Rotten to the Corps: A Question of Justice at Texas A&M

Thanks to A& M and a district attorney, two cadets escape punishment for beating in a student's face

The Corcorans then argued to Brown that they were concerned for Zach's safety if Helle and Ramirez were allowed to remain on ­campus.

In an e-mail to Brown, Bonilla wrote, "Zach almost lost eye sight in his left eye as a result of the original incident. He is now recovering and my clients want to eliminate any chances of future problems...Please advise."

Brown responded, "If Zach truly believes Helle and Ramirez present a threat to his personal safety, he should seek a restraining order or withdrawl [sic] from school and transfer to another ­institution."

Zach Corcoran in the hospital hours after his fight with the cadets. Click here for more photos of his injuries.
Photos courtesy of the Corcoran family
Zach Corcoran in the hospital hours after his fight with the cadets. Click here for more photos of his injuries.
A CAT scan revealed a "blowout" on the left side of Zach's face.
Photos courtesy of the Corcoran family
A CAT scan revealed a "blowout" on the left side of Zach's face.

Today, Brown and Mask contend that the Corcorans have been hypocritical in their fierce "pursuit of justice," because Grant Corcoran, John Corcoran's youngest son, was involved in a fight the same morning as Zach.

After seeing Zach in the emergency room, Grant, who was attending nearby Blinn Junior College, went to the Corps dormitory with a couple friends. When they arrived, eight Corps members, including Helle, were waiting.

Helle and Grant fought briefly, and the cadet suffered a black eye. Texas A&M later placed the students with Grant on probation. Those sanctions never went away, though Helle was never punished for his role in that fight either.

Then, while Zach was in Corpus Christi recovering, he received notice that he was being charged by the university for his role in the fight with Helle and Ramirez. His hearing was scheduled for the start of the spring semester.

But several weeks later, Zach received a letter informing him that his charges had been dropped and the hearing canceled.

"I have no doubt that they used that as a makeup, that they'd make everything equal," John Corcoran says. "Well, it's not."

The Corcorans have never been given any explanation as to why the sanctions against Helle and Ramirez were reversed. Brown says that he may tell the family one day, when "the time is right." Brown would only say that the decision could have implications in other student disciplinary cases, and revealing any information about Zach's case could open the university to future ­litigation.

"[The Corcorans] want to say that the university is hiding something or there's been some cover-up by my office, but that's not fair," Brown says. "I really consider it offensive. I have been offended by the way the Corcorans have approached this ­situation."

Mask says he does not know the reasoning behind the university's decision either. He did say, however, that the disciplinary panel was not fit to issue sanctions that could have lasting consequences on students' lives, an argument similar to what was used in the Parsons Mounted Cavalry hazing case.

"They're not trained in legal processes, they are administrators," Mask says. "And the university investigator, I've never seen a more unprofessional guy in my life."

Mask tried to reach a settlement with the Corcorans before the university hearings began. He wanted to arrange a meeting between the three families to discuss a possible resolution, and offered to pay Zach's medical bills.

The Corcorans told Mask no, adding that they were only interested in justice and would allow "the system" to make that decision.

"There were a lot of people in College Station upset at the Corcorans, at the voracity with which they attacked this case," Mask says.

After the university dropped its sanctions against Helle and Ramirez, the Corcorans moved their attention to Bryan, where the criminal case against the cadets was being prepared.

John Corcoran began contacting Brazos County District Attorney Bill Turner, who would handle the case. Because of the severity of Zach's injuries, John Corcoran expected Helle and Ramirez to be indicted on felony assault charges.

The Helle family hired defense attorney Travis Bryan III, great-great grandson of William J. Bryan, the town's original settler. The county courthouse is located on William J. Bryan Parkway.

Bryan had previously served as district attorney in Brazos County — where he hired Turner as an assistant — and served a term on the Bryan City Council. He is currently running for a district judge position in Brazos County.

The case was sent to a grand jury, and the day of the hearing, John paid to fly Leah Cook and Reid Ashton to Bryan to testify. John also prepared packets of Zach's medical records for grand jury members.

The grand jury shocked both sides when it indicted Helle and Ramirez on misdemeanor "A" assault charges, which, at most, are punishable by a fine of $2,000 and a year in jail. The Corcorans wanted a felony, and Bryan and Mask thought the case would be ­dismissed.

Turner sent the case to the office of the county attorney, a position held for nearly 25 years by Jim Kuboviak.

"I asked Kuboviak many times if he would take this to trial if that's what my clients wanted," Bonilla says. "And he said, 'Oh, yeah, we'll fight. We're ready to go.'"

Kuboviak's first move was to assign Thibodeaux as a special prosecutor, which, according to Thibodeaux, is rare for a misdemeanor trial. But Thibodeaux had knowledge of Zach's case, and had worked on a similar assault trial several years prior.

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