Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mad mouse dash to evade arrest, - lawyer tests jury

The panic of the pursuit, the fear of the cuffs

As the afternoon wore on, the jurors began to look more and more strained. The judge and the officers who testified had already passed that point.

A tall black man with a shaved head, the attorney representing Johnny Duffey in his third offense of evading arrest with a motor vehicle had belabored the point – every point – every step of the way.

It's up to prosecutors to prove that it was Mr. Duffey – and no one else - who drove his white Tahoe SUV at excessive speeds on a quick tour of north Waco to a fearsome collision with a brick column at a car wash on N. 19th St. after peeling out with a cloud of black smoke from his tires at a corner on 25th street following a half dozen quick turns and twists.

The jurors, a group of 7 men and 5 women who look like the kind of well-groomed and behaved people you would be proud to know anywhere you may go, glanced back and forth from ex-Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon to the defense table where Mr. Duffey sat. They seemed incredulous, but as the attorney began to question every observation, they became as annoyed as Judge Ralph Strother.

Ranger Cawthon, who is now employed by Texas Department of Criminal Justice and seconded to the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Warrants Task Force, said in his 27-year career, when a motorist begins to make turns from street to street and corner to corner, it usually means “to people in our business” that they know the cops are chasing them.

It's the kind of full flight or fight panic displayed when the hawk hovers or the house cat pounces.

Though he didn't see Mr. Duffey get out of the driver's side door at the scene of the wreck, he testified, he could plainly see that he had run headlong into an 8-foot chain link fence at the car wash as he ran away in a panic.

Officers of the Waco Police Department who were in hot pursuit certainly saw him.

But did he know for a fact that the heavy car had collided with the brick structure that houses a vacuum cleaner at the car wash?


“I have investigated many vehicle collisions as a Highway Patrolman and a Texas Ranger,” he said, trying hard to maintain the neutral affect of a law enforcement professional.

At one point, he said, with exasperation, “I don't have any idea what Mr. Duffey was thinking.”

In another exchange, he completely lost track of the question, its convoluted structure losing him in its twists and turns.

Judge Strother didn't have much better luck. It was something to the effect that “Whoever was driving, they didn't know who was driving. Correct?” When they got it right, he said, with a sigh, “I really can't speculate.”

“That's not the only white Tahoe in Waco, Texas, is it?”

“No, it is not,” Ranger Cawthon replied.

Why is it so important? As a previous offender, Mr. Duffey guaranteed he would be prosecuted for a third degree felony, and not an accused state jail felon. The enhancement makes the punishment range not less than 2 years in the penitentiary and no more than 10 years imprisonment.

Waco Police Officer Steve Anderson, who is attached to the fugitive warrant squad, too, and doubles as a public information officer, didn't see the car collide with the brick structure. But he knows it was the car who hit the structure. How? Thirty years experience, he said.

Why is it important?

Mr. Duffey is facing a drug charge and was wanted for parole violation when the task force came to his home at 3912 N. 22nd to pick him up.

Later, in the corridor outside the courtroom, the entire task force, most of them dressed in razor sharp dress blue uniforms of the police department, waited for their turn on the witness stand.

Ranger Cawthon and Officer Anderson recalled another suspect they apprehended on a warrant for theft, a man Officer Anderson says “Yeah, he was jicking. He was pretty wound up.”

The old boy just kept babbling from the back seat of the patrol car, hollering “This ain't for murder, is it? This ain't about no fire at a mobile home, is it?”

No one knew anything about a murder until a local arson investigator made it clear he is seeking answers to the man's whereabouts the night in February when a mother and her three kids were trapped in a mobile home on 19th Street in Bosqueville.

Neighbor kids were able to rescue one of her sons, a 3-year-old boy, but she and two others perished in the blaze, which was so intense it injured firefighters with first and second degree burns caused by heat and steam.

Some days, the dragon wins.

- The Legendary

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