The criminal conviction of Jessica Tata, who owned the daycare where four children burned to death in 2011, is among more than 120 cases under review for possible exculpatory evidence, according to a letter the Harris County District Attorney's Office sent to criminal defense lawyers this week, in connection with a federal probe of one of the office's former investigators.
The credibility of the investigators, Lonnie Blevins and Dustin Deutsch, was called into question after Blevins -- who left the DA's office in December -- was arrested and accused of stealing and selling evidence from a fraud case. The DA's office announced that Blevins's and Deutsch's cases would come under review, but only formally notified defense attorneys in a letter citing the office's "responsibility to disclose potentially exculpatory, impeaching or mitigating evidence."
Attached to the disclosure letter is an affidavit by an FBI agent involved in the Blevins case that details Blevins's alleged (and idiotic) scheme to sell more than $100,000 worth of stolen comic books. Blevins told the buyers that he inherited the comics "from his father," according to the affidavit. The comics belonged to a defendant in an embezzlement case named Anthony Chiofalo, and had been pilfered from Chiofalo's storage unit, allegedly by Blevins.
From the affidavit:
On December 18, 2012, Affiant received information that a former investigator with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, Lonnie Blevins, sold "comic books" in Chicago at a convention for [$70,000]. Affiant also received information that Investigator Blevins was involved in a fraud investigation of Anthony Chiofalo, who possessed numerous collectable "comic books" that were identified during a ourt ordered search warrant of Chiofala's storage units....In order to substantiate the information provided regarding investigator Lonnie Blevins, Affiant contacted Terrence O'Neill, the owner of Terry's Comics, who buys and sells comic books. On or about January 7, 2013, Affiant obtained a statement from Terrence O'Neill, who stated that he and other buyers purchased two boxes of "comic books" from Lonnie Blevins at the Comic Book Convention in Chicago Illinois on August 11, 2012....
O'Neill stated that Lonnie Blevins agreed to sell the "comic books" but stated that he did not want any checks for more than $10,000 because he was going through a divorce and he did not want his ex-wife-to-be to find out about the sale. Terry O'Neill stated that he provided Lonnie Blevins with $10,000 cash and three checks for $5,000, $5,000 and $3,333
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The disclosure letter also states, "Based upon information and belief, Dustin Deutsch is currently under investigation by the [FBI] for the same criminal conduct alleged against Blevins."
We left a message for Mike DeGeurin, who represented Jessica Tata, in hopes of finding out what effect (if any) this could have on her conviction. Tata was sentenced to 80 years after a trial over the death of one of the children; prosecutors dropped the remaining charges after it was clear she was going away for a long time. (Weirdly, Blevins is represented by DeGeurin's brother, Dick "It's spelled 'U E,' bitch" DeGuerin.)
We're going through the rest of the names identified on the list and will update accordingly.