Gayland's Choice

Gayland Randle was there the night Paul Broussard was murdered, but he never laid a hand on the victim. So why is Randle doing 15 years in prison?

The evening of January 12, 1994, was not the first time Nancy Rodriguez and Gayland Randle faced each other in the courtroom of state District Judge Brian Rains, and it wouldn't be the last.

The occasion was certainly the most unusual, however, and one they each remember with particular clarity.

Just 48 hours before, Rains had sentenced Paul Chance Dillon to 20 years in the state prison system for the murder of a gay man, Paul Broussard, Nancy Rodriguez's 27-year-old son. Four other young men from Montgomery County had already pleaded guilty to the crime and been sent to prison, including Jon Buice, a 17-year-old delinquent who was tripping on LSD when he stabbed Broussard during a fight in the early morning hours of July 4, 1991.

Prosecutors had determined that five others, including 17-year-old Gayland Randle, accompanied Broussard's attackers to the scene of the crime near the corner of Montrose and West Drew, but had not participated in the assault. Nonetheless, on June 1, 1993, all five waived a jury trial and possible imprisonment by pleading guilty to murder in exchange for reduced sentences; Rains gave each of them 90 days in the county boot camp for young offenders and a ten-year deferred adjudication of the charges -- a form of probation that required, among other things, a public session with Rodriguez.

Narrowly considered, the court-ordered encounter was extraneous to the criminal justice process that had already put five men behind bars and subjected five others to a decade of state oversight. But, as anyone involved will tell you, the murder of Paul Broussard never confined itself to the boundaries of the normal judicial pitch. Since shortly after Broussard's death, the case has been subjected to a series of extraordinary influences that lent considerable urgency to the pursuit of justice and which continue to exert pressure -- even though it's been almost three years since Brian Rains officially closed the criminal proceedings.

No one knows that more than Gayland Randle, who, two years after he was sentenced to deferred adjudication, was arrested for probation violations, found guilty of murder and sentenced to 15 years and one day in prison. The sentence could have been much harsher: Rains had the discretion to send Randle up for as many as 99 years. Still, the circumstances that led to Randle's adjudication hearing beg the question of whether he deserves to be in prison at all.

The motion to revoke the youth's deferred adjudication was filed on February 24, 1995, by Melinda Biersdorfer. At the time, Biersdorfer had been Randle's probation officer for exactly one month. According to her testimony at the May 31 adjudication hearing, Randle ignored two phone calls she made to him. Biersdorfer testified that she paged him from her office on January 24, the day she took over his case, but received no response. On February 13, she says she called Randle at 10:02 p.m. -- two minutes after his curfew -- and left a message on his answering machine, but he never returned the call. (Gayland says he did not respond to Biersdorfer's page because he did not recognize the return number; he says he did return her second call, but no one answered the phone at the probation office.)

Gayland was arrested March 2, when he showed up at the probation office for a meeting with Biersdorfer. It was the first time they'd met.

According to other probation officers who handled his case, it was very unlike Gayland Randle to ignore such important phone calls. He wasn't a troublesome probationer, they testified, but was rather conscientious about his responsibilities. He was always employed, sometimes at two jobs, and had been attending classes at Montgomery County Community College. Gayland also proved himself to be a hard worker while serving his 90 days at the county boot camp. He impressed drill instructors as one of the camp's best guides. "I saw a few that were of equal caliber, but not of higher," testified Christopher Scott Mann, one of three instructors who appeared at the adjudication hearing on Gayland's behalf.

Rains, who admitted during the hearing that, "yes, Mr. Randle was being watched especially close by the court," was unimpressed, and refused to hear testimony from the other two drill instructors and Gayland's mother before sentencing Randle to 15 years plus one day -- the extra day to ensure that he served his time pending an appeal.

It's hard not to believe that some people draw a certain satisfaction from the fact that one more defendant in the Broussard case is serving time. From the moment the young banker died, who actually committed the crime was never really as important as how it would be redeemed.

At no time was that more evident than the night, two winters ago, when Gayland Randle, Brian Spake, Derrick Attard and Ralph Gonzalez (the fifth probationer, Jeffrey Valentine, failed to attend) filed into Rains's courtroom to meet Nancy Rodriguez.

The meeting was moderated by Andy Kahan, the city's victims' assistance liaison. Kahan had become involved in the Broussard murder a year after it occurred and immediately marshaled support for Broussard's mother from Houston's burgeoning victims' rights movement. From that point on, Kahan never seemed to leave the side of Rodriguez, who lost her job back home in Warner Robins, Georgia, because she was determined to appear at each court appearance by the defendants.

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