Jury panel sent home, first Twin Peaks trial delayed again

Christopher Carrizal outside the courtroom.  (Photo by John Carroll)
Christopher Carrizal outside the courtroom. (Photo by John Carroll)(KWTX)
Published: Sep. 12, 2017 at 9:26 AM CDT
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Dozens of prospective jurors summoned for the first scheduled trial of a Twin Peaks defendant were sent home for the final time Wednesday after the defense and prosecution agreed the panel should be dismissed and a new pool called following a battle over the recusal of judges assigned to the case.

The start of the trial of Christopher Jacob Carrizal, 36, which was originally scheduled to begin on Tuesday, may be delayed for as long as a month, a courthouse source said Wednesday.

The prospective jurors were met outside the courthouse Wednesday morning and told they were no longer needed, although they will be paid the usual $40 for the day, McLennan County District Clerk John Gimble said.

"I've already summoned a new panel of 600 potential jurors for Sept. 29,” Gimble said Wednesday.

The prospective jurors had been in limbo since late August.

A total of about 600 residents were summoned to report on Aug. 25, but the summons was delayed after a contentious hearing on Aug. 24 over preparation of a jury questionnaire during which Carrizal’s attorney, Casie Gotro of Houston, said she had not yet received records, documents and audio tape from prosecutors that are essential to defending her client.

The prospective jurors were instructed to report on Sept. 1, but Gotro filed a last-minute handwritten motion to recuse State District Judge Ralph Strother during an hour-long status hearing on the case during which both lawyers and the judge issued threats and accusations of impropriety.

In her original motion, Gotro claimed Strother was using “the authority of the bench to aid and assist the state in prosecuting the defendant” and to prevent Gotro “from accessing evidence, addressing the court, making legal arguments, (and) preserving the record.”

Strother was barred earlier from presiding over three other Twin Peaks cases set in his court, but he filed notice with the district clerk that said he had no intention of stepping aside, in spite of the fact that Gotro asked him twice to recuse himself.

After a hearing on Monday, former State District Judge Daniel H. Mills, of Burnet County, removed Strother from the case and said State District Judge Matt Johnson could take over the trial.

Gotro then filed a motion seeking Johnson’s recusal.

After a 7 1/2 –hour hearing Tuesday, State District Judge Robert Stem of Marlin rejected the motion and ruled that Johnson can preside over the trial.

Carrizal was among the 177 bikers arrested after the May 17, 2015 shootout that left 9 bikers dead and more than 20 others injured.

Of that number 155 have been indicted.

One of the 155 has died and the other 154 have court dates pending.

Trey Alston Short, 29, of Temple was among the bikers indicted on Nov. 10, 2015, for engaging in organized criminal activity.

He died on Oct. 7, 2016 when the stolen motorcycle he was riding crashed into a van during a police chase in Gatesville.