County D.A. Travis Ware's Reign
of Error and Terror
by Jay B. Van Story
February 10, 2005
In August 1991, Bill Hubbard was assigned to the identification section of the Lubbock, Texas Police Department. He inherited a complaint folder about Lubbock County Forensic Pathologist Dr. Ralph Erdmann.
|It was rumored that whatever powerful Lubbock County Criminal
District Attorney Travis Ware wanted from Dr. Erdmann, Ware got. Prosecutors
provided the findings, the testimony, and their theories of a case to a
jury, and Erdmann's autopsy reports and additional testimony made the pieces
of the case fit perfectly. Maybe a little too perfectly.
Red flags were first raised about the connection when an assistant prosecutor in Ware's office hit and killed a pedestrian, Darlene Hall, while the prosecutor was driving drunk. Officer Pat Kelly attended the autopsy of Hall, which was performed by Erdmann. Erdmann commented to Kelly that there was no strong odor of alcohol, adding that there probably would be if Hall had been drunk. No blood was taken from the body for testing, according to Kelly.
However, after conferring with Ware, Erdmann later contended that Hall had a high concentration of alcohol in her blood. Kelly strongly suspected that Ware, or someone in his office, had instructed Erdmann to fabricate this information in order to minimize the drunken prosecutor's civil and criminal liability, and save the D.A.'s office embarrassment. Ware's office had been trying to direct the investigation from the outset.
Dr. Ralph Erdmann would come to have a detrimental effect on many cases in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His sloppiness, incompetence and apparent falsifications were not only tolerated by Ware's office, but apparently encouraged. As a result, guilty people went free, and innocent people went to jail.
As Bill Hubbard became more and more concerned about Erdmann's shortcomings, Ware finally agreed to meet with him and his chain of command on February 5, 1992 to discuss the problem. Ware loved to lecture cops and he always did it from a mindset of superiority. The February 5th meeting was no exception. For fifteen minutes Ware went on and on extolling the supposed virtues of Dr. Erdmann. They heard over and over about how hardworking Erdmann was and how he was “one hell of a witness who has gotten us some great convictions.” With what Hubbard had learned about Erdmann, he had no doubt that was indeed the case. Erdmann was putty in a prosecutor's hands.
At the end of the meeting, Ware asked the cops to keep quiet about the meeting. "If we don't, the defense attorneys will have a field day," Ware said.
Hubbard sensed then that truth and doing the right thing were not nearly as important to Ware as avoiding anything that might reflect poorly on him or his office.
In April 1992, Hubbard was scheduled to testify at a capital murder hearing in Canyon, Texas. The night before, Ware tried to influence and direct Hubbard's testimony in an effort to cover-up Erdmann's misdeeds and Ware's part in them. Hubbard felt this was another sign Ware was not concerned with the truth nearly as much as protecting his image and his career.
At the Canyon hearing, Hubbard courageously testified about Erdmann's incompetence and fraud, and Ware's involvement in it. News or Hubbard's testimony was the number one story on all three network television stations in Lubbock.
The day after Hubbard's revealing testimony, Ware met with police chief Don Bridgers and police captain Frank Wiley. Ware tried to "refresh" Wiley's memory about what had occurred at the February 5th meeting. Ware's "recollection" didn't mesh with Wiley's. Ware asked Bridgers to participate in a joint press conference to announce that no cover-up had occurred. Bridgers declined.
Frustrated, Ware's next move was to go to Hubbard's other superiors and ask for sworn, notarized statements refuting Hubbard's testimony in Canyon and stating that no cover-up had been attempted by Ware. There were no takers. Meanwhile, Ware, his first assistant Rebecca Atchley, and her husband Randy began secretly planning to have Hubbard indicted. Randy Atchley was a police officer who once worked with Hubbard, and he had an axe to grind. He hadn't gotten along with Hubbard, who could be blunt and strident at times.
Around this time, an investigator in Ware's office, Carrie McClain, told of how Travis Ware had called her into his office, launched into a tirade against Hubbard, and threw grisly and explicit photos of homicide victims into McClain's lap, saying, “The people who do this sort of thing are the ones Bill Hubbard is trying to get off.” According to Ware, Erdmann wasn't the problem, Hubbard was. Ware used a particularly vulgar term ("motherf----r") to refer to Hubbard over and over. He said Hubbard had lied on the witness stand in several cases, and that Hubbard had psychological problems. He told McClain that he had gone to all of the county and district judges to warn them that Hubbard had no credibility. McClain knew none of this was true. It was a transparent and deceitful attempt by Ware to discredit Hubbard. McClain was very upset that Ware would slander her good friend Hubbard in such a manner. She knew Hubbard was nothing like Ware had described.
By this time, dozens of cases in Ware's office were being brought into question and were in danger of being overturned, and Dr. Erdmann was under indictment or being investigated in several counties for criminal violations.
It was learned that a man had been wrongfully jailed on child abuse charges because of an autopsy Erdmann had performed on the man's infant son that accused the man of inflicting blunt force trauma on the child. An autopsy by another pathologist showed the child had died of accidental drowning. The father was released from jail. The tragic loss of a child because of an accident had been turned into a double tragedy for the wrongly accused, father. He was eventually awarded $15,000 for the months of false imprisonment he had endured before the truth came out.
On November 10, 1988, the court of appeals overturned the murder conviction of Zane Lee Ham. His conviction had been based largely on the testimony of Erdmann, who had told the jury that: the injuries to the child victim had been inflicted fifty-five hours before her death. Other forensic experts later stated that to pinpoint the injuries to the hour was “medical nonsense.” The only way Erdmann could have given such false testimony would have been if Ware or Atchley had told Erdmann exactly what to say, since the “fifty- five hour” testimony so perfectly fit with the prosecution's theory that the victim was in the sole custody of Ham at the time the injuries were received. Ware and Atchley regularly fed Erdmann the false testimony they needed to get convictions.
Ware continued to try and discredit and silence Hubbard. He told Lubbock City Manager Larry Cunningham that if he did not “do something about Hubbard,” he and Rebecca Atchley would get Hubbard indicted. Ware told Cunningham that if he told anyone about this, he “would know where it came from,” implying that Cunningham would be next to be indicted. However, Cunningham refused to get involved in Ware and Atchley's scheme against Hubbard.
Lubbock Police Detective Ronnie Goolsby made the mistake of questioning a suspect about a prior federal investigation of Ware's alleged cocaine use and dealings. The next day, Goolsby found himself barricaded in the D.A.’s office. Along with Ware, he faced Rebecca Atchley. Ware repeatedly called Hubbard a “motherf----r” when referring to him. Ware told Goolsby that Hubbard was "about to be indicted" and that Goolsby was coming precariously close to going along with him.
Lubbock County's new forensic pathologist, Dr. Jody Nielsen, got a call from Ware. He wanted her to meet with Rebecca Atchley about the "problems with Hubbard." Dr. Nielsen said she got the feeling that anyone who crossed Ware could wind up in jail. On October 22, 1992, she resigned. She said there were problems in Lubbock she wanted no part of.
One day later, an investigator in Ware's office resigned, named Carrie McClain. She said, “I'm willing to flip hamburgers to get away from Travis Ware and his office. I'm leaving because of the lack of honesty and integrity in the criminal district attorney's office.” In retaliation, Ware accused McClain of theft. This was later proven to be untrue.
Ware arranged a plea bargain for Dr. Ralph Erdmann. This was very advantageous for Ware. It kept his name from being dragged into the Erdmann mess in court. Rod Hobson, the president of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyer's Association, lashed out, "It's outrageous and suspicious that a matter of this importance to the integrity of the judicial system is being settled behind closed doors."
One of Hubbard's attorneys said, "Travis Ware has gone too far this time. If he can do this to you and get away with it, who's going to be next?" The public took notice of Ware's misconduct, as well. A college student went so far as to have buttons produced urging people to "IMPEACH TRAVIS WARE." They caught on like wildfire. A poll conducted by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper asked the question, "Is the Criminal District Attorney's office operating effectively and ethically under Travis Ware?" The results were: Yes 31%, No 69%.
Reports filtered in about Ware flashing an Uzi full-automatic machine gun at a television station conference, and threatening and intimidating reporters who wrote stories that displeased Ware.
Hubbard's defense team and Ware's critics began being attacked. Attorney Denette Vaughn's home was burglarized five times in a row. Attorney Dan Hurley's tires were slashed. A shotgun blast rang out under the bedroom window of Rod Hobson late one night, and small dead animals were found piled up under his young daughter's bedroom window. This sick behavior appeared to be more than mere coincidence. It was all front page news in Lubbock.
Hubbard and his wife ran into Travis Ware's former wife and her parents at a social function. “I'm so glad we ran into you,” the ex Mrs. Ware told them. “Ever since I heard what happened to you, I have wanted to let you know some things. You have got to understand that you are in very grave physical danger. Travis Ware has surrounded himself with people who know people who will do anything for him. I mean anything!” Hubbard later told his wife, when they got home, “You’d think I crossed the Mafia!”
Around this time, another Lubbock police officer was indicted, this time for alleged perjury. Officer Pat Kelly had testified that Dr. Erdmann had changed his statement about the intoxication of Darlene Hall, the woman who had been hit and killed by one of Ware's drunken assistant prosecutors.
Kelly testified that he believed Ware or someone in his office had been behind the change in Erdmann's statement. He had evidence of a clandestine meeting between Ware, Erdmann and others to effect the desired change.
Once Ware found out about Kelly’s testimony, Ware retaliated by persuading a justice of the peace’s secretary to provide an affidavit contradicting Kelly, in exchange for the promise of a job in Ware's office. It would later be shown that Ware had coaxed false testimony from the secretary to get a perjury indictment against an honest police officer.
Millard Farmer, a well-known and highly respected Atlanta defense attorney, was next to be indicted. Farmer made the mistake of asking someone to encourage Erdmann tell the truth. Ware arranged to have Farmer indicted for allegedly tampering with a witness.
"If the United States Justice Department were investigating these indictments, they would look at the racketeering statute to stop them," said Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association. "It's an awful precedent and an outrageous abuse of state power. The idea that a prosecutor has the hunting license to pick off witnesses because he doesn't like their testimony is an outrage. It's absolutely criminal what's taking place in Texas."
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal fueled the fire with a December 9, 1992 editorial which referred to the "pall of public suspicion, mistrust, and in many cases, sharp hostility" that had fallen over the operation of Ware's office. It said that somewhere along the way of being relentless in the prosecution of criminals, Ware had taken on "the appearance of an excess in relentless, period."
Gerald Goldstein, a prominent San Antonio attorney, joined Hubbard's legal team. He told Hubbard, "I believe the charges were brought in bad faith, for the purpose of retaliation against you. I want to invoke RICO." Into Hubbard's mind jumped images of the Mafia and gangsters.
Attorneys from across the nation volunteered their services in the law suit against Ware. There was Jed Stone from Chicago, J. Mark Lane from New York, and Richard "Racehorse" Haynes from Houston, to name three.
Lubbock City Manager Larry Cunningham chanced upon Hubbard at the local mall on December 17, 1992. Cunningham told Hubbard, "In all my years in public service, Travis Ware is the meanest, most vindictive man I have ever met. "
Lubbock's leading Hispanic newspaper, El Editor, called for Ware's resignation. An editorial explained that, "it remains that not only [Ware's] integrity but also his moral character and capability to represent people in our county must also be questioned." Travis Ware's lying and instigating of lying of witnesses is documented by many newspaper articles printed not only in this newspaper, but also in the Dallas Morning News and the New York Times." The paper said that Ware's abuses of power were "evident," "countless," and "documented." After weighing integrity, moral character and credibility, the article concluded that Ware had lost the ability to represent the citizens of Lubbock and therefore must resign.
A court hearing in the RICO lawsuit against Ware and others began on February 16, 1993. Larry Cunningham was the first witness called. He testified at length about Ware's attempts to get him to go after Hubbard.
When Rebecca Atchley testified, Hubbard thought to himself that just looking at her sent chills up his spine. Atchley was asked about the Zane Lee Ham case, in which the court of appeals had chastised the prosecution for using false testimony. She was asked why the D.A.'s office continued to use Dr. Erdmann's testimony for five more years after that, in numerous other cases. Atchley didn't have an answer.
During a recess, Atchley was found in the women's restroom with her ear pressed to the wall, in an attempt to eavesdrop on strategy meetings between Hubbard and his attorneys in an adjoining conference room. Goldstein remarked, "They've done wrong, they're caught, and they know it. I guess they feel they have to try to do something to win, even if it's listening through bathroom walls."
On March 4, 1993, Judge Robinson issued preliminary injunctions to prevent any further prosecution of Hubbard, Kelly or Farmer. Judge Robinson ruled: "Plaintiffs have offered substantial evidence that the prosecutions were brought in bad faith and for the purposes of retaliation against the Plaintiffs for the exercise of their constitutional rights."
By March 12, 1993, picketers were out in front of the courthouse, demanding Ware's resignation. The Friday picketing would continue for months. By December 1993, they were still at it, and Ware still hadn't resigned.
In April, Ware and his co-conspirators finally gave up and settled the lawsuit for $300,000 and the promise to not pursue any further prosecutions against Hubbard, Kelly, or Farmer. Ware was resoundingly defeated by attorney Bill Sowder in the 1994 election. He refused to call Mr. Sowder to offer his congratulations, as is customary for a defeated incumbent. But then, Ware had never been graceful in defeat. He is now in private practice. Atchley is now an insurance attorney.
Bill Hubbard reflected: “Things have changed for me after I sat on the other side of the table. I've lived the nightmare of being wrongfully indicted and charged, of being wrongly dragged into ‘The System.’ That has changed my attitude toward others accused of crime. Now, as I go about my law enforcement duties day in and day out, I am much more cautious in evaluating evidence before I ask that a criminal charge be brought against an individual.”
I was also maliciously prosecuted by Ware and Atchley in the late 1980s, when their use of false testimony was in full swing, and they still had the public believing they were honest prosecutors.
Unlike Hubbard, I didn't have a team of tough, smart lawyers. I had no choice but to try my best to defend myself. On the first day of my August 1989 trial, the alleged victim totally recanted the allegation that I had sexually assaulted her. She testified that Ware, Atchley and others had made her believe she had to falsely testify against me in order for her to be able to go home.
Little did I know at the time that I had inadvertently blown the lid off the rampant corruption within Ware's office. His reaction was swift and thorough. He suddenly became intricately involved in my case. Right after Anders recanted, Ware entered the courtroom during a recess and quietly conferred with lead prosecutor Rebecca Atchley. My stand-by attorney remarked that it became political at that point.
Please see my article, "It's a Sad Day When An Innocent Man Is Illegally Convicted" for the full account.
Ware and Atchley maliciously retaliated against me just as they did against Hubbard, Kelly and Farmer. If I had been acquitted on the basis of my defense that they had deliberately used false testimony to get me convicted, it would have brought all of their previous cases into question.
Their prosecutorial careers would have been over. So they forced a little girl (A.C.) to go back to lying, under the threat of being ripped apart from her mother forever. A.C. and I were disposable to them in their quest for a win. By deceiving a jury into illegally convicting me through false testimony, Ware and Atchley were able to hide their wide-ranging conspiracy for a few more years.
The Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston has completed a thorough investigation of my case. Everything clearly points toward my innocence in this case. Ware and Atchley's egregious misconduct has been laid bare. The question now is, how many others have been maliciously prosecuted by Ware and Atchley? Is there a continuing cover-up that is keeping me from being released from my false imprisonment?
This article contains excerpts
and quotes from Bill Hubbard's book, "Substantial Evidence: A Whistleblower's
True Tale of Corruption, Death and Justice," New Horizon Press, ISBN: 0-88282-160-1,
©1998, available at amazon.com.
views and opinions expressed on this site are not necessarily
those of the IIAO, however, wrongful conviction and
imprisonment are quite obvious.
©2005 IIAO Inc.