Defending the Indefensible

Do court-appointed attorneys serve their clients or the courts?

Westley claims that he saw Mock only once during the approximately 18 months before he went to trial. Because of that neglect Westley, like many other former Mock clients, filed his own motion to have Mock removed as his attorney. Judge Norman Lansford turned the motion down.

"After the motion got denied, all I could do was sit back and watch it come to me," said Westley.

Even before testimony began in his trial, Westley got a sense of things to come: Mock himself was arrested during jury selection. Mock had failed to file certain necessary papers with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in connection with yet another capital murder case. Locked inside a cage and separated from reporters by glass and wire in the death row visiting area at the Ellis-1 prison unit near Huntsville, Westley -- a large, thick-chested black man dressed in prison whites -- recalled the beginning of his trial.

"I was sitting in [the courtroom] when he was arrested," said Westley. "I seen two people come in with plain suits on and they just asked where was Ron Mock at. They went up to the judge and said something to him and he said, "Okay, I guess so." He told me to stand up and he read something. I guess it was a warrant. [Mock] looked at me and said, 'I guess me and you is going to jail.'"

Mock served one day in jail and was fined $500 for contempt of court. Meanwhile, attorney Frank Alvarez -- who was assisting Mock and who had never handled a capital murder case -- temporarily replaced Mock, as jury selection continued.

"Mr. Alvarez told me himself that he didn't know what to do," said Westley, who could only watch anxiously as a jury that was to decide whether he would live or die was impanelled during Mock's incarceration. "They kept going. They didn't stop."

Mock had rejoined the defense team by the time testimony began. Westley accused Mock of ignoring evidence from the trial of another man also charged in the robbery/murder -- evidence which suggested that he, not Westley, had been the trigger man. Westley also claims that he offered to take a polygraph test, but Mock told him it would not be necessary.

Westley was convicted and sentenced to death. His accomplice received a 35-year sentence. Westley said he and some of the other former Mock clients now on death row have discussed filing a joint lawsuit against the attorney. Unfortunately, said Westley, some of the ringleaders of the effort were executed last year.

"He's got more people on death row than anybody I know of," said Westley. "That man ain't doing something right."

According to attorney Barry Abrams, who is handling Westley's federal appeal, Westley was eventually granted a second trial in a lower state court, which found that Mock "had been ineffective in a variety of ways."

"After an inmate has been convicted and has appealed his conviction," explained Abrams, "if he wants to later bring a habeas corpus petition to complain about things like ineffective assistance of counsel, he files a writ of habeas corpus in the state trial court. That court normally, as you might expect, doesn't find anything wrong with the trial proceedings, because in most trials you would expect that they would be conducted fairly.

"In this case, the trial judge found a lot wrong and made a recommendation that Westley get a new trial," said Abrams. But that decision was then reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

"It's really the Court of Criminal Appeals who has the final say-so in these kinds of cases," Abrams lamented. "And despite the very lengthy fact-findings of all the different things that were wrong with Westley's trial, in a one-paragraph statement without any reasoning, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Westley a new trial."

Abrams has since filed a federal habeas corpus petition -- based on the grounds found by the state court -- in hopes of eventually getting Westley a second trial.

"I frankly entered the case assuming that he had been given adequate counsel [by Mock]," said Abrams. "I didn't go into thinking that we would find all the problems that we did find. But his trial was so bad, and what we uncovered on Mock is so bad, that I was horrified. I think everybody who has touched this case has been horrified."

In the application for a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus Abrams has filed in federal court, Abrams wrote that, "Westley's appointed trial counsel consisted of a lead lawyer engaged in a high-volume trade of appointed cases who had been cited five times during the period of Westley's representation for failing to meet required court deadlines, had been arrested for contempt of court during the jury selection, maintained no library regarding capital or criminal law legal developments, claimed to keep abreast of current legal developments by reading in the wee hours of the morning, failed to conduct any meaningful investigation into the key factual issues in the case, failed to consult with any expert regarding key issues on which he was uninformed, and was well-known to drink daily after work on an "above-average" basis.

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