Kim Ogg's Frightening Conflict of Interest

Kim Ogg's Frightening Conflict of Interest
Case file

click to enlarge Is Kim Ogg shirking her duty as a prosecutor? - TRIAL EXHIBIT
Is Kim Ogg shirking her duty as a prosecutor?
Trial exhibit
On the night of March 2, Brian Lucas probably won't get much sleep — he'll be nervous about the court hearing the following morning, the one for David Temple, the man who was previously convicted of killing Lucas's pregnant sister in 1999, and who was granted a new trial late last year.

And that same evening, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, the politician who must decide whether to pursue the case, or to recuse her office, will be attending a $2,500-a-plate fundraiser co-hosted by Temple's two original defense lawyers.

To some who have followed the case, Ogg's planned attendance at the fundraiser seems like a prima facie conflict of interest — just like the conflict inherent in Ogg's hiring three staff members who worked hard to overturn Temple's conviction in the first place.

But the Houston Press learned last Friday that Ogg does not consider the fundraiser to be an event related to the DA's Office, but a personal function related to her campaign. Ogg declined to tell the Press whether she'd be attending. Her spokesperson, former Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Dane Schiller, said he didn't want to get "involved" by asking Ogg a simple question, because it was not an office-related event. Apparently, for however long Ogg will be wining and dining at Lawless Spirits & Kitchen in the posh Rice Hotel, she will not be doing so in her capacity as the state district's top prosecutor. (A staffer at the Ogg Law Firm  An Ogg campaign representative confirmed that she would be attending.)

But one hopes she'll be wearing her prosecutor's hat the following morning, when she'll have to let a judge know where she stands on the Temple case. And she will no doubt be sticking to the "Guidelines and Principles of the Harris County District Attorney" posted on the office's website. Among those are "fairness, integrity, and transparency" and a directive to make decisions based on evidence, not relationships, no matter how good the food is.

Lucas certainly hopes that Ogg will execute these principles by telling the judge that her office has no choice but to recuse, not because she has no faith in her prosecutors' integrity, but because even the appearance of impropriety is a problem. She made that abundantly clear last December, when she publicly named prosecutors she believed had overstepped their bounds, and when she told the Press that "lawyers are expected to avoid appearance of impropriety."

This whole will-she-or-won't-she tension has again inflamed the raw nerves of the Lucas family, who lost Belinda Temple when she was only 30 years old, and eight months pregnant with a girl to be named Erin. She was on her knees in her bedroom closet when she was murdered, a 12-gauge shotgun pressed to the back of her head. The person who pulled the trigger couldn't look her in the face.

The crime scene photos are unspeakable. Blood and large chunks of brain matter on the floor and the back wall; Belinda lying in a pool of blood below a rack full of jeans, sweaters and jackets. Lucas said that when his mother asked Temple for her daughter's things back, Temple gave her a trash bag full of those clothes, complete with bloodstains and clumps of hair.

Temple's old life was in that trash bag, too. He moved on. He married Heather Scott, the woman he was seeing behind Belinda's back. In fact, Scott's roommate later testified that Temple brought Scott flowers on Valentine's Day, 34 days after Belinda's murder.

But Lucas, now 53, couldn't move on as quickly, as annoyed investigators and prosecutors who fielded his weekly phone calls could attest: Nearly every Friday for five years, Lucas called the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the DA's Office, asking about his sister's case. These people never had occasion to be annoyed by calls from Temple.

Lucas says that when his sister Brenda — Belinda's twin — called him with the news that Belinda was killed, he immediately suspected Temple.

“The exact words out of my mouth [were]: 'That son of a bitch killed my sister,'" Lucas told the Press. "And I knew he did it. I didn't know where she was, how it happened, but I knew he did it in my heart.”

Lucas had a problem with Temple from the start.

“The first time I met him, I didn't trust him," Lucas said. "He was very arrogant, very cocky, thought he was better than everybody in the room…To him...there was David Temple, then God, then the rest of us.”

It's the kind of arrogance mixed with a hair-trigger temper that some of Temple's associates testified to at the 2007 trial.  A husband and wife, former friends of Temple's, testified that he harassed and stalked them when he learned a few months after the murder that they'd been questioned by investigators and testified before before a grand jury.

At trial, Quinton Harlan testified that Temple told him, "You keep your damn mouth shut."

Harlan's wife, Tammy, testified that Temple called her the day she testified and asked what she had said.

"I was shocked that he knew that I had testified, because we had just gotten home," Tammy said on the stand.

The jury also heard from an extremely important witness, Buck Bindeman, who destroyed Temple's shaky alibi. It involved Temple taking his young son — who was so sick the day of the murder that he had to leave daycare — to a park, but getting confused over which park it was; an alibi that involved Temple and his son then suddenly driving to Home Depot in order to look at shelving brackets, which the prosecution argued was really just Temple's excuse to get on the store's security camera. Bindeman testified that he saw Temple on the day of the murder, driving on a road where Temple said he hadn't been. As meticulous as Temple was trying to be, by making sure he and his son were on Home Depot's camera, he simply could not have imagined such an unfortunate coincidence.

One thing the jury didn't hear was an accusation by Cindi Thompson, a former girlfriend of Temple's brother, Darren. After the jury had been excused for the day, prosecutor Kelly Siegler grilled Darren about an incident from 1984 that Thompson told investigators. She said Darren had told her that he and Temple had gotten into a heated argument one night, and Temple grabbed a shotgun, backed Darren into a corner and pointed the barrel flush in Darren's face.

"Didn't you tell Cindi that while he was pointing the shotgun at your face, his eyes were big and round and he was just staring at you and you thought he was going to kill you?" Siegler asked.

Darren, of course, denied it ever happened.

After the trial, Thompson told true-crime author Kathryn Casey that Darren had called her when he saw Thompson's name on a list of prosecution witnesses. Thompson told Darren she was going to testify about what Darren said about Temple pointing a shotgun at him. According to Thompson, Darren had a cryptic response: "I'm not saying I didn't tell you that. I'm saying that it didn't happen."

click to enlarge Nope, nothing weird here. - COURTESY MURRAY NEWMAN
Nope, nothing weird here.
Courtesy Murray Newman
But the jury did get to hear from one of the trial's most important witnesses, a man who Temple's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin — one of the co-hosts of Ogg's fundraiser — believed was the likely killer: Riley Joe Sanders III. After observing both the defense's suspect and the state's suspect on the stand, the jury put more stock in the former.

To this day, Team Temple has stuck with the Sanders theory. Defense attorney Earl Musick, whose daughter Joanne championed Temple's innocence and who is now a prosecutor in the DA's Office, advanced the Sanders story in an article he wrote for the March issue of the Houston Police Officers' Union newsletter.

In it, he vouches for a former Sanders classmate, Daniel Glasscock, who opened up to DeGuerin in 2012 with a wild story about being present shortly after the murder when Sanders and some other kids had a conversation that implicated them. Glasscock said he came forward after seeing a Dateline episode on the Temple case, even though a subpoena of programming records for the ID Network revealed that the show never aired when Glasscock said it did. Glasscock himself later said that DeGuerin put words in his mouth; the judge who recommended in 2015 that Temple should receive a new trial found Glasscock's story implausible.

Murray Newman, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor (and Siegler friend), believes Musick's essay is an indicator that Ogg will soon dismiss the Temple case.

"For those skeptics amongst us, the question isn't if Kim Ogg dismisses the Temple case," Newman wrote last week on his blog. "It is simply a matter of when."

So why, exactly, is D.A. Ogg so "attached to the Temple case?" Newman wrote.  "Why on earth does she not simply ask another prosecutorial agency (or an attorney pro tem) to handle the investigation? Why is she so unconcerned about the massive appearance of impropriety that she is creating for herself by not letting go of the case?"

Newman also pointed out the inconsistency in Ogg's announcing that she was going to recuse her office from all first degree felonies except for the Temple case. [Clarification: This pertains to cases that involved Ogg's law firm, as well as her upper administration].

"The seemingly obvious answer to the skeptics amongst us is that D.A. Kim Ogg promised DeGuerin and the rest of Team Temple that she would make the Temple case go away," Newman said.

Those skeptics point to the fact that, when a visiting judge recommended that Temple receive a new trial in 2015, Temple's appellate attorney called for then-District Attorney Devon Anderson to recuse her office. After all, Schneider said, it was the same office that mishandled the case against his innocent client. But now that Ogg's in office, Schneider has said he's comfortable with whatever decision she makes.

It's reversals like that which will likely keep Lucas and the rest of his family awake Thursday evening, while Ogg enjoys the graciousness of DeGuerin and Temple's original attorney, Paul Looney. It's the kind of gnawing pain, Lucas said, that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy — the belief that the man who killed your sister could get sprung out of prison and never return. A man who has railed against injustices committed against him, but who has barely mentioned his anguish over the unavenged slaying of his wife and unborn daughter.

Lucas said that after Belinda's death, Temple "never shed a tear...He didn't give two shits about my sister. She was an inconvenience, is what it boils down to."

More than anything, Lucas would like to hear Ogg tell the judge that she decided to recuse the case, because he's confident any special prosecutor would surely decide to re-try Temple.

“The evidence is still there," Lucas said. "David is guilty, there's no doubt in my mind...Let's let the next group of 12 people listen to it.”
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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
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