In a surprise move, a Texas judge has ruled to suppress shocking cell phone video showing former Texas State School employees forcing mentally disabled residents at the Corpus Christi State school to fight one another while the employees used their cell phones to videotape the "fight clubs."
Judge Sandra Watts told prosecutors that she would not allow the videos to be used against one of the defendants in the case – Timothy Dixons, 30 - on the grounds that the phone containing the video was stolen property. She said the State had not proven Dixon intentionally abandoned the phone. However, she has not ruled out using the videos in cases against the other defendants.
"This is not a popular decision and I understand that," said Watts. "I don't have any choice in this case."
The State argued that the phone had been found in a public place, which constituted abandonment, rather it being in a private place where it would have been left. Watts rejected their argument.
"This was a big setback in our case against Mr. Dixon," admitted Catherine Chopin, Assistant District Attorney. "We feel he was the most culpable of the defendants." However, she went on to say, "We are still going to prosecute Mr. Dixon and do all we can with what we have."
Prosecutors have appealed the judge's decision to suppress the video in Dixon's case. It is now up to the Texas Court of Appeals to make a determination on Watts' ruling. The decision could take months, thus delaying Dixon's trial.
"We feel confident that in the long run, the Court of Appeals will find for us," said Chopin.
While relatives of the victims were excited about the start of the trials, others expressed disappointment at the judge's decision.
"It's crazy,"said an outraged Michelle Crayton, whose brother George Brazil was a Corpus Christi state school resident who was made to fight. "I'm dumbfounded, upset and don't think it's right because he [Dixon] was shown to be the main person involved." Crayton insists the videos should be permitted.
Dixon and five others have been charged with multiple counts of causing injury to a disabled person for their participation in the fighting sessions that took place amongst mentally disabled residents for the fun and pleasure of workers. One of the defendants – D'Angelo Riley, 23 – pled guilty to the third degree felony and will be sentenced by the Judge on Thursday. Three additional former employees - Jesse Salazar, 25, Guadalupe DeLarosa, 22, and Vincent Johnson, 22, are scheduled to go on trial later this summer.
Proceedings for another defendant - Stephanie Garza, 21 - took place in a separate courtroom with Judge Richard Longoria presiding. Garza is being charged with the lesser crime of failing to intervene. She and her lawyer requested immunity and that the case be dismissed. Judge Longoria denied Garza's requests, calling the case "one of the most egregious crimes ever exposed in South Texas."
The State along with Garza's attorney have appealed Longoria's ruling to the Court of Appeals and expects a response within the next week. Prosecutors are hoping to use Garza as a witness against all other existing and potential defendants.
"I don't know how this is going to go," said Ken Botary, attorney for Garza.