Greeted by his family and a wall of reporters outside the Harris County Sheriff's Office Wednesday, David Temple, who was released from prison nine years after being convicted of his wife's murder, said he wants "the people who put me in [in prison], who lied and cheated, [to] be held accountable," the Houston Chronicle reports.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in a split decision last month that lead prosecutor Kelly Siegler did not timely turn over crucial evidence — mostly investigators' notes — to Temple's defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, before Temple's 2007 trial.
Temple, who has always maintained his innocence, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 slaying of his wife Belinda, who died on her knees, eight months pregnant, from a shotgun blast to the back of her head. Her body was found in the bedroom closet of the couple's Katy home.
Temple, DeGuerin, and appellate attorneys Stan Schneider and Casie Gotro have long asserted that Belinda was killed during a botched robbery. Their main suspect was Riley Sanders III, who lived next door to the Temples and who attended the school where Belinda taught. Temple's team believed Sanders held a grudge against Belinda, in part because she once told his parents about his excessive absences.
Sanders, who was 16 at the time of the murder, testified on behalf of the state during the 2007 trial. Under questioning from DeGuerin, Sanders denied any part in Belinda's death. (Sanders submitted to a polygraph examination during the investigation. Temple did not.)
The Chronicle reports that Temple, 48, "was released on a $30,000 bond and is set to appear in court Jan. 4 to show he will cooperate with any potential retrial or other proceedings."
Incoming Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said through spokesman Wayne Dolcefino that she has not had access to the case file but will make examining the evidence a "top priority" once she has access — ostensibly when she formally takes office in January.
In a statement released by Andy Kahan of the Mayor's Crime Victims Assistance Office, Belinda's family said:
"Obviously this is an emotionally devastating day to us. Although we understand the higher court's rulings, we also recognize that they did not state Mr. Temple was innocent of the cold-blooded murder of Belinda and her 8-month unborn daughter Erin. We are praying the new administration will make a thorough review and order a new trial. Belinda and Erin deserve justice, and though this has been seemingly a long ordeal and never ending harrowing ordeal, our family will always be there seeking justice for Belinda and Erin."
Schneider told the Chronicle Wednesday that Temple's family was "sort of in disbelief that this is actually happening. A retrial has been ordered, and everyone knows there's a lot of work yet to be done, and a lot of things can happen. But they're anxious to be reunited and to work towards his exoneration."
At the time Belinda was killed, Temple was having an affair with another teacher, who he later married. The state argued that Temple killed Belinda because he wanted to end the marriage on his own terms.
The trial hinged on circumstantial evidence — often coming in the form of conflicting statements by Temple and his family members. The murder weapon was never recovered, and while an FBI lab analysis found gunshot residue on Temple's clothing, that evidence was tossed after the lab's procedure was called into question.
Temple's team maintained he had a solid alibi — he had taken the couple's three-year-old son to the park and then to run errands. (Temple and the boy were spotted on a store security camera around the estimated time of Belinda's murder.)
But investigators testified that Temple couldn't remember the name of the park — or possibly parks — where he took his son. Temple also testified that he had placed the boy in a car safety seat before they ran errands — but the safety seat was in Belinda's car when police arrived on the scene.
In the Court of Criminal Appeals' November ruling, Judge Bert Richardson wrote that DeGuerin's defense was
"limited and hampered by the State's failure to turn over to the defense the policy offense reports containing favorable evidence that would have allowed a more effective presentation of an alternate suspect."
He also wrote that Siegler
"may not have purposely or actively hidden the existence of information uncovered by the police investigation; however, she was not forthcoming with what could be viewed as Brady evidence contained within police reports."
The CCA's ruling echoed the recommendation of visiting Judge Larry Gist, who made a ruling of prosecutorial misconduct after presiding over a habeas hearing that kicked off in late 2014. Gist's findings often clashed with the record — for example, his finding contains a quote by a witness that is inconsistent with what the witness said in a tape-recorded interview.
Additionally, Gist ruled that Siegler withheld a profile that FBI analysts put together before Temple was charged; however, DeGuerin's own case file contained the transcription of a phone conversation — two and a half years before the trial — in which Siegler offered DeGuerin the opportunity to review the profile. (It should be noted that one of the profile's key speculations was that whoever killed Belinda must have had access to a shotgun.)
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In a somewhat unusual concurring opinion, CCA Judge Kevin Patrick Yeary noted that Gist "failed to distinguish late-disclosed evidence from undisclosed evidence." Yeary wrote that Temple deserved a new trial not because of withheld evidence but because of ineffective assistance of counsel — though he paradoxically notes that the "ineffectiveness may very well have been a regrettable by-product of the fact that defense counsel was forced to investigate — even as he was trying to litigate — the case."
Yeary wrote that he was able to "parse out some" of the undisclosed evidence from his own review of the trial and habeas hearing records. "None of this evidence, however, strikes me as particularly momentous," he wrote.
For anyone wanting a better understanding of the contended issues, Yeary's strange but detailed concurring opinion is an important read, and a much more nuanced and insightful take than Richardson's opinion.