FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A grand jury has now returned indictments alleging that 106 bikers arrested after a deadly shootout outside a Waco, Texas, restaurant were engaged in organized criminal activity. Nine people died and 20 were injured during the May 17 shootout between police and bikers outside a Twin Peaks restaurant, a conflict authorities say arose from an apparent confrontation between the Bandidos and the Cossacks motorcycle clubs.
Authorities rounded up 177 people at the time. Of the 106 indictments, nine were sealed because the defendants were not among the 177 and have not been arrested yet. Investigators have offered few details about what sparked the fight or how the gunfire played out. It remains unclear whose bullets struck those who died or were hurt.
Some questions and answers about where things stand:
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna has said the grand jury will return to consider charges against the other 71 bikers arrested on identical charges. The next grand jury session is scheduled for Nov. 18, but Reyna has declined to say whether the rest of the cases will be presented that day. “I have said all I am going to say about the Twin Peaks matter at this time,” Reyna said Wednesday.
WHAT DOES THE EVIDENCE SHOW?
Because grand jury proceedings are secret, it is not clear what evidence prosecutors presented. However, The Associated Press reviewed more than 8,800 pages of evidence related to the confrontation, including police reports, viewed dash-cam video and photos and listened to audio interviews, which together offer the best insight yet into how the shootout unfolded.
Dashboard video of the scene shows people fleeing as shots ring out. Audio reveals police threatening to shoot people if they rise from the ground and photos of bodies lying in pools of blood in the restaurant parking lot. The video shows one biker pointing a gun while others crouch behind restaurant tables and crawl on the floor to escape the gunfire.
More than 430 weapons were recovered from the crime scene, including 151 firearms.
WHAT IS THE PROSECUTION’S STRATEGY?
Prosecutors will likely be pushing for plea bargains, according to one legal expert not involved in the case. Sandra Guerra Thomson of the University of Houston Law Center said that’s at least partly because of the sheer number of cases in a small jurisdiction.
“I imagine that they’re going to try talking defense lawyers into negotiating pleas with a lot of these folks, and in so doing, line up folks to testify as witnesses,” she said. “If they’ve identified certain people as especially culpable, they’re going to start with the less culpable ones and try to get them to turn on the others.”
The penalty for engaging in organized criminal activity is 15 years to life imprisonment, according to the Texas Penal Code.
HOW HAVE DEFENSE ATTORNEYS RESPONDED?
Lawyer Robert Callahan, whose client William Aiken was among the 106 indicted so far, said the fact that defense attorneys have not received all of the evidence in the case, including ballistics analyses that might show who shot whom, violates the Michael Morton Act. The 2013 law says prosecutors must permit defense attorneys access to the discovery or produce the requested information “as soon as practicable after receiving a timely request from the defendant.”
“The level of secrecy is disturbing,” Callahan said.
However, the prosecution is not required to turn over evidence until thirty days after arraignment, according to Texas A&M University law professor Cynthia Alkon.
Reyna declined to respond to the criticism.
Attorney Mark Thiessen represents Marc Pilkington, who was the last person to be held in connection with the shooting and was released just last week after being held for more than five months. Thiessen said he plans to file a motion for discovery this week, adding that if prosecutors decide to try each person separately, “it’s going to be a logistical nightmare.”
Because of the publicity, many defendants could ask for a change of venue or for their cases to be severed from others, he said.