Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina proclaimed his innocence on Jan. 18, hours after 176th District Judge Brian Rains of Houston dismissed indictments against Medina and his wife in connection with the June 28, 2007, fire that damaged the Medinas’ home and a neighboring house in Spring.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss the indictments on the grounds there was “insufficient evidence” and Rains granted the motion.
The prosecutor handling the case, Vic Wisner, says the investigation into the fire continues.
Medina, accompanied by his criminal-defense attorney, Terry Yates, at a half-hour press conference, said he and his family are innocent of criminal charges in connection with the fire, and he is disappointed with the grand jury foreman and another grand juror for making public statements about the DA’s decision to dismiss the indictments.
“I have always maintained myself and my family’s innocence. We are innocent. We had nothing to do with this fire. Obviously the district attorney and the prosecutor feel the same way,” Medina said in a brief statement.
“I can’t speak for the actions of the grand jury, but I am very disappointed by their decision. I do not know Mr. Rosenthal personally, nor do I have any professional dealings with him,” he said. “We look forward to putting this behind us and moving forward with our lives.”
Yates said “there is no evidence out there” that Medina or his wife would be guilty of the criminal charges in the indictment.
On Jan. 18, Medina filed a petition in the 263rd District Court in Harris County seeking a show-cause hearing for contempt of court against grand jury foreman Robert Ryan and grand jury member Jeffrey Dorrell. In the petition, Medina asks 263rd District Judge Jim Wallace to conduct a hearing to determine why he should not hold Dorrell and Ryan in contempt for allegedly violating Article 20.02 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
Medina alleges in the petition that Dorrell and Ryan violated Article 20.02 by making numerous “statements to members of the media and public” about the indictments.
“It is well established law in this jurisdiction that the provisions of 20.02 regarding secrecy extend beyond just grand jury deliberations, and include anything that takes place before the grand jurors,” Medina alleges in the petition.
Dorrell could not immediately be reached for comment, but Ryan, a real estate broker in Houston who has served on four grand juries, says he has e-mailed the other 11 members of the grand jury to see if they want to meet again to review the case, subpoena witnesses and take further action.
Ryan says the grand jury’s term ends around Feb. 1. He says the panel is on a 90-day extension, which stemmed from a request by the DA’s office for more time for the Medina fire case and one other case.
Ryan says he has not been served with the petition filed by the justice, Ex Parte David Michael Medina, and he does not believe he has made any improper statements.
“I have nothing to fear; I’ll go in pro se,” Ryan says.
Ryan maintains the grand jury did its job.
“The grand jury had to determine three things: Did a crime occur in Harris County? Was this crime a felony? Was there evidence sufficient to bring it to a petit jury? We don’t do guilt or innocence. I have no clue whether these people are guilty,” he says.
In the indictment in Texas v. David Michael Medina, Justice Medina was charged with tampering/fabricating physical evidence, a felony, for allegedly presenting a letter concerning an arson fire “with knowledge of its falsity and with intent to affect the course and outcome of the investigation.”
In the indictment in Texas v. Francisca Jane Medina, Francisca Medina was charged with arson, a felony, for allegedly unlawfully starting a fire by igniting a combustible fluid.
Yates says he does not know who started the fire, but he said Medina’s daughter had received threats from someone who allegedly had been stalking her before the fire, and a threatening letter after it.
Houston criminal-defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represents Medina’s wife, said the DA’s office did the right thing by asking Rains to dismiss the indictments.
“We’ve been telling them all along that there wasn’t evidence that either David or his wife did anything, much less there’s not even evidence that there was an arson fire deliberately started by somebody,” says DeGuerin, a partner in DeGuerin, Dickson & Hennessy of Houston. “If it was, the more likely suspect was the guy threatening and harassing their daughter and who we believe wrote a threatening letter after the fire.”
He says the grand jury apparently based the indictment against Justice Medina on that letter, and the grand jury is “nutty” for alleging Medina wrote it.
“And they are nutty to think this sweet, kind, stay-at-home mother, who is a quiet housewife, would start an arson fire of their dream home,” DeGuerin says.
After reading his brief statement, Justice Medina sat next to Yates — owner of Terry W. Yates & Associates — while the attorney fielded questions during the Jan. 18 press conference. Yates said Medina was disheartened and hurt by the indictments.
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal had said on Jan. 17, “After running it past our Legal Services Bureau, we didn’t find there was sufficient evidence to get past a directed verdict.”
The Legal Services Bureau consists of appellate lawyers.
Rosenthal said the grand jury asked his office to prepare some indictments, even though the Legal Services Bureau took the position that there wasn’t enough evidence to justify an indictment.
“The grand jury decides in some cases on their own that they want to indict a case, and they ask us to bring an indictment. I instructed the prosecutor handling the case to do what the grand jury said,” Rosenthal said yesterday.
In October 2007, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office declared the fire at the Medina home to be incendiary, meaning that it was purposely started. The fire caused approximately $900,000 in damages, according to a news release issued at that time by the fire marshal. No one was injured in the blaze but the house was a complete loss.
Later that month, Rosenthal told Texas Lawyer that Medina was not a suspect. “I called Judge Medina telling him to anticipate a grand jury subpoena and I told him that he was not a suspect,” Rosenthal said. “In Harris County, we warn people if they’re suspects.” Rosenthal said that Medina agreed to appear before the grand jury.
Last October, Medina told Texas Lawyer he was pleased with Rosenthal’s announcement. “I never thought I should be considered a suspect. I never understood that and it’s certainly a relief to get that. But it’s still difficult to go through this entire ordeal.”
Medina said his house was not covered by insurance when it burned. “It was just a miscommunication with the way the policy was set up,” Medina said at the time. He also said there was trouble with his mortgage payments on the house when he switched financial institutions. “I would make those payments,” Medina said last October. “And for some reason they didn’t get there. When I found out, I took care of it immediately.”
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley says sometimes a prosecutor presents a case to a grand jury even though he ultimately can’t prove the charge. The reason is so the public will have confidence in the criminal justice system and doesn’t think public officials are receiving special treatment.
“Sometimes you take a case to a grand jury because it’s a big public official. . . . The district attorney still has the authority to say, ‘There is still probable cause . . . but I can’t prove it’ and dismiss the case. It’s certainly an awkward position to be in but it’s all how the system can and should work if the prosecutor’s ultimate duty is that justice should be done.”