Killer bikers could still be walking free in Waco, Texas, according to the county’s top prosecutor.
McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson on Tuesday dropped all remaining charges related to the biker shooting in 2015 that left nine men dead and another 20 injured. Johnson told The Daily Beast he dropped the charges against 24 people because he claims his predecessor botched the case. As a result, he said, some people who may be responsible for murder may never face justice.
On May 17, 2015, a gun battle broke out between members of the Cossacks and Bandidos motorcycle clubs at a Twin Peaks restaurant at a quiet outdoor shopping mall. The bedlam ended in seconds, and—with bodies piled in the parking lot—then-District Attorney Abel Reyna arrived on the scene and began working with police to round up the more than 200 motorcyclists who were being held at gunpoint by officers.
Most were arrested and sent to jail on identical charges of engaging in organized criminal activity. A grand jury indicted 155 of those people, but only one man, Bandidos Dallas County chapter president Jacob Carrizal, was tried. Carrizal’s six-week trial ended in a mistrial in November 2017. Johnson said the trial that failed to convict Carrizal cost the county $1.5 million.
After Carrizal’s mistrial, Reyna dropped all but 24 of the bikers’ charges.
“They were trying to get the whole group on a conspiracy theory,” Johnson told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “They spent a lot of resources trying to go that route. That’s the train that they got on.”
Johnson listed several charges that may have been successfully pursued by Reyna, including aggravated assault, attempted murder, and felony with a deadly weapon. But the statutes of limitations on those charges have expired, he said.
“In my opinion, had this action been taken in a timely manner, it would have, and should have, resulted in numerous convictions and prison sentences against many of those who participated in the Twin Peaks brawl,” Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday. “Over the next three years the prior district attorney failed to take that action, for reasons that I do not know to this day.”
As it stands, some of the shooters may be walking free.
Preliminary autopsy reports showed that four of the bikers were killed by three police officers. The Waco Police Department, Texas Rangers, and a McLennan County grand jury cleared the officers of any wrongdoing last year.
Unfortunately, Johnson said authorities don’t know exactly who killed the other five men.
“There still may be some open murder cases that may develop down the road, but that’s probably unlikely,” Johnson acknowledged.
“We were not able to meet our burden by putting a gun in the hand of whoever it was that shot and killed those other five people,” he said. “We just weren’t able to meet our burden to prove a murder.”
“You just had 25 officers and over 200 combatants in basically a war zone when the police got there,” he explained.
“We watched those videos hundreds of times,” Johnson continued. “It was just my opinion that it was going to end up being another two to three years worth of trials back to back and it was not the right decision to go down that road.”
Reyna declined to respond to specific questions but provided a statement to The Daily Beast on Wednesday: “I absolutely disagree with the overall result as well as several statements and accusations within Mr. Johnson’s press release; however, it is solely his decision on how to proceed with any case in the District Attorney’s Office. I respect the fact that the voters of McLennan County chose Mr. Johnson to make these types of decisions.”
Meanwhile, the bikers’ defense attorneys threw their hands up in collective relief on Wednesday, pointing the blame squarely at Reyna for arresting innocent people and letting potential murderers go free.
“I don’t think we can conclude who shot who,” said San Antonio attorney Alfonso Cabanas, whose client’s case was dismissed in May 2018. “I don’t think we’re ever going to find out.”
“The case was tainted the minute that Abel Reyna stuck himself into the process at the scene and started telling people what to do, arresting everyone,” said Cabanas. “The only people who should have been arrested are the shooters themselves. Not just the people there drinking iced tea, like my clients.”
Houston lawyer Paul Looney claimed “the case was dead before Johnson ever got elected.”
“He just didn’t have a chance,” Looney added.
“We have 177 people whose lives were just utterly devastated,” Looney continued. “There’s no winner whenever the law is manipulated that badly.”
Dallas attorney Clint Broden, meanwhile, called the prosecution “a clusterfuck.”
“It fell apart because they charged too many people and tried to create a false narrative,” said Broden, who at one point represented five defendants involved in the case. “When the false narrative—that bikers were out to get Waco residents—was exposed, it was too difficult to convince people that the prosecution was in good faith. You had a hard time sorting the guilty from the not guilty at that point.”
“A lot of people’s lives were ruined because they were innocent, but a lot of people did die,” said Broden. “There are victims and victims’ families who are being denied closure. The mess that was created prevented anyone who was guilty from being prosecuted. There’s enough injustice to go around on both sides of this.”
Seth Sutton, who was the first attorney hired after the shooting, said his client, Bandido and Marine veteran Jeffrey Lee Battey, was “vilified by the courts, by the prosecution.”
“And every biker here paid the price for the false narrative,” said Sutton. “They were so treated like cardboard cutout monsters and villains.”
“The motorcycle culture is a tight-knit group; it’s a family,” Sutton added. “He’s a real victim here at the hands of the state.”
More than 130 of the bikers have filed civil rights lawsuits against Reyna, the city of Waco, McLennan County, and officers who were involved in the arrests.
Even Judge Ralph Strother, who presided over dozens of hearings on the case, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that he was glad to be done with it.
“No matter what perspective you view this episode from, it leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth,” Strother said.