By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Finally, the judge said no. But it wasn't Poe who turned him down. By then, Poe had left the bench to run for Congress; the denial came from his successor, Judge Marc Carter.
Davis still has a scar that cuts across her chest, the outline of the seat belt that couldn't fully protect her. She wears her hair in bangs to hide the scar on her temple, although she displays it with little prompting. She talks to the county's DWI offenders once a month; her scars, she knows, help tell her story.
After the crash, she spent five days in the trauma unit at Ben Taub. She had a broken collarbone and sternum, crushed thighs and a torn rotator cuff. Her toes, fingers and hands were all fractured or broken.
She thought about killing herself. "I wanted to do it," she admits.
But she decided to live. "I was being so selfish," she says, crying a little. "I had been saved for some greater reason." She started speaking to drunk-driving offenders and was thrilled that Hubacek would be doing the same.
Poe had recruited Davis for The Oprah Winfrey Show. They even shared a limo on the trip. "And then he just dropped me in a crack because I didn't fit his purpose," Davis says.
By then, Davis's anger over the change in probation terms was old news. TV stations wouldn't take her calls. Attorney Stanley Schneider, who represented Hubacek, says probation officers complained about Davis: "She was constantly calling them, getting involved and wanting to know what was going on in Mike's life." And a spokeswoman for Poe suggests Davis has been "shopping" her story, as if she somehow hopes to profit from her grief.
Schneider acknowledges that the sentence "probably would not have happened" without Davis. But he can't understand why she's angry today: "The only story here is about a young man who succeeded."
Now 26, Hubacek still works for his father. He has a wife and child, Schneider says. "In seven years, he has not stubbed his toe, not spit on the sidewalk, not jaywalked. This is a poster child for what probation can do. No one can criticize Judge Poe for this. Not even Barbara Davis."
Poe resigned last winter to challenge U.S. Representative Nick Lampson, a Democrat from Beaumont, hoping to parlay a newly gerrymandered district and his reputation as a creative judge into a Republican seat in Congress. Davis tells her neighbors and everyone at her synagogue not to vote for him: "If he will lie and break a promise to a victim, what promises will he break to his constituents? He's totally self-serving."
But Poe says he has nothing to apologize for.
"The defendant had more conditions of probation than anyone I ever sentenced, and he's abided by all of them," he says. He suggests that Davis's criticism might be political: "I think it's suspect that she's now complaining, four years after the event."
In 1999, Jose Martinez, a 35-year-old El Salvadoran immigrant, turned too sharply on the Gulf Freeway. His 18-wheeler keeled over and crushed an SUV, killing a father and his three children. Their mother survived.
Like Hubacek, Martinez found himself assigned to Judge Poe. But unlike Hubacek, there would be no talk of rehabilitation or creative sentencing. A jury convicted Martinez of intoxicated manslaughter, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for each death.
It was Poe who twisted the knife: He decreed that the terms should run back to back instead of concurrently. Martinez would have to serve 60 years in prison.
Martinez was the breadwinner for an extended family and an aging mother in El Salvador. His blood alcohol content after the crash was .11 -- about half of Hubacek's.
Martinez is still doing time in Huntsville. Michael Hubacek has been rehabilitated.
Davis's daughter, Gina, is still angry. "I think [Hubacek] is the scum of the earth to make the decisions he did and take two people's lives. For him to be able to drive again -- that's a privilege he didn't deserve after abusing it." Gina, now 21, says she's learned her lesson: "You can never trust judges or politicians."
Poe says the cases were different. "Certainly Hubacek's remorse, and the input from the victim in that case, made it different." He doesn't seem to remember that, one year after the crash, he told Winfrey that he imposed Hubacek's creative sentence to trigger that remorse. "It's extremely different."
Then Poe repeats his line from The Oprah Winfrey Show. "None of this would have ever happened without the input of Barbara Davis," he says. His voice is pleasant, but completely without irony.