Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson laid bare the havoc a missing evidence scandal in Precinct 4 has caused within her office: 142 dismissed criminal cases to date, a list that grows longer each week.
"It's so critical that this gets under control," Anderson said at a Friday morning news conference, adding that she was not exaggerating in stating her attorneys have so far spent hundreds of hours trying to determine which cases to proceed with and which must be tossed.
Anderson said as many as 21,500 individual pieces of evidence may be missing.
Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told the Houston Press that back in January, he discovered a deputy had accidentally destroyed a large amount of drug evidence. Herman said he promptly fired the deputy, later identified as Christopher T. Hess, for the egregious mistake.
But Anderson, saying she was unsatisfied with "conflicting and inconsistent" reports given to her by Precinct 4, on Friday announced an investigation into the officers who work in the department's property room. She did not rule out criminal charges. Since February, Anderson said, the DA's office's Public Integrity Division has been trying to find out where the missing evidence went and how it came to be improperly disposed of.
Anderson said her office has 1,072 outstanding cases, which prosecutors must evaluate to ensure evidence needed to secure a conviction has not been destroyed. The district attorney also said her office has sent letters to about 600 defendants who were convicted or took plea deals in cases where evidence has been lost — raising the possibility that more suspects could be freed.
Another wrinkle in the case emerged Friday, as Houston attorney Burt Springer announced he was representing Hess, the fired deputy. Springer's office said Hess believes he was unfairly fired by Precinct 4.
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