State Says Judge's Findings in David Temple Case Stray From the Facts

Harris County prosecutors have filed an objection that calls into question a judge's findings of suppressed evidence and witness tampering in the 2007 conviction of high school football coach David Temple for the brutal shotgun slaying of his pregnant wife Belinda in 1999. 

But, as with anything else in the Temple saga, the court filing hints at the years-long clash between two of the most high-profile attorneys in the country: Dick DeGuerin, defense lawyer extraordinaire, whose clients have included Robert Durst and ex-hand surgeon Michael Brown; and tenacious former prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who has her own reality show and once brought a bed into a courtroom to show how a defendant straddled and stabbed her husband. 

Thousands of pages of records produced for a 2014-2015 writ hearing over Siegler's alleged misconduct suggest that, when it comes to this case, the allegations and findings of suppressed evidence don't fully explain the toxic machinations behind the scenes (on both sides). A husband killing a wife because he's sick of her and has someone on the side is relatively common; what the Temple case has become is not. 

Recently, the case has become a real problem for Siegler, and by extension the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

Harris County Visiting Judge Larry Gist issued a scathing ruling in July, finding that Siegler withheld evidence, and stating that Temple deserves a new trial. Gist's findings are not binding; they're a recommendation before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has previously upheld Temple's conviction. 

Filed Tuesday, the State's response to Gist's findings is the latest volley in the contentious criminal proceedings that started virtually from the moment on January 11, 1999, that Temple called police to say that he discovered his wife's body in the couple's master bathroom closet. Much of her skull had been blown away by what investigators say was a shotgun pressed to the back of her head while she was on her knees. She was seven and a half months pregnant. The baby's name was Erin.

A grand jury heard from more than a dozen witnesses in 1999, but prosecutors did not seek an indictment. It wasn't until Siegler and co-counsel Craig Goodhart looked at the case file in 2004 that they believed Temple should be charged. He was arrested in late 2004, indicted in 2005, and stood trial in 2007. 

DeGuerin and Temple's appellate lawyers Stanley Schneider and Casie Gotro attribute that conviction in large part to Siegler withholding 1,300 pages of offense reports that they say point to other suspects and bolster Temple's claim of innocence. (The evidence against Temple was purely circumstantial. Although a lab found gunshot residue on some of the clothing Temple wore that day, the evidence was considered unreliable by Judge Doug Shaver and not allowed in trial. No other physical evidence tied Temple to the crime, and the fact that he and his three-year-old son appeared on security camera footage at two stores that afternoon set a narrow window of opportunity for Temple to commit the crime.)

Unfortunately for Temple, Siegler convinced a jury that Temple had motive to kill his wife because he was having an affair. (Temple didn't do himself any favors by buying his mistress, Heather Scott, flowers for Valentine's Day, a month after his wife's murder. He later married Scott).

The kind of evidence that Gist ruled Siegler withheld from prosecutors is a far cry from the infamous bloody bandana that was suppressed for years and ultimately helped exonerate Michael Morton, who was convicted in the murder of his wife. The injustice leveled against Morton led to the passage of a 2013 act in his name that changed the rules of discovery in Texas.  

The kind of evidence Siegler is accused of withholding is not so clear-cut. For example, Gist found after a court proceeding between December 2014 and February 2015 that Siegler withheld an FBI profile of the killer from DeGuerin. However, DeGuerin's own notes — discussed during his testimony in the Gist proceedings — show that Siegler told DeGuerin about the report in 2005 (and invited him to read it) two years before the trial. 

It's unclear how that amounts to suppression of evidence; and it's illustrative of the State's objections, which claim that Gist's findings "are either directly contradicted by the record, not supported by the record, or refer to information that is not exculpatory and/or material."

Temple's attorneys believe that the FBI report is but one piece of myriad suppressed evidence pointing to DeGuerin's alternate suspect at trial, Riley Joe Sanders III. Sanders was the Temple's 16-year-old neighbor at the time of the murder, and he was also one of Belinda's students. 

Sanders was a prosecution witness at trial, and although DeGuerin was able to cross-examine him, DeGuerin argued all along that he didn't have enough documentation from detectives' investigation into Sanders to effectively grill him. (DeGuerin argued that Siegler either suppressed the totality of Sanders' statements, or did not provide documents in time for him to research them or adequately use them for questioning). 

DeGuerin's theory was that Sanders was mad at Belinda for complaining to his parents about Sanders' many school absences, as well as him tossing beer bottles on her lawn after a party. DeGuerin argued that Sanders and others intended to commit a retaliatory burglary, and broke into the Temple's home thinking it was empty, only to be startled by Belinda and then kill her. The jury didn't buy it. 

Temple's attorneys have also been fixated on Sanders because his father owned a shotgun that they believe was likely the murder weapon. When Harris County Sheriff's deputies recovered it, it was wrapped in a blood-spotted towel. However, lab analysis showed that the blood did not come from David or Belinda Temple, and experts on both sides were never able to tie it to the crime scene. (It was one of six shotguns recovered and examined in the course of the investigation). 

Prosecutors never disputed that the shotgun belonged to Sanders' father, nor did they dispute that Sanders had access to it, and indeed took it without his father's permission to go shooting with friends about a week before the murder. Sanders told investigators that he asked his friend Cody Ellis to hold onto the gun because he didn't want his father to know he stole it. 

Investigators' reports from the time show that officers questioned Ellis on January 28, 1999, and that they also recovered the shotgun that same day. But for some reason there is no report saying that Ellis, or anyone else, handed that gun to the officers. The reports only say this: Officers interviewed Ellis January 28, Ellis told the officers that he was holding the gun for Sanders, and that officers recovered the shotgun on that very same day. 

Now pay attention, because this probably won't make sense, no matter how many times you read it: The defense was never given a report explicitly stating "Ellis handed the gun to officers  on January 28." Therefore, according to Gist, evidence was suppressed. And remember: the shotgun and bloodstained towel that did not contain David or Belinda Temple's blood were part of the trial record. DeGuerin's firearms expert examined the shotgun and could not tie it to the murder. Yet Gist still found something fishy, and we're not entirely sure why.

Temple's appellate team has attacked on multiple fronts, though — in addition to the suppressed evidence arguments, the team has also worked with an investigator in the Harris County District Attorney's Office in an aborted attempt to charge a former friend of Sanders' with capital murder, based on an alleged witness' memory of a 13-year-old conversation involving a dog shot during a robbery. The belief was that the former friend would flip on Sanders and implicate him in Belinda Temple's murder — something that no credible witnesses have been able to do in 16 years.The witness later recanted, saying he felt manipulated by DeGuerin.

That a witness this shaky (someone who originally approached DeGuerin with a tenuous, 13-year-old memory of a conversation about the killing of a dog, that later morphed into the "dog" really being Belinda Temple) was able to inject himself (or be injected) into the mix is indicative of the strange turns the case has taken on following the conviction. 

For example, we're not used to seeing a judge's ruling suddenly sprout extra findings the judge didn't write.

When Gist's recommendation was filed with the Harris County District Clerk, it contained 36 findings of fact. Nearly two months later, when it was filed in Austin, for review by the Court of Criminal Appeals, it contained 37 findings. 

Schneider told the Press that the additional finding was just a remnant from a list of suggested findings that he and Gotro added when putting together an amended copy of Gist's findings that contained citations to help with the Court's review. After Gist notified both sides that he would not agree to additional findings, Schneider and Gotro deleted them — or at least they thought they did; they accidentally left one in, according to Schneider. That was submitted to Gist for his signature before Schneider and Gotro caught the error.

The State caught the error right away and notified Gist, who then wrote the Court of Criminal Appeals' clerk Sept. 8, stating that the document "was tendered to me as being identical to my original findings with the addition of citations. That representation was not correct." He also stated, "I never made finding No. 37 and do not make such a finding now."

We sought elaboration from Gist, who told us via his secretary that his letter to the clerk speaks for itself. Of course, the letter doesn't state who "tendered" the document. It doesn't state how Gist himself missed the extra finding. It doesn't state anything explanatory. 

The public deserves to know the full story about the post-conviction Temple saga. So far, we don't think it's been tendered. 
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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
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