If you're somebody who wants the child abuse trial of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to begin as quickly as possible (a subset of people that happens to include one Mr. Adrian Peterson), then you received the news you wanted to hear on Wednesday in the decision whether or not to recuse the judge initially assigned to the case.
In a Conroe courtroom yesterday, it was announced that the district attorney's request to have Montgomery County state District Judge Kelly Case removed from overseeing the Peterson trial would be denied.
Any trial (or in this case, the process leading up to the trial) is a series of wins and losses, so who won and who lost this round? More important (to most casual followers of the case), what does this mean to Adrian Peterson?
Answering the second question first, the answer is "Probably not much."
Keep in mind that Peterson's lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, and the defense team were not the ones trying to have the judge removed. It was the prosecuting attorney, Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant, who wanted Case removed from the trial, arguing that Case had a bias against him and other prosecutors. As support for his contention, Grant listed a series of incidents that he felt demonstrated Case's partiality, including Case's calling the lead attorneys in this case "media whores" and Case's having been represented at one time by one of the lead attorneys on Peterson's legal team.
For his part, Hardin, who was one of the reputed "media whores" Case had called out at one time, was unmoved by the judge's name-calling, saying that "[he] had been called worse" (which is definitely true). Additionally, Brian Wice, the Peterson attorney alleged to have represented Case, testified he wasn't Case's lawyer but only helped set up and conduct a television interview with the judge.
Taking all of this in, and in spite of Grant's pleas, retired Tarrant County District Judge Jeff Walker, who presided over the recusal hearing, said that the evidence Grant brought forth of Case's alleged biases did not meet the high standards for recusing a judge, which brings us to the answer to the first question above -- who won and lost this small round in the Peterson Trial saga?
Honestly, the biggest winner probably wasn't either side of the trial, but was probably Case himself. A recusal off of a trial for perceived bias flies in the face of the main part of a judge's job description, which is to be an unbiased server of justice. In the end, Walker did not see any of Case's actions as an indicator of a larger inability to reasonably and equitably lead a trial to a verdict and, if necessary, a sentence.
Resigned to Case's remaining in place, Grant said, "We're going to hope Judge Case does the right thing, gives us a fair trial and at the end of that trial, we're confident that Mr. Peterson is going to be found guilty."
The trial will now begin tentatively on December 1.
Peterson was indicted last month on a felony charge of injury to a child for using a wooden switch (a synonym for a "thin tree branch") to discipline his four-year-old son earlier this year in suburban Houston. Peterson, for his part, believes he did nothing wrong, contending that he was only meting out discipline the same way he experienced when he was a child growing up in East Texas.
Peterson faces up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. The All-Pro running back was not at Wednesday's hearing, and is on paid leave from the Vikings.
After the hearing, Hardin repeated the defense's contention that Peterson is not guilty of the crimes for which he has been indicted. "[Adrian Peterson] has pled not guilty and he's ready to stand trial," Hardin said after the hearing.
The next step in the Peterson saga is for Case to decide on a motion to revoke Peterson's $15,000 bond for alleged marijuana use. That motion has been on hold until the recusal issue concerning Case was resolved.
Grant and Hardin said Case can now take action on that motion. A court hearing on the motion will be held at some point in the near future.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.