LOOKING VERY MUCH like the ordained Baptist : minister he is, McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell rocks back in the padded leather chair behind his work-cluttered desk and looks out the window.
Out there, among the 100,000 citizens of Waco, Texas, he knows, are a number of enemies he’s made since taking office following his surprise 1982 victory in only his second venture into the political arena. The enemies, he acknowledges, are men of strength-defense attorneys angry because the DA’s office is no longer the informal, c’mon-in-and-chat place it once was; members of the Waco Police Department, many of whom view him and his staff as adversaries rather than partners in the control of city crime; and now the tradition-steeped Texas Rangers, the legendary and elite law enforcement agency whose headquarters are just a short drive across the Brazos River from his office.
And the enemy, Feazell knows, is angry.
At age 34, the controversial and outspoken DA rode into office on campaign promises of high visibility and tough prosecution. And it appears the rank and file of McLennan County generally are satisfied that he’s kept his word. Rarely does a day go by that the admittedly ambitious young politician’s name is not in the news for something: his dogged pursuit of indictments in the gruesome murders of three teenagers at Lake Waco in 1982, which resulted in two death penalties and four life sentences; his investigation of child abuse in the Waco Independent School District; and a tighter rein he has placed on search warrant procedures by the Waco Police Department. Even sermons he delivers at local and area churches are occasionally covered by the Waco media.
A growing list of those who call Waco home, however, are insisting that, despite all the publicity and rhetoric, the county’s chief law enforcement official isn’t doing his job.
Feazell, by his own admission, is a person one either likes a great deal or dislikes intensely. “For reasons I honestly don’t understand,” he admits, “there seems to be no in-between.”
At present the battle lines have never been more clearly drawn. Those who make it clear they are among the “enemies” Feazell talks about have watched eagerly as the McLennan County DA has been investigated for a variety of alleged misdeeds.
In recent weeks, in fact, a federal grand jury, the Department of Public Safety and the Waco police have been vigorously involved in investigations of Feazell and members of his staff. Among the allegations are that he has dismissed an embarrassing number of DWI cases, has repeatedly refused to prosecute cases brought him by a demoralized Waco Police Department, and that local attorneys have charged clients extraordinarily high fees to get cases dismissed by Feazell-the suggestion being that some of the money was necessary for bribes which have gone into the District Attorney’s pocket.
Adding fuel and public exposure to the controversy, which has sharply divided the Waco citizenry, was a series of investigative reports recently done by Charles Duncan of WFAA-TV in Dallas. To date, Channel 8 has aired 10 Duncan reports and a Tracy Rowlett Perspective highly critical of the Waco District Attorney’s office.
Duncan has made numerous trips to Waco since mid-May to research police files and court records and talk with a number of people who have had direct or indirect involvement with the DA’s office. He reported that the FBI wants to know why defendants are paying as much as $3,000 in attorney’s fees for defense of DWI charges that are later dismissed. Duncan also claimed that Feazell refuses to prosecute more than 50 percent of the misdemeanor cases brought to his office by the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, and that Feazell maintains an “enemies list” in a file on his desk. Local merchants, according to Duncan, are ired over the lack of concern by the DA’s office about shoplifting cases brought to its attention.
Feazell, who refused to do an on-camera interview with Duncan during his investigation, says the Channel 8 reports and the other investigations are part of “a smear campaign” initiated against him only after he and his staff began questioning the incredible number of murders supposedly committed by Henry Lee Lucas.
Austin attorney Roy Minton, whom Feazell hired recently, made his feelings on the matter quite clear. In an interview with the Austin American-Statesman he posed the question: “Don’t you think it’s a little naive to ignore the fact that nobody is looking at any of this until [Feazell] gets crossways with some of the heavies in law enforcement?”
It was last November that Feazell and members of his staff began investigating two McLennan County murders that Lucas, self-professed killer of hundreds of people, had confessed to committing. In one case, Feazell says, they had a prime suspect whom they felt was close to confessing (until Lucas admitted to the crime). And in both cases, the McLennan County DA’s office had good reason to believe Lucas was in another part of the country at the time of the murders.
With a bench warrant co-signed by Feazell and Texas Attorney General Jim Mat-tox, McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell traveled to Georgetown where the Rangers’ Lucas Task Force was headquartered and, last April, took Lucas to Waco to appear before a grand jury.
Once he was no longer in custody of the Rangers and Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell, Lucas began recanting his avalanche of confessions, insisting to the Attorney General’s investigators that he had been provided information by Rangers and other law officials about cases in 26 states so that he might “confess” to the crimes and clear them from overcrowded books.
That Feazell had, in a sense, taken on the Texas Rangers in their hometown produced the most volatile political climate Waco had experienced in years. The bizarre new twist in the sordid Lucas saga drew the attention of the national media and angry denials of any manner of impropriety from members of the Rangers’ Lucas Task Force. A reporter in Waco overheard Police Chief Larry Scott remark, “Mark my word, that man Feazell will either be shot or his car will be blown out from under him.”
Particularly incensed over the charges being leveled at the Rangers was Col. Jim Adams, former FBI assistant who is now head of the Austin-based Texas Department of Public Safety, the governing body of the Rangers. Adams angrily denied that members of the Task Force had acted improperly during the 18-month Lucas investigations, which cost taxpayers an estimated $180,000.
In time, Adams would admit that he had authorized a DPS investigation of Feazell. Soon thereafter, word reached Feazell that the FBI was also conducting an investigation. And, he was told, the Waco police were cooperating fully with both the federal and state agencies. Later, a longtime friend of Feazell’s came to the DA’s office with a disturbing warning: He said he was told that City Manager Dave Smith had told Police Chief Larry Scott to “find something on Feazell.” Feazell’s source indicated that he understood Smith’s reason was “because I don’t like the way he’s treating the Rangers.” Both Scott and Smith later denied that any such order was given.
Smith, a lifelong friend of Col. Adams, only a year earlier had introduced Feazell at a Texas Rangers reunion banquet and described him as “the best District Attorney McLennan County has ever had.”
Although he now refuses to talk with the media about the matter, Smith did admit to a reporter recently that he had publicly praised Feazell. “I felt that way-a year ago,” he says.
Shortly after Feazell was informed of the Scott-Smith conversation, he first became aware of Charles Duncan’s presence in Waco. Waco Police Department attorney Bill Johnston admitted to him in a telephone conversation that the department had copied a number of offense reports for Duncan.
It was then that the DA became convinced that all the investigations were related. Feazell placed a call to Mattox, advised him of his suspicions and was told to “dig in for a good fight because Jim Adams is apparently after you.” Feazell also came to believe that Duncan and Channel 8 would play a major role in the battle.
“I felt from the beginning that Charles Duncan was doing the dirty work for some of the big boys in Austin,” Feazell says. “The people who have called me to let me know they’ve been talked to by Duncan were, in many cases, approached by the FBI and DPS in the exact same order. There are too many instances of that one-two-three succession for them to be coincidental. Or for everyone to be working independently.” Feazell even speculates that Duncan’s interest in the Waco DA’s office preceded, and may have begun, the FBI investigation. “It sounds as if Duncan may well have initially gone to the FBI; not that he learned there was an FBI investigation.”
Feazell also says that he was informed that FBI officials involved in the investigation of his office met at Fort Fischer, the Waco headquarters of the Texas Rangers, on a mid-June weekend to review tapes of Duncan’s reports.
“I stepped on the wrong toes when I began the investigation of the Henry Lee Lucas matter,” Feazell says. “It’s that simple.”
Even Attorney General Mattox has expressed concern over the timing of the WFAA reports, publicly stating that they appeared to be related to the Lucas investigation and the fact that the DPS and Texas Rangers were feuding with the McLennan County DA.
During one of its early reports, Channel 8 responded to Mattox’s suggestion, stating that its investigation had “nothing to do with the Lucas matter.” But John Ben Sutter, administrative assistant for Feazell, believes it does. He says the first time he met Duncan in the McLennan County courthouse and invited him to his office, he (Sutter) asked what had prompted the reporter’s interest in Feazell. “He told me that because of the Lucas situation, Feazell had become something of a statewide name and as a result he wanted to do a personality profile on him. He made it clear to me-and later to Vic when they talked in his office-that the Lucas business had been what had drawn his attention to Waco in the first place.” Feazell recalls his initial meeting with Duncan with amusement: “I had, of course, already heard he was going through files at the police department and in the courthouse, so I told John Ben to invite him up to the office.
“While we were talking I asked him why he was interested in a little country district attorney like myself, and he mentioned the publicity that had originated from the Lucas investigation. Nothing was said about DWI dismissals or anything of that nature. He just indicated he wanted to do a story on me and the workings of my office. After Duncan left, John Ben came into my office, excited over the prospect of Channel 8’s doing a profile on me. I laughed and told him, That guy’s out to gut me.’ I could see that.”
Charles Duncan repeatedly refused to comment on the Waco reports. “Our series speaks for itself,” he says. “I’m not interested in talking about a story that will appear in D Magazine on something that is taking place in Waco.”
Marty Haag, Channel 8’s executive news director, said he did not want to talk about a story that was ongoing but did say he felt Feazell had been given ample opportunity to address the issues brought forth in Duncan’s reports. “There were repeated offers for him to comment. Those offers were repeated and repeated and repeated. The fact that he has declined to comment, in the final analysis, is not going to prevent us from doing a report. If someone refuses to comment, then you have to make a judgment at that time whether you go ahead with the story.”
DESPITE SEVERAL subsequent contacts from Duncan requesting an on-camera interview (Duncan even agreed to and did provide Feazell a list of questions and cases to be discussed), Feazell refused a formal interview.
“What he did [in his reports] has certainly reassured me that I did the right thing,” says Feazell. He points, as an example, to Channel 8’s editing of certain pieces which he feels have been, at best, misleading. During one report, for instance, Duncan was addressing the issue of high fees being charged by Waco attorneys to represent DWI cases. He used a film clip of Feazell saying, “It has been expensive in money and time.” While the viewer was led to believe that Feazell’s comment was in some way connected to the subject of lawyers’ fees, it was, in fact, a statement made by Feazell to a Waco TV station on the evening he was elected in November 1982.
“That alone is proof enough to me that what you talk about on camera and what appears on the 10 p.m. news are different things entirely in some instances,” Feazell says.
In his reports, Channel 8’s Duncan painted a picture of a DA’s office that has been lax in its prosecutions, uncooperative with other law enforcement agencies and, at times, careless of proper legal ethics in the assignment of cases. Duncan used statistics and interviews with Waco city officials; other sources were Joe Darnell of the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, a representative of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and several Waco citizens, relatives of defendants in cases the DA’s office had not acted upon.
Observed one Dallas attorney who followed the Duncan reports, “If you take everything he had in his reports at face value, it appears McLennan County has a real ’star chamber’ kind of judicial system.”
During a one-year period, Duncan learned, after reviewing “hundreds of cases,” that 100 DWI suspects were not filed on and Feazell’s office allowed “speedy trial” to run on 25 other cases. (Under the Speedy Trial Act, a case not prosecuted within a prescribed time must be dismissed.) TABC official Darnell pointed to the fact the McLennan County DA’s office had turned down 26 of 50 misdemeanor cases his office submitted in 1984.
Police Chief Scott, who freely admits a personality conflict between Feazell and his office, told Duncan the refusal of the District Attorney to prosecute has had a demoralizing effect on his department. Scott also made a point of noting that Feazell’s office had never complained to him about the quality of drug cases presented by his officers, though Feazell has been publicly critical of the police Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU). Feazell says he has repeatedly expressed his concern to Scott over the handling of drug busts and has sought to have all search warrants pass through his office before the DEU proceeds with cases. “I explained to Scott, in the presence of Bill Johnston [Waco PD attorney] and Ned Butler [a special crimes prosecutor in the DA’s office] that his people were consistently bringing poor quality cases to us. In fact, I told him if he didn’t change things in the DEU, somebody was probably going to get hurt.”
Scott’s statement to Duncan about the DA’s office’s lack of concern over drug cases, Feazell says, is another example of the distorted picture Channel 8 viewers were given. “It has been very difficult for me to sit back and really do nothing [about the Duncan reports],” Feazell says, “because, by nature, I’m a fighter. I guess down deep inside I’d like to take an ax handle to Charles Duncan because, in my opinion, that’s what he deserves.
“I’m still considering a suit against Channel 8,” he says, “but to be honest, there is no amount of money-not $100 million-that will pay for what my family, people in my office and I have been put through. This has been a hurt that makes any other bad things that have happened in my life seem very insignificant.”
FEAZELL HAS NOT been the only target of the Duncan investigation.
In one of his early reports, the WFAA reporter addressed the fact that Pat Murphy, first assistant in the McLennan County District Attorney’s office, had personally handled a drug possession case filed against his karate instructor, Larry Ortega, and dismissed it. Duncan insinuated that Murphy had chosen not to prosecute primarily because of his friendship with Ortega. Duncan also said that Murphy had refused to return his telephone calls.
Murphy, who has not spoken with Duncan, tells a different story: “The only time I was ever contacted by Duncan was during a murder trial on which I was working,” he says. “When I got his message it was about three days old. I went to Vic and asked who Charles Duncan was, and he told me what he felt was going on. So, I never returned his call. But there was just the one call-not ’calls’ as he indicated on the air.
“Larry Ortega was my karate instructor for almost a year, but our relationship was that of instructor and pupil. I would hardly classify it as a ’longtime friendship.’ We’ve never visited socially in any way. Our only contact, for that matter, was during the lessons I took. In fact, because of his rank in the sport, I called him Mr. Ortega despite his being several years younger than I am.” After Ortega was charged with marijuana possession, Murphy received a call from Ortega’s employer, who wanted to know how serious the case was. The employer went on to explain that the youngster was a gifted athlete who neither smoked nor drank, had never been in trouble with the law, and that it was his understanding the marijuana had actually belonged to Ortega’s brother. Murphy also received a call from a local attorney, who also took karate lessons from Ortega, suggesting that there was “something wrong” about the case.
“Legally and ethically,” says Murphy, “I could have handled it myself.” Nevertheless, Murphy passed the case on to another prosecutor in the DA’s office, Crawford Long. After studying the facts of the case, Long recommended that it not be prosecuted. The Channel 8 report never indicated that anyone in the DA’s office other than Murphy dealt with the case. Long says he is unaware of any attempt by Duncan to contact him during his investigation.
DUNCAN ALSO POINTED out that Deanna Fitzgerald, the chief trial lawyer in the McLennan County District Attorney’s office has, on several occasions, handled cases for her cousin Benjie Reed, an attorney in nearby Mexia, often canceling warrants, dismissing cases or postponing dates of trials involving Reed.
“The [WFAA] report,” says Fitzgerald, “was inaccurate. Duncan made it look as if those type things were done only for Benjie and only by me. The truth is that every misdemeanor and felony case which passes through this office-regardless of its deposition-is going to have my name on it, regardless of who the prosecutor might be.”
Fitzgerald admits that Reed has asked that trial dates be reset, but adds that “the same can be said for just about every attorney in Waco. I also get calls from lawyers in Dallas, Houston, Hillsboro, Moody and elsewhere, saying they can’t make a court date and asking for a reset. What I’m saying is, I have treated Benjie Reed just like any other attorney. As a matter of fact, I haven’t seen him but twice in the last 20 years.
“From the first time I spoke with Charles Duncan it was clear to me that he was not interested in anything but negatives,” Fitzgerald says. “At one point, during a phone conversation, I invited him to come to Waco and spend the day in our offices, seeing how we handle our business. I got no response.” Fitzgerald went on to defend her office’s record of prosecuting drunk drivers and said to compare the prosecution and conviction records of McLennan County and other Texas counties was “like comparing apples and oranges.” A number of counties, she notes, use a screening process that allows dismissal of charges before they are ever presented to the DA’s office. That, she points out, in effect allows the DA’s office to automatically assure itself of a higher prosecution rate simply because most cases it takes are good, solid cases.
“In McLennan County,” she says, “we operate without a screening process, so our office receives all offense reports, regardless of the strength or weakness of the case. There is no opportunity to first say, ’This is a good case, we’ll take it,’ or ’This one has an incomplete intoxilyzer test and therefore the evidence wouldn’t be admissible in court.’”
In another report, Duncan took Feazell to task over his refusal to sign an agreement for parole of convicted felon Charles Schroeder, who had served 13 years in the Texas Department of Corrections. According to a member of the Schroeder family, Waco attorney Ron Moody had been contacted and told them “since Feazell owes me some favors I might be able to persuade him to sign the agreement.” If he were successful, Moody told his client, the fee would be $2,000. Schroeder’s sister, Betty Ryan, who was interviewed by Duncan, indicated on the air that she had the impression the high fee was necessary because bribe money would have to be paid Feazell to get the parole process in motion.
Duncan failed to point out that all parole reviews in the Waco DA’s office are the responsibility of Pat Murphy. “One of the things that bothered me about the report,” Murphy says, “is the fact Duncan never told the viewers what Charles Schroeder was in TDC for. What you have here is a guy-a drug addict-who pulled into a service station and shot someone seven or eight times with a .22 rifle, then lifted his wallet and a small amount of cash. It was nothing more than a cold-blooded assassination. He’s not the kind of person we want back on the streets of Waco, Texas, believe me. I have to wonder if those watching [the report] would have been as sympathetic had they been informed about the nature of the crime Schroeder is in the pen for.”
Still, that was not the primary issue of Duncan’s report. The intimation was strong that a “deal” would have to be made with the DA’s office to get parole agreement papers signed. Obviously no deal was made since Murphy, after a review of the case, refused to endorse Schroeder’s parole. Attorney Moody, in turn, charged the Schroeder family nothing since he had been unsuccessful in their behalf.
Says Feazell: “I know of no favors I owe Ron Moody. In fact, after the report aired he contacted me and said he had never indicated to anyone he might have to pay me off to get what he wanted. Ron’s a good lawyer, a professional who has always dealt squarely with me. And the fact that he did not get what he requested from this office seems to have been overlooked.”
Actually, it was the second time Murphy had turned down the Schroeder parole request-a fact also not reported by Duncan. “Even before the family had gone to Moody,” he says, “I was contacted by an Austin attorney on the same matter. The family, I understand, had actually paid him $1,500 to try and get Schroeder paroled. He came to me with letters from the family and even an assistant warden, pleading the guy’s case.
“At that time I went to the public library and reviewed all the newspaper reports on the crime. I reviewed our files on the case, and then told the attorney that I would protest the parole. In fact, I told him that I would probably always protest parole in this particular case because of the brutal nature of the crime. He continued to argue the man’s case and I finally told him if he would bring me similar letters signed by the family members of the victim, stating they felt Charles Schroeder should be released, I would reconsider.” Needless to say, no such letters have ever crossed Murphy’s desk.
Why would Duncan make an issue of this particular case, in which it was clear no money ever changed hands, either from client to lawyer or lawyer to DA? Why would he say Feazell personally handled the case when, in fact, files in the DA’s office clearly indicated it was handled by Murphy? And why would he omit the facts of the crime while at the same time giving the felon’s name and amount of time spent in TDC? Duncan has refused to discuss any of the particulars of the series.
Feazell says that Duncan’s omission of a number of other facts has convinced him the investigation WFAA conducted was not designed to give a balanced view. To wit:
●Duncan stated that in one DWI case Feazell opted to reduce the charges to public intoxication for no reason other than the fact the offender was 68 years old.
Feazell points out that the offender was a man who had never previously been in trouble with the law and had buried his wife of almost 50 years shortly before the offense occurred.
●Duncan pointed to another DWI case wherein the DA chose not to prosecute because “the woman in question was eight months pregnant.”
Feazell initially said the circumstances of the case were far different from what Duncan had aired, stating that it was his understanding that the woman had not been arrested or given a breath test, and that she had simply been taken home by the police.
Later Feazell admitted he had not personally reviewed the file on the case, getting his information instead from another member of his staff. After personally reviewing the case file, which clearly shows the subject was in fact arrested, taken to the police department and given a breath test (she registered .12, well over the intoxication level), Feazell said, “My information was wrong on that case. I had no first-hand knowledge of it, so I relied on the memory of someone else. The lady was arrested-and then taken home and released to the custody of her husband for medical reasons.” The case was, Feazell acknowledges, dismissed.
●Duncan’s series also singled out a case in which Feazell dismissed a charge of an adult woman who made liquor available to her minor boyfriend.
Says Feazell: “The girl was 19 and her boyfriend was 18, just a few months younger. They had been dating for a long time. In the interest of what I consider justice I saw no need for the girl to have a criminal record for a minor infraction like that. Being arrested and booked, I thought, was punishment enough. The decision was one I certainly could live with-and would no doubt make again.”
●Duncan further reported that Feazell had dismissed charges against an adult male who made liquor available to a minor female.
“The adult male,” the DA points out, “was 19 years old-of legal age. And the 18-year-old female he had purchased the beer for was his wife. Being married made her legally an adult. When the young man tried to explain the situation to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents who were investigating, he was hit in the face and his nose was bloodied. The TABC agents, fearful of a lawsuit, requested that the case not be prosecuted.”
●Another of Duncan’s reports charged the DA’s office with reluctance to prosecute cases of aggravated assaults on police officers, citing the case of Officer Mary Crook, who had received a broken nose during apprehension of a 55-year-old Waco resident. Duncan said that Assistant DA Pat Murphy “made a deal to drop the felony charge, file it as a misdemeanor and give the assailant probation,” if Officer Crook would agree not to sue the defendant for damages.
Again, it was Crawford Long, not Murphy, who handled the case after it was reviewed by Feazell. He instructed Long to prepare the case for indictment. Later, it came to the attention of the DA’s office that Crook’s defense attorney and a private attorney were, in fact, preparing a civil suit to be filed against the complainant.
“At that point,” recalls Murphy, “our office did talk with Officer Crook about a plea bargain arrangement involving full restitution and probation, but she indicated she wanted more. Under law, you understand, all we can get in restitution is the out-of-pocket medical expenses, things of that nature. Eventually I was informed that a $7,000 civil settlement had been reached and it was verified to us that she no longer wanted to pursue charges.”
Had Feazell agreed to an on-camera interview with Duncan, it would seem, the DA would have been able to present some of the neglected facts of these cases. Still, he declined.
“I knew early on that he wasn’t interested in hearing my side of anything,” Feazell insists. “Even if I had gone on camera and tried to explain things, I have serious doubts that any of what I had to say would have been seen on the air. By the time Charles Duncan arrived in Waco to begin his investigation, I felt sure he knew what he was after and how he was planning to approach his story.”
THOUGH HE WILL not give the names of any of the sources he contacted for background information on the District Attorney’s office, Duncan reportedly spent considerable time talking with several former employees of Feazell’s, including a former investigator and a former secretary. Both had been fired by Feazell and left the DA’s office with hard feelings.
“The night before I went to Austin (on May 8) to talk with Col. Adams about the Lucas investigation,” Feazell says, “I got a call from an acquaintance who had run into this secretary in a bar. She was drinking and reportedly bragging that she was ’going to nail Vic Feazell.’ She said she had been approached by the DPS to help them with their investigation.
“Armed with no more information than that, I asked Adams if he and the DPS were, in fact, investigating me. At first he denied it, but eventually got around to admitting that he had authorized an investigation. Two officials from the Attorney General’s office-Mike Hodge and Reed Lockhoff-were at that meeting and they were stunned. They left the meeting with me, convinced the investigation was retaliatory in nature.”
The former investigator, Feazell says, told him after leaving the DA’s office that “he would get me if it took him the rest of his life.” He also told a secretary in the DA’s office on the day he was terminated that “he [Feazell] will be sorry he did that.” With that, the man slammed his fist down on her desk and left the office.
According to a former employee of Feazell’s, there were ongoing problems with the Waco Police Department in regard to filing arrest reports with the DA’s office. “Before we could take a case to court,” she explains, “the arresting officer had to file a report. There were numerous occasions where I had to call the Police Department four or five times, then send a memo, before I would get a report. I can remember several times when it would be just a week or 10 days before speedy trial would have run. Then there were a number of cases where the officer had fouled up the report or there was, in the case of DWIs, bad video and the case would have to be retried. Things like that aren’t the fault of the District Attorney’s office.”
Another of Duncan’s sources reportedly has been Waco attorney Russ Hunt, who served as one of the court-appointed defense lawyers for David Spence, one of those who received the death penalty in the Lake Waco murders. Hunt admitted to another Waco attorney that he had talked with Charles Duncan as well as the FBI and DPS about the various investigations of the DA.
Even before the investigations of Feazell had begun, Hunt had made it clear that he was light years removed from being an admirer of the District Attorney. In a taped interview with this writer last spring he discussed Feazell’s prosecution tactics in the Spence case: “For Vic’s political gain, the lake murders were tried before they were ready. Instead of a decent investigation, they did it with bullshit from jailbirds and [bite-mark testimony from Albuquerque-based forensic odontologist] Homer Campbell. It makes me want to vomit. Obviously, I get real upset when I’m talking about Vic. Vic wants to be president of the United States or head of the CIA, depending on who you talk to. He wants to be in power.”
Hunt, still angry about the way the Spence trial was conducted, said, “I suspect I’ll feel strongly about it until someday, hopefully, Vic gets what’s coming to him. That’s when the truth comes out and people know about Vic. And I’ll do what I can to help with that process.”
Which is to say there are a number of those who have no sympathy for Feazell in his battle with the authorities and Channel 8. “One thing about it,” Feazell says, “it isn’t hard to determine who has talked with Duncan and the feds and the DPS-because all of them are going around bragging about it.”
IT SEEMS ODD that Duncan, a reporter from a television station 100 miles away, would be the one to spot the rats in the Waco woodpile. Representatives of the Waco media, which includes three television stations, two newspapers and several radio stations, insist they have taken neither a protective nor a provincial stance toward Feazell. But some Waco reporters are puzzled that City Manager Smith and Chief of Police Scott spoke freely with Duncan and WFAA about problems in the city government, while refusing any comment to local media.
“We’ve heard rumors and accusations about the activities of the District Attorney’s office for some time,” says Bob Lott, editor of the Waco Tribune Herald. “The same was the case with Feazell’s predecessor [Felipe Renya]. And we’ve not ignored the things we’ve heard. Frankly, we had heard about a number of things that Charles Duncan included in his reports. But it was always a matter of there being smoke but we never found the end of the gun barrel.
“Quite frankly, the [WFAA] reports I’ve seen have offered nothing out of the ordinary,” Lott says. “There were times when he aired something and I thought to myself, ’If that’s true, I wish we’d had that story.’ But when we checked it out, we didn’t find what we felt was something we could go with. The Channel 8 reports just don’t meet our standards for fairness. The reporting I’ve seen does not meet what I generally perceive to be widely accepted standards of good journalism.”
Lott insists that members of his staff will continue to investigate the activities of the District Attorney’s office, just as they do all public offices.
“If,” he continues, “we had been able to find information that meets the normal test of fairness and balance-something that really tells a story-it would have already been in our paper.”
Lott says both Scott and Smith have been approached by Tribune Herald reporters about their cooperation with the FBI and DPS investigations of Feazell and his office, and both have refused to be interviewed. Ralph Webb, program operations manager of Waco’s CBS affiliate, KWTX, has extended invitations to Feazell, Smith and Scott to appear on camera and discuss the matter. Feazell was the only one to accept.
A longtime friend and one-time next-door neighbor of Smith, Webb says that when he asked the city manager to go on camera and tell his side of the story, he declined, saying, “I’ll talk about it when the time is right.”
Did Webb feel Smith was hinting that he might speak publicly if and when an indictment comes down against Feazell? “That,” says Webb, “was my impression.
“I got the same response from Chief Scott,” Webb continues, “but, just reading between the lines, I got the impression that he was wishing this whole matter was over. He told me he had been advised by counsel not to talk about it to the media.”
Bill Johnston, the attorney for the Waco Police Department, was contacted by D Magazine about an interview with Scott and said he would pass the request on to Scott. “What he’s probably going to do,” Johnston, a former employee in the DA’s office, said, “is ask the city manager [Smith] about it first.” Scott never replied to the request for an interview. Smith’s secretary, in the meantime, telephoned the message that Smith would not discuss the matter with D.
Webb, like most other members of the Waco media, has expressed resentment over the cooperation afforded Duncan by the Waco police and other city officials. “In the past,” he says, “we have always had access to police records. We knew for a fact that Duncan had spent a great deal of time going through old arrest reports and making copies while doing his investigation here. Then, suddenly, when we went to look into records we were told to ’put it in writing.’ We’d never run into this before with the Waco PD. So, we put it in writing and waited the required 10 days and went back. Then they told us it would cost us two dollars to look at each file and one dollar for each copy.”
WEBB SAYS HE has been accused of taking Feazell’s side in the controversy, but he denies the charge. “I told him up front, even before we did any interviews on the subject, that if he was guilty of any of the things we were hearing about we were going after him. We’re not taking sides, and he knows that. People like Larry Scott and Dave Smith don’t seem to understand that, however. They’ve obviously got chips on their shoulders. It’s difficult to tell both sides of a story when only one side will talk to you.”
In a sense, then, the Waco media has run into much the same problem as Duncan, only in reverse.
“I really wish I knew what this is all about,” says Webb. “I don’t know if it stems from the Lucas matter or the triple murder case or whether it is just politically motivated. But, down deep, I do feel Channel 8’s reports have been a hatchet job. And this [federal] grand jury investigation is obviously a railroad attempt. My God, what it tells me is that [federal investigators] can do this to any of us if they decide they don’t like what we’re doing, even if it is perfectly legal and aboveboard. That makes for a scary situation.”
One of Webb’s primary concerns with the entire matter is the origination of the WFAA investigation. “In the only conversation I’ve had with Charles Duncan, I asked where the story originated and, of course, he wouldn’t say. He just indicated it came up during one of their story meetings. I told him there was no way in hell he and his people were sitting around the Channel 8 newsroom and said, ’Hey, let’s go down and investigate the misdeeds of the McLennan County District Attorney.’ Someone had to bring something to your attention to get you involved.”
Webb says he is convinced Duncan entered into his investigation of Feazell with preconceived ideas. “I felt, in talking with him, that he’d already convicted [Feazell] and was ready to hang him by his thumbs.”
Webb, whose broadcast news career began in 1951, insists his relationship with Feazell is strictly professional. “I didn’t even know him until he was elected DA. That’s when I made it my business to get to know him. Frankly, I’m impressed with him and will be until it is proven he’s done something wrong. So far as I’m concerned he has brought a dignity to the McLennan County DA’s office that it has never had before.”
After the Duncan reports on Feazell aired, Dallas’ Channel 4, which has been involved in a war of words with Channel 8 in recent weeks, dispatched reporter Vicki Monks to Waco and Austin to do a three-part series on the McLennan County DA. Though the Duncan/Channel 8 reports were never mentioned, Monks clearly traveled some of the same investigative avenues as Duncan had and came away with a much different view of the situation in Waco. She told of the stories of suggested bribes and failures to prosecute DWI cases that have been directed at Feazell, but also reported that the investigations by the FBI, DPS and Waco police have been conducted with questionable tactics. For instance, a security agent for Southwestern Bell confirmed that there was reason to believe Feazell’s home telephone had been illegally tapped; an eyewitness told of the garbage of Feazell’s administrative assistant, Sutter, being stolen by a well-dressed man driving an automobile similar to those used by the police department’s Drug Enforcement Unit; and a DPS van had been parked outside a recent March of Dimes benefit for Feazell, with its occupants reportedly taking license plate numbers of those who attended the function.
In yet another curious twist, Feazell, who refused to talk with Duncan, agreed to be interviewed by Monks while Scott and Smith, who appeared on several Duncan reports, refused on-camera interviews with the Channel 4 reporter.
Too, statistics used by Monks and KDFW told a far different story than did those used by Duncan on his reports:
A Pardons and Parole Study, prepared in Austin, shows that McLennan County has the highest felony conviction rate in the state for counties of 100,000 or more, and that the DWI conviction rate in McLennan County (75 percent) is in the top one-third in the state and higher than either Dallas or Tarrant County (both 71 percent).
Apparently, there has even been some criticism of the Duncan investigation within the WFAA ranks.
It was WFAA and the Dallas Times Herald that first raised questions last April about the validity of the Henry Lee Lucas confessions. Former Lubbock resident Bob Lemons, stepfather of one of Lucas’ alleged victims, worked closely with the Dallas TV station as it prepared its Lucas series, providing leads, names and background information that would prove Lucas was very often in places other than locations of crimes he had confessed to. Also, Lemons points out, Feazell was the first person in law enforcement who was willing to question the conclusions of the Lucas Task Force. “For that reason,” Lemons says, “I was very upset over the Charles Duncan stories Channel 8 was running. I gave them hell about it. I felt I had personally been betrayed because I had literally taken them by the hand and gave them a story [the Lucas exposé which raised serious questions about the activities of the DPS-overseen Rangers’ Lucas Task Force] that’s certainly going to win them every award in the book. And then, two or three months later they turn right around and allow the DPS to get in their pockets. I let them know I was disappointed and disgusted over what they were doing-and damn sure didn’t like it.”
During a visit to the WFAA studio, Lemons expressed his concern about the Duncan stories to a WFAA producer. During the conversation, which took place in the presence of several people, the producer expressed the opinion that some of the Duncan stories that had aired were “pretty weak.” It was that same producer, Feazell says, who called and tried to persuade him to do an on-camera interview with Duncan, and the same producer who asked Feazell, “Did you really think you could take on the DPS and not have them come back at you?”
THERE IS EVIDENCE in Waco today of a new ground swell of support for Feazell. Even as the federal grand jury continues its investigation in Austin, a dozen billboards have appeared, featuring such comments as “Vic, We Care,” “Courage to Do What’s Right, Not What’s Easy” and “Crusader… Counselor.. .Caring…” all signed by “the People of Waco.” The public relations director for the McLennan County Republican Party, Mike Cloer, resigned his position in early July so that he might publicly support Feazell, a Democrat. WACO, a local radio station, conducted a man-on-the-street poll about the Channel 8 allegations and found overwhelming support of Feazell. Bumper stickers reading “Honk If You Hate Channel 8” and “Go Get ’Em Vic” have become popular items with Feazell backers.
A form letter, addressed to the Federal Communications Commission, has been signed by more than 100 McLennan County residents and mailed to Washington, DC, charging “distortion and bias” in the WFAA reports and demanding an investigation of Channel 8 and Charles Duncan.
Nancy Shaw, mother of one of the teenage victims of the Lake Waco murders in 1982, traveled from Waxahachie to address the Waco City Council and sing Feazell’s praises while criticizing the job the Waco police did during the investigation of her daughter’s murder. She pointed out that only after the Waco PD had marked the highly publicized case inactive did the District Attorney’s office take over and solve the crime. Taking issue with Chief Scott’s suggestions that the DA’s office wasn’t interested in prosecuting cases, she said, “The District Attorney’s office is, in fact, very interested in prosecuting. Your police department is interested only if it doesn’t involve much work.”
With City Manager Smith sitting nearby, she told the council that she had seen no evidence that he had “backed up” his allegations against Feazell and his office and noted, “I suggest you, as leaders of this city’s government, ask yourselves just who it is declaring the District Attorney’s office corrupt. Who’s pulling the strings? These are things you, as city fathers, should find out.”
Feazell, meanwhile, recently filed for reelection even though the primary is eight months away. He also announced that he had hired famed lawyer Roy Minton to represent him in any legal matters pertaining to the investigations and possible grand jury indictment. “I decided to announce my candidacy,” Feazell says, “for several reasons: I wanted to put to rest any rumors that I might be resigning, and also to silence those who have hinted that I’ve been thinking of running for some higher office. So far as hiring an attorney, I think the allegations that have been made and the fact there are actually investigations going on made it a necessity. I’m just a country lawyer; I don’t know much about this high-level stuff.”
And Feazell still talks of filing a multimillion-dollar civil suit against Duncan and the A.H. Belo Corp., owners of WFAA-TV, once all the investigations and grand jury hearings are completed. At one point, in fact, he had papers drawn up for a $35 million suit ($5 million for each of seven reports which had aired on Channel 8 at that time), but decided to hold off when he learned that Duncan planned more reports. “I’ll just keep the meter running,” he says.
In the meantime, Feazell sought and was granted rebuttal time on WFAA-TV to answer Rowlett’s recent Perspective on the Waco investigations. Told by Marty Haag that he would have two minutes and the rebuttal could either be taped in Waco or in the Dallas studio, Feazell indicated he would prefer to travel to Dallas.
“I told them I wanted to sit in the same chair on the same set where Tracy Rowlett had his say,” the DA says.
The war in Waco, it would appear, has no cease-fire in sight.
LOOKING VERY MUCH like the ordained Baptist : minister he is, McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell rocks back in the padded leather chair behind his work-cluttered desk and looks out the window.