, the prosecution never revealed these interviews to the defense.
Wes Volberding, the appellate attorney for Patrick Kelly (the third defendant to be convicted), is using this information in a motion to ask the Fourteenth Court of Appeals to give him more time to file his brief. In the motion, which he filed Friday, July 10, he wrote, “There are extraordinary developments occurring in this case involving a series of [pieces of] astonishing evidence not revealed by the state which at Kelly’s trial the state vehemently denied existed.”
It was at Kelly’s trial that prosecutor Joe Murphy dramatically asked jurors, “How is it that all of these children—who had no contact with each other—are saying the exact same thing?” A look at all the evidence reveals clearly and incontrovertibly that they were not. Hopefully at the next trial, jurors will get to hear just how inconsistent and unsound those stories were, from the very start. And hopefully at the next appeal, judges will take this new evidence into account and either order new trials for the first three defendants or throw the whole weird, ugly mess out of court.