With Advocates in DA's Office, David Temple May Never Be Tried Again in Wife's Murder
Will David Temple be retried?
Back in 1999, Katy High School football coach David Temple didn't seem concerned about finding out who put a shotgun to the back of his pregnant wife's head and shot her to death in their walk-in closet.
“What difference would it make?” he told Brenda Lucas, his dead wife's twin sister, when she asked if he wanted the crime to be solved.
The tape-recorded phone conversation, which took place seven months after the January 1999 murder, was played for a Harris County jury in 2007, after Temple was charged in his wife's death. By that time, Temple had married the woman he'd been seeing behind his wife's back; the woman with whom he spent New Year's Eve 1998, instead of going hunting, like he told Belinda Temple.
“It wouldn't bring Belinda back,” Temple told Lucas, who to this day hasn't been as capable as Temple at compartmentalizing her sister's brutal end. “Belinda wouldn't want all this. She'd want us to leave it alone.”
And after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Temple a new trial in November 2016, he still didn't seem all that interested in finding out who killed his wife. His first priority was to hold accountable the people he says “lied and cheated” to secure a conviction.
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Primarily, he meant ex-prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who the CCA said delayed or withheld exculpatory evidence from Temple's defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin. The lawyers' animosity toward each other provided the backdrop to an already high-profile case. (The court issued its decision roughly 16 months after a visiting judge, Larry Gist, presided over a habeas hearing in Houston and recommended that the CCA grant Temple a new trial.)
Temple most certainly wants Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg to honor what he believes is his murdered wife's wishes for this all to just go away, and to not bother looking for the killer. And, based on Ogg's curious approach to this case, Temple probably doesn't have much to worry about.
Shortly after taking office in November, Ogg hired four people who publicly voiced their belief in Temple's innocence. Two of these people – shift intake chief John Denholm and chief investigator Steve Clappart – have actively sought to pin the murder on someone else. Their pet suspect, like DeGuerin's in 2007, was Riley Joe Sanders III, who was the Temples’ 16-year-old neighbor at the time of the murder.
Clappart's and Denholm's belief was based largely on the word of a man named Daniel Glasscock, who came forward in 2012 with a truly imaginative story that supported the Sanders theory. He said he finally came forward after seeing a Dateline episode on the Discovery Channel about the Temple case – an episode that, according to that network, never actually aired when Glasscock said he saw it.
Described by Team Temple as a timid lad who was bullied by Harris County Sheriff's cold-case detectives in 2012, Glasscock had once been charged with pulling a driver out of his vehicle and kicking him in the head. Glasscock, who was wearing a medical boot at the time, kicked the man severely enough that he “required seven metal plates to be surgically inserted into his face and head,” according to court records. Glasscock later accused DeGuerin of putting words in his mouth, and a judge later found Glasscock's story to be without merit.
But the story was enough for Clappart to draft a capital murder arrest warrant – not against Sanders, but against Sanders's friend, Cody Ellis. Clappart believed he could use the threat of a potential death sentence to get Ellis to flip on Sanders, but he couldn't find a judge willing to sign the warrant.
Denholm's and Clappart's presence in the DA's office now, at the very least, gives the appearance of a conflict of interest in the Temple case, which is why some are calling for Ogg to recuse her office.
Earlier this month, Kathryn Casey, who covered the case in her gripping 2010 book Shattered, cited this conflict in an open letter to Ogg. It's a must-read for anyone with any interest in the case.
Casey wrote, in part:
"The David Temple case needs a fresh set of eyes. It shouldn’t be decided by people linked to his defense team or who have already expressed viewpoints on his guilt or innocence, but by impartial, uninvolved prosecutors. For that reason, I urge you to turn the David Temple case over to the Texas State Attorney General’s office. There it can be reviewed and decisions made without any appearance of conflicts of interest. Through the AG’s office, a decision can be made regarding a second trial, one in which twelve new jurors will have the opportunity to assess the evidence and rule on David Temple’s innocence or guilt."
Further support for recusal has been proffered by defense attorney and blogger Murray Newman – a friend of Kelly Siegler's who had no involvement in the Temple case but who was nonetheless grilled by Temple's attorneys at the 2014 habeas hearing.
Team Temple did not like the fact that Newman had written about behind-the-scenes activity in the DA's office regarding the Temple case. At the habeas hearing, he was asked about his sources, and how he obtained certain information. But it wasn't just a blogger's First Amendment rights that were under the gun — Newman later wrote that Denholm filed a grievance against him with the Texas State Bar. According to Newman, the grievance was rejected.
It's this kind of overreach that Ogg should keep in mind while poring over that case file. And, as far as Newman is concerned, he told the Press that the Temple case “lives or dies by Kim Ogg, period."
It's a sentiment that Stanley Schneider, Temple's lead appellate attorney, seems to share. He told the Houston Chronicle he was fine with Ogg taking the time to personally review the case, saying, “If she's comfortable with it, I'm comfortable with it.”
As Newman points out, it's a different tune than Schneider was singing while Ogg's predecessor was in office. When Judge Gist released his findings in July 2015, Devon Anderson was the district attorney, and Schneider called for her to recuse the office.
But now that Denholm and Clappart have the new DA's ear, Schneider isn't pressing for recusal.
Instead, Schneider claims to be patiently waiting for Ogg to reach her own conclusion after examining the 1,400 pages of investigator reports that were at the heart of Gist's recommendation and the CCA's ruling.
There is actually nothing magical about those pages, which constitute the bulk of the exculpatory (“Brady”) evidence that Gist and the CCA say was kept from DeGuerin until the trial was already underway. Both Judge Larry Gist and the CCA ruled that Siegler should have given DeGuerin those records before trial.
The jury heard most of the information in those pages at trial. However, as CCA Judge Bert Richardson noted in his lead opinion, DeGuerin could have mounted a more effective defense if he had had more time to prepare. As Richardson wrote, DeGuerin had to develop his theory that Riley Joe Sanders killed Belinda “by the seat of his pants.” (DeGuerin had sought a continuance, which the trial judge denied. Had an appropriate continuance been granted, it's quite possible that the Temple case wouldn't be where it is today.)
Temple's constitutional rights were violated because DeGuerin could have opened his case by telling the jury about Sanders's supposed motivation for killing Belinda — that she told Sanders's parents the boy had missed too much school. Or because Belinda found out that Sanders's friends knocked over some Christmas decorations on her front lawn. Or because she was upset about some beer cans that Sanders and his delinquent buddies tossed onto the Temples' driveway.
The jury heard those theories; Judge Richardson just wrote that the jury should have been allowed to hear them sooner.
If that sounds like an underwhelming interpretation of exculpatory evidence, one CCA judge – a judge who ruled in Temple's favor – felt the same way.
In a detailed concurring opinion that's another must-read for aspiring Temple scholars, Judge Kevin Yeary discounted Temple's Brady claims, and instead wrote that he would have granted Temple a new trial based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. (In a somewhat circular fashion, Yeary noted that this ineffective assistance may have been “a regrettable byproduct” of DeGuerin's being forced to play catch-up during the trial.)
DeGuerin's crucial error, Yeary wrote, was failing to make sure Temple's father got his story straight before he testified in 2007.
Kenneth Temple's testimony centered on what time Belinda stopped by his house on the day of the murder. The time of day and duration of the visit were crucial to both the state's and Temple's timeline of that day.
On the night of the murder, Kenneth gave a timeline to investigators that was favorable to his son. A few months later, he gave the same timeline to a grand jury. (David Temple did not testify at the grand jury).
But in 2007, Kenneth gave a different timeline — one that helped the state. In fact, he seemed certain of the time – when DeGuerin asked Kenneth to estimate when Belinda stopped by, Kenneth said “3:32, or close to that.”
When Kenneth testified at the habeas hearing in 2014, he reverted back to the original timeline, the one that helped his son. He had no explanation for why he testified the way he did in 2007.
DeGuerin should have made Kenneth review his prior statement before testifying, Judge Yeary ruled. If necessary, DeGuerin should have impeached his own witness. But he didn't, and he allowed Kenneth to give inconsistent testimony. And, because of that, Yeary wrote, Temple deserved a new trial.
Yeary also noted that Gist's recommended findings contained factual errors regarding some witness interviews given in 1999. Oddly, recordings of those interviews were played at the 2014 habeas hearing, yet Gist's findings claim that certain witnesses said things they never said.
Temple's appellate attorney, Stanley Schneider, later conceded to the CCA that Gist's findings “may not be factually accurate” concerning one allegedly important witness – Margaret Christen, the principal of Belinda's school.
According to Gist's findings, Christen told investigators that she saw Belinda call Temple around 3:20 or 3:30 on the day she was killed. However, Christen said no such thing.
Yeary wrote that Christen's recorded interview was never provided to the CCA. Even after going through “the trouble to order the original exhibits from the district clerk,” it never turned up.
If Yeary had a chance to listen to Margaret Christen's interview, like the Press did, he would have learned that she was misquoted in the finding as well.
When contacted by the Press about the discrepancy in 2015, Christen was puzzled.
She reiterated her concern to the Press in January, saying that she emailed Ogg's office in an attempt to clarify the record. Christen said she asked to speak with someone directly about the discrepancy, but never got a response.
Christen never saw Belinda on the phone after she left her office that afternoon. And Christen seems to have a good memory when it comes to the day one of her best teachers was murdered.
They had been talking about the baby, and Belinda was “sitting there saying, 'I'm not going to last another month...this baby will be here soon,'” Christen told the Press. “Within two hours, neither one of them...saw the light of day again. It's just not right.”
Christen's misquote helped Team Temple's timeline. Other witness misquotes help by pointing toward Sanders. Gist's findings claim that, contrary to investigators' records, one of Belinda's friends allegedly said Belinda confided in her that she was having problems with a particular student, and that she worried about him knowing where she lived.
Of course, criticizing Gist's sloppy findings is a fool's errand — they were only a recommendation to the CCA, and the CCA's ruling did not hinge on any individual erroneous witness statement.
The state's highest criminal court has decided Temple deserves a new trial, and we hope he gets one. But the fact that Ogg didn't immediately recuse her office is not a reassuring sign.
Thus far, Ogg has stuck to a canned statement regarding Temple, saying that she needs time to review the case file before a decision can be made. When the Press reached out to her spokesman in the hopes that we could ask Ogg directly about Denholm and Clappart, we just got a replay of that statement.
We're curious if, after examining the case file, Ogg will agree with Denholm and Clappart that Riley Joe Sanders put a shotgun to Belinda's head because he’d simply had it up to here with those talks she had with his parents. Or will she feel uncertain about Sanders, as Temple did at trial?
When Siegler asked Temple during the 2007 trial if he thought Sanders killed his wife, Temple said, “I have no idea. I wouldn't doubt it now. From the things that I've heard, I would not doubt it one bit that he did it.”
Siegler: “So you think he is the person that did it?”
Temple: “I said I wouldn't doubt it. I don't know for a hundred percent that he is.”
Anyone unconnected to the case who reads the case file could probably understand Temple's ambivalence. When it came to giving investigators useful information about his murdered wife, he wasn't 100 percent sure about much. An outside party examining the case for the first time might walk away with the impression that David Temple and Belinda Lucas weren't even related.
This boy who Belinda was supposedly so fearful of — the case files detail no intimate husband-wife discussions about that. Temple couldn't really provide any insight about Belinda's life. He couldn't tell investigators who they ought to talk to, who knew Belinda the best. At trial, Temple still didn't know the name of the friend who Belinda was supposed to visit that night. Perhaps the memory was just too painful for him to revisit.
In those eight years that had passed since Belinda's murder, Temple's testimony at trial indicated that he had not developed a concrete opinion about Sanders's guilt. Apparently he hadn't given it much thought. He had already moved on. Like Belinda would have wanted him to.
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