Justice Run Amuck in Fannin County: The Egert Case
In 2005 the Egerts were victims of two Fannin County homebuilders who had a history of taking money upfront and then walking off the job. The builders also had a history of retaliation. One victim canceled an interview with this reporter because they "feared revenge" if their story went public. In over half a dozen interviews, people were either scared or embarrassed about their monetary loss to these homebuilders. In spite of this, the Egerts' plea for help from Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser fell on deaf ears. Instead, he brought false charges against them while supporting the homebuilders in every way. But how does a DA charge and prosecute innocent people without evidence? Here are the ten steps that resulted in the Egerts' conviction.
Justice Run Amuck in Fannin County: The Egert Case
By Sharon Banister, former columnist for The Weekly Gazette and the Wolfe City Mirror
"They're out to get you," a county judge told Pat Egert. "I thought the case would never [based on the evidence] go to trial," he said later in a newspaper interview.
"You're caught up in something," a Bonham attorney told Pat. "When you have a district judge that would take a Class B misdemeanor, something's going on." "This case is bizarre," a Dallas attorney said.
"This just cannot stand."
But stand it did. When Fannin County DA Richard Glaser brought a false charge against Pat Egert (and later added her husband Bob's name), local attorneys wanted $25,000 to defend them for the Class B Misdemeanor--more than eight times the going rate.
This reporter knew that the prosecutor's actions were wrong but could make no sense of it. That has changed.
In 2005 the Egerts were victims of two Fannin County homebuilders who had a history of taking money upfront and then walking off the job. The builders also had a history of retaliation. One victim canceled an interview with this reporter because they "feared revenge" if their story went public. In over half a dozen interviews, people were either scared or embarrassed about their monetary loss to these homebuilders.
In spite of this, the Egerts' plea for help from Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser fell on deaf ears. Instead, he brought false charges against them while supporting the homebuilders in every way.
But how does a DA charge and prosecute innocent people without evidence? Here are the ten steps that resulted in the Egerts' conviction.
(1) A sheriff's deputy fabricated the illusion of evidence [Penal Code 37.09] and (2) another tampered with a government record (false alteration) [Penal Code 37.10]
When Vickie Leggett and Bobby Fines received $65,000 from the Egerts to build their log home, then walked off the job taking the logs with them after two weeks of part-time work, Pat phoned to see what was happening. Leggett hung up on the first call. The second didn't amount to much either.
The next day, June 17, 2005, Pat filed theft charges for the logs with the Delta County Sheriff's Office. Within hours, Leggett phoned the Fannin County Sheriff's Office claiming that Pat had threatened to "burn her out." Pat, a soft-spoken businesswoman, denied this, and all later evidence backs her up.
The June 17th Fannin County Sheriff's Incident/Offense Report shows Pat as the suspect but no "evidence collected." Leggett reported that "someone has been making harassment phone calls" to her. Leggett didn't know who the calls were from. (The Egerts' subpoenaed phone records showed no such calls, and the Egerts deny they made them.)
In a sworn June 19th statement, Leggett said that she made no tapes of either of Pat's two calls. Without "evidence collected" against Pat, the sheriff's office took no action.
Four months later Pat notified the Delta County sheriff of smoke in her woods during a burn ban. The sheriff issued a citation to Leggett for burning at her Delta County weekend place. Within days of the citation, Fannin County Sheriff's Deputy James Woods forwarded Leggett's June 17th complaint to the Fannin County DA for prosecution. Woods "believed" Leggett was in fear of "imminent serious bodily injury" from Pat's now four-month-old phone call. (Imminent in legal terms normally refers to "on the point of happening" or 48 hours or less.)
By then the June 17th Incident Report listed "audio cassette" of Pat as "evidence collected." This contradicted Leggett's sworn statement that she had made no tape of Pat.
Another deputy wrote that he filed the tape of Pat in the evidence drawer.
The first step in prosecutorial misconduct was now in place: the Incident Report and the "Evidence Form" gave the illusion of evidence when there was none.
(3) The DA charged Pat with a "terroristic threat" without evidence.
The State "recommended" a plea bargain with a $1,000 fine. Pat refused to buckle. Later the DA's Office claimed it made another offer-- a reduced rate of $500, but the defense attorney said he knew nothing of this. Evidence indicates the false charge was intended to get a quick plea bargain and money.
During a pretrial, the prosecutor refused to give Pat's defense lawyer the purported evidence, the tape. Pat suspected there was no tape and wished there had been one. "I would have been exonerated," she said
After refusing to turn over the illusive tape, Glaser responded in a motion that though Pat and her attorney claimed that the tape "was in the exclusive control of the State, no evidence was presented to substantiate" it. Glaser wanted Pat and her attorney to prove that he had what official documents claimed he had. He could not have been unaware that there was no basis for prosecution.
He told one visitor to his office that he had a tape of Pat making a terroristic threat. This libel spread like wildfire through three counties' political clubs and other associations of the Egerts. Pat had just been elected president of a large Rotary Club. She resigned, the first of other resignations brought on by nefarious gossip.
(4) When the Terroristic Threat charge could not be sustained, the DA changed it to Telephone Harassment based on the same unproveable circumstance as the first charge.
Bob's name was added to the charge.
(5) The DA "advised" the Egerts that they stood "charged by a felony indictment" for "Harassment."
There is no such thing as a felony for harassment, nor were the Egerts ever indicted. The Egerts were terrified after receiving this malicious and harassing notice in the mail.
(6) Neither the sheriff nor DA investigated.
No investigator ever contacted the Egerts. Not once. Minds were made up.
Relying on legal advice, Pat and Bob thought they had to wait until their contract with the homebuilders expired before they could sue them to recover their money. It was during this interim that Leggett countered, as she had done before when sued. With a criminal defense looming, Bob and Pat had to forego their lawsuit.
The sheriff's Criminal Investigative Division deputy told Bob he would "put him in jail if he didn't stop trying to contact Leggett." He added, "If my constituent claims you are harassing her, you are." What did Leggett mean to these Fannin County deputies?
The DA himself also directed Bob to "stop calling" Leggett. What right did he and the deputy have to take sides against a person trying to honor a civil contract? What did Leggett mean to them?
(7) The prosecutor committed Aggravated Perjury --"knowingly making a false statement with intention to deceive during an official proceeding". [Penal Code 37.03]
The miscarriage of justice that had been progressing silently now became obvious, and it happened often during the trial. Two examples follow.
First, Assistant DA Brad Setterberg told the jury that "ignorance of the law" was no excuse-- referring to Bob's use of outdated debt collection rules. However, ignorance is a defense if a person is "relying on an official statement by an official with the responsibility to interpret that law." The Egerts had received the guidelines and verbal approval from three officials prior to any attempt to collect their debt: (1) from a county attorney (2) from a DA investigator (3) from a sheriff
Secondly, he told the jury that the Egerts had sent "letter after threatening letter" to the homebuilders. Glaser had already put a motion into effect that would not allow the Egerts to show their three business letters to the jury. Setterberg could therefore describe them as "threatening"-- even though they weren't-- to deceive the jury.
(8) The prosecutor ignored the Charge to the Court, changing it to other bogus offenses once the trial started.
Realizing that he had no evidence that the Egerts had "threatened bodily injury on or about June 17th", the prosecutor then claimed as "harassment" actions they had every legal right to do. He called everything they did a "threat"-- their business letters, their Better Business Bureau report, their phone calls five months later. (In a filed paper, the prosecutor wrote that their report to the Better Business Bureau was a "crime.")
(9) The defense attorney lost site of the official charge also.
The defense attorney had no reason to expect the invalid charges the prosecutor continually concocted. He was sideswiped. The State alleging that the Egerts had possibly given the homebuilders fraudulent checks "made on their home computer" was one example of the absurd charges taking up trial time. Such fallacious charges diverted the jury away from the official charge and the lack of evidence for it.
(10) The jury disregarded the law: "No person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt."
"A person commits the offense of harassment if [they act] with intent to harass...."
They were charged with making a harassing phone call "on or about June 17th." There was not one shred of evidence presented against them that the call was of a harassing nature or that they intended it to be.
When asked by this reporter what the evidence was that persuaded the jury to find the Egerts' guilty, the foreman answered, "Nothing in particular."
Epilogue: relationships and actions
Fannin County District Judge Laura Blake recused herself from the trial.
Fannin County [first defense] attorney Gant quit, returning 100% payment from the Egerts after two pretrials.
Fannin County Judge Darrell Hall resigned after a local newspaper quoted him about the trial.
The homebuilders were clients of Bonham attorney Joe Moss, the father of Fannin County Assistant DA James Moss. Fannin County DA Glaser and Joe Moss's deceased brother previously shared a Bonham law office.
Delta County Sheriff Basham was soon convicted of [unrelated] federal felonies and sent to prison.
Delta County Attorney Mike Bartley was in the early stages of Alzheimers Syndrome and eventually resigned.
Delta/Hopkins County DA Braddy refused to prosecute the theft even though it clearly qualified under Penal Codes 31.01, 31.03, and 31.06. He later claimed to have been offered "the full amount" [$65,000] for the Egerts by the homebuilders' "civil attorney" [Joe Moss]. The Egerts were never contacted with this offer.
Two questions arise from Braddy's claim: (1) Why would Moss go through him instead of directly to the Egerts? (2) Where did the $65,000 come from? (The homebuilders no longer had it.) Braddy canceled an interview with this reporter when he learned I wanted to question him about this money.
On June 21, 2005, Sheriff Moore e-mailed the Egerts: "I spoke with [DA] Richard Glaser this morning. At this point we do not have venue in this matter. The theft of logs from your property in Delta County will have to be investigated by the law enforcement jurisdiction where the offense occurred which is Delta County."
However, Glaser wrote in the Nov 13, 2009 Weekly Gazette that "Texas law permits a county to bring criminal charges for thefts occurring in other counties if any portion of the theft takes place in the prosecuting county." Since the alleged thieves lived in Fannin County and the stolen property was brought back to Fannin County and resold in Fannin County, this certainly met the standard of "some portion of the theft taking place" here.
Glaser's frame of mind is clear from a Bonham town meeting. When asked by an audience member why he refused to prosecute the theft, he answered, "Why bring trash to Fannin County?"
At the trial the prosecutor stated that "this case came about because of the Egerts' greed." In the DA's eyes, the victims of theft and fraud were greedy for wanting their money back.
The DA was on the thieves' side all along. Why? (Leggett, only two years later, had an outstanding warrant against her in neighboring Lamar County for writing hot checks. A man alleged to be her brother has had three DWIs in Fannin County. The third DWI-- by law a felony-- was charged as a second. He was put on probation and fined-- again.)
Defense Attorney Randy Taylor told the Egerts they could not appeal their conviction. A few months later he was charged with attempted murder in Hopkins County. According to dallasnews.com (July 2, 2009), "prosecutors said [Taylor's] actions were the "result of a medical condition that created 'diminished capacity' on Taylor's part."
The Egerts were not surprised. His "diminished capacity" manifested itself at their trial.
"Taylor alleges he suffered 'mental anguish... severe distress... resentment... public humiliation ....'" dallasnews.com added..
Ditto for his clients.
In the end, it is as U.S. Grant wrote about another situation in his Memoirs: "It is true they trumped up grievances as a pretext, but they were only pretexts which can always be found when wanted."
How the Fannin County DA trumped up grievances against an innocent couple and how they were convicted is now known.