That’s the portrayal given by her lawyer to explain why she accepted free rent from a company she helped. But CBS11’s Todd Bensman and Robert Riggs have found that Rep. Hodge seems to have made a business of selling her legislative services–“an abhorrent abuse of public office,” according to one observer. Read on.
By Robert Riggs and Todd Bensman
PALESTINE, TEXAS — Larry Casey is one of Texas’ original mass murderers. In 1973, the Houston Post newspaper carrier grabbed a .22-caliber rifle and embarked on a chillingly calm and deliberate shooting spree that lasted one hour.
When it was all over, three 10-year-old girls walking home from school, a 5-year-old girl riding her bicycle in her driveway and an 86-year-old grandmother standing in her driveway lay bleeding where Casey had shot them down. Casey’s bullets did more than kill three of the children and the grandmother; those who survived that day have suffered debilitating health problems ever since.
Today, Casey is serving hard time in the Michael Maximum Security prison on the outskirts of this east Texas town. But in his troubled life behind bars, the confessed mass murderer has found an unlikely, but unstinting friend and advocate in high places: Dallas Rep. Terri Hodge.
For more than two years, Rep. Hodge tried to use her legislative position to help Casey stay on schedule for an early release from prison on good behavior, set for February 2006. Casey called Hodge for help early last year because he found his scheduled release suddenly jeopardized.
The reason: Prison authorities had opened a criminal investigation into allegations that he had hatched a murder-for-hire plot to kill a prosecutor and cop. A convicted for the plot last year did not dissuade Hodge. She is now working hard get him moved out of solitary confinement.
A CBS-11 investigation into Hodge’s persistent intervention for one of the state’s most notorious confessed murderers reveals a much broader and mysterious pattern of advocacy by Hodge on behalf of hundreds of other convicts in recent years. CBS-11’s findings raise conflict of interest questions over how she has blended her role as an elected official with her sometimes paid private work for a non-profit inmate advocacy group.
And, Hodge’s advocacy on behalf of Casey also highlights an unusual legal tactic she has tapped in her lawmaker role. She has repeatedly invoked an obscure legislative privilege to demand confidential inmate prison files, a practice that has raised concern among high-ranking state prison administrators as to whether she has used these private records. Lastly, as a result of CBS-11’s inquiries, Hodge now faces the prospect of a contempt-of-court charge for failing to return sensitive confidential prison records more than a year after a judge ordered her to do so.
INTERVENING TO HELP A CONFESSED CHILD KILLER
The four-term Dallas democrat intervened for Casey in 2004, just two years before he was set for early parole for good behavior. But Casey’s scheduled February 2006 parole was in jeopardy because the Texas prison authorities had opened an undercover criminal investigation into allegations that he tried to hire a hit man to assassinate the Houston prosecutor and the police officer who convicted him more than three decades earlier.
It turned out that the “hit man” Casey had tried to hire was an undercover officer who recorded Casey arranging to kill the prosecutor and police officer while still in prison so he’d have a good alibi as he was paroled to freedom.
Hodge’s efforts to push through an early release for Casey, despite the ongoing criminal investigation, failed when he was convicted a little over one year ago. He is now serving an additional 55 years in “administrative segregation” to ensure he cannot hatch another plot against those involved in his latest trial, prison officials say.
Yet despite the new conviction and worries about the safety of those who prosecuted the assassination plot, Hodge has remained a steadfast advocate for Casey. She is now pushing for his release from administrative segregation into the general prison population. This, despite a characterization of Casey by Walker County District Attorney David Weeks as an extremely dangerous “stone cold killer.”
“This man was a serial killer before that term was used much,” Weeks said. “He shot women, and it was just a terrible situation. I can’t imagine why anyone would take up Larry Casey’s cause.”
In a prison interview with CBS-11, Casey spoke well of his powerful Democratic ally in Austin for intervening in the prison investigation of him.
“I’m of the opinion that she’s one of the few professionals that’s really in that legislature,” he said. “I think Rep. Hodge is doing an excellent job. She’s done a lot of work, from my understanding. She’s talked to people and really turned over some rocks and tried to find out what’s going on.”
Regarding his effort to win release from solitary confinement, Casey said, “She’s taking the position that I should never have been put in (solitary confinement) and I take that position too. I am of the opinion that I am in solitary confinement to keep me from telling other inmates how they set me up and framed me…to keep me from getting out of prison.”
That’s not the way many officials in the state prison system, law enforcement authorities or one state judge view Hodge’s intervention.
CBS-11 News has learned that Rep. Hodge has used her legislative authority to intervene on behalf of more than 500 convicts since 2003, records obtained through the Texas Public Information Act show.
That a lawmaker would advocate on behalf of inmates imprisoned on questioned cases does not strike prison officials as all that unusual. But CBS-11 has learned that Rep. Hodge has routinely used a tactic that prison officials consider as exceedingly rare as it is potentially dangerous.
LEGISLATIVE PRIVILEGE INVOKED FOR SECRET FILES
As a lawmaker, Hodge has invoked an obscure, scarcely used special legislative privilege available to elected state lawmakers which allows them to obtain confidential prison inmate records and internal investigations for “legislative purposes.”
Records show that Hodge has used the privilege at least 65 times over the past three years. And she did just that to obtain the highly confidential file on Casey’s 2004 assassination plot investigation — while it was ongoing.
Prison officials tell CBS-11 they had long grown weary of Hodge’s constant, often bullying, demands for inmate files. But last year they became so alarmed about Hodge’s access to Casey’s open criminal investigative file, which contained the identities of prison-house informants and snitches, that they mounted a frantic effort to staunch the information flow before trial.
The main fear was that Hodge might share contents of the file with Casey or someone in his camp, and help Casey make another hit list for another assassination attempt.
“It is highly unusual” for any state legislator to invoke a legislative privilege for confidential inmate files, said John Moriarty, Inspector General for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“I’ve been the Inspector General here for four years, and I’ve never had any other legislator request an open criminal investigation in my tenure.”
The effort to assume control over the Casey file landed in a Huntsville court last year when Hodge kept demanding more information.
“This was an ongoing investigation. He was under indictment,” said David Weeks, the Walker County District Attorney involved in the case. “She obtained the entire working file of the investigators. There’s no purpose in that, no legislative purpose that I can imagine.”
“It puts people at risk. It puts the investigation at risk, and I think it is a clear violation of the separation of powers,” Weeks said.
State Judge William McAdams eventually agreed, ruling that Hodge’s possession of the file interfered with the investigation. Last October, after hearing arguments, Judge McAdams ruled that Hodge was acting as Casey’s agent and had no valid legislative use for his open investigative file. He ruled that Hodge was not entitled to any more material from it and ordered her to return what she had to the Office of Inspector General.
Although the judge found no evidence that Hodge had leaked the contents of the Casey file, he ruled, in part, that the legislative privilege she invoked was invalid when investigations are ongoing.
More than a year after Judge McAdams ordered her to do so, Hodge has not returned the Casey file, said Moriarty, the TDCJ’s Inspector General.
Yet Hodge has not been cited for contempt of court or otherwise punished for failing to abide by the court order.
In an interview Tuesday, CBS-11 Investigative Producer Todd Bensman informed Judge McAdams that Hodge was in apparent violation of his year-old order. The judge said he had not known and that he would immediately schedule a hearing on the matter to determine whether further action against Hodge, including a contempt-of-court action, is warranted.
“In effect, she’s defaulted on the order you are reading from,” Judge McAdams acknowledged during the interview.
A QUESTION OF COMPENSATION, CONFLICT OF INTEREST
A key question remains: What has motivated Hodge to work so hard on behalf of so many hundreds of prison inmates not in her district? Through her attorney, Mike Snipes, Hodge has refused to comment for this story.
It remains unknown whether Hodge has been compensated in any way for her considerable work writing letters and corresponding with state agencies on behalf of hundreds of individual inmates. Some lawyers and former prison administrators have been known to build thriving practices working on inmate legal problems.
Her personal finance reports show that Hodge has been paid as a consultant for the inmate advocacy group Texas Justice Network for the year 2004. What that work entailed remains unknown, however.
In March, Hodge sponsored a bill that would restore good behavior time off to inmate sentences. The Texas Justice Network was a major supporter of that bill.
It was under an old form of the discarded good behavior policy that Casey was to have been paroled next year.
The group’s executive director, Chuck Hurt, was asked what work Hodge has performed for the organization or how much she was paid.
He said he did not have those answers and referred questions to Joyce Ann Brown, a founding officer of the organization. A message was not returned Tuesday.
“There were things that Ms. Brown had (Hodge) doing, but what she had her doing I have no idea,” Hurt said.
Casey’s brother, Coppell resident Bobby Ray Casey, told CBS-11 the family did not pay Hodge for any of her advocacy work. He also said he had never heard of the Texas Justice Network, or its support of the good behavior bill.
He said Hodge agreed to take up Casey’s various causes because “she smelled something fishy” about the prison system’s investigation so shortly before the parole.
William Hubbarth, a spokesman for the victims-rights group Justice For All, said criminal and ethics investigations would be needed if Hodge were ever found to have accepted compensation for using her position to help inmates.
“If that is happening, it is an abhorrent abuse of public office,” Hubbarth said. “If she is abusing that title…for the sake of trying to promote parole for inmates at the expense of the victims then we only ask that this matter be referred to (Travis County District Attorney) Ronnie Earle for a zealous prosecution.”