Pain for the Prosecution

Assistant district attorney Kristen Pain sent criminals to jail -- and then went to jail herself.

But Pain's performance didn't improve, and by October, Turberville planned to move her into an office next to his, where he could keep an eye on her. He never got the chance.

Around the time that Turberville was losing patience, Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes received a disturbing call. He says he can't remember who called, but he was told that an FBI informant claimed an assistant D.A. was using dope. Holmes -- as famous for his hard-nosed attitude as for his handlebar mustache -- advised the caller that if the feds could make a case, they should do it and do it fast.

"I told them I didn't even want to know who it was," he says. "Because if the investigation turned to shit, I didn't want anyone suggesting that we were protecting somebody. But if we had someone here engaging in that kind of conduct, I wanted them out of here, and I wanted them out of here yesterday."

Roughly two months later, Holmes received a second call. He was spending that Saturday night at his farm in Austin County. When the phone rang after midnight, it woke him.

"They told me that Kristen Pain and her boyfriend were in jail," remembers Holmes, "and they had them by the short hairs."

Holmes felt mixed emotions. He was glad that the perp was not one of his senior attorneys -- in fact, that it was someone he didn't even know. But he was also furious.

"Something like that has never happened here," he says. "I mean never. And the fact that it happened on my watch was personally upsetting. It was like a kick in the nuts to me."

The following morning, Holmes went to his office and viewed the FBI's videotape. A few minutes later, Kristen Pain was out of a job.

After her arrest, Pain's courthouse friends soon distanced themselves from her. She believes they were worried that they'd be thought guilty by association -- and guilty of more than just friendship.

Rumors circulated that Pain had not only used drugs, but had sold them as well, and that some of her cases had been compromised as a result. Pain says that immediately after her arrest, the FBI questioned her about those allegations -- allegations she adamantly denies.

"You know that they went over every case I ever handled," she says. "If they had found something improper, I'm sure they would have let me know."

Pain believes those rumors may have been due to attempts by the FBI's informant to make his information sound more important. The Press was unable to reach Espindola. But lawyer Kent Schaffer, who represented Pain's husband, thinks Pain may be right. "I've been doing drug cases for 16 years,"he says, "and I've never seen the federal government go to such lengths in such a trivial case."

The case was not trivial to Pain's boss. Immediately after firing Pain, Johnny Holmes asked the judge in the case to assign a special prosecutor, someone outside the Harris County D.A.'s office. The judge appointed Jerry Guerinot, a criminal defense attorney.

Guerinot says that when the case was handed to him, he was told that the investigation centered around allegations that Pain had sold favors to defendants in exchange for cocaine. "That turned out to be absolutely, positively untrue," says Guerinot, who hired an investigator to check the allegations. "Kristen Pain never did anything like that at all. Never. It was totally unfounded."

Guerinot is less certain about other aspects of Pain's truthfulness. For instance, he doesn't believe that her drug use was infrequent. "The videotape would tell you that she is a seasoned veteran of coke snorting," Guerinot says. "That tape didn't indicate to me somebody who snorted coke three times a year. More like three times a week."

Pain explains away her facility in chopping and snorting, saying it's left over from her college days. It's like riding a bicycle, she says: "You never forget how to do coke."

In April, both Pain and Langham pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance, and each was sentenced to eight years deferred adjudication, 45 days in jail and 600 hours of community service. Pain also had to write an open letter of apology, which was published in the Houston Chronicle.

Originally, the plea arrangement also contained a "no-contact provision," which stipulated that Pain and Langham couldn't see each other. Guerinot is unapologetic: "I didn't think they needed to see each other."

He was eventually persuaded to drop the provision on the condition that the couple get married immediately. To meet Guerinot's deadline, they convinced a judge to waive the usual three-day waiting period.

Though they admit their guilt, Pain and Langham believe they were treated unfairly. They point out that, more often than not, first offenders in simple possession cases rarely serve jail time. But because of Pain's position as a prosecutor, they believe Guerinot felt pressure to be extra tough.

Of course, in the opinion of the district attorney, Guerinot wasn't tough enough. Holmes is still irritated that Guerinot allowed the couple to enter a plea bargain instead of taking the case to trial, where a jury would determine their fate. "Some cases just need to be tried," says Holmes.

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