Judge John Miller and County Attorney Val Varley are locked in a neck-and-neck race to see who qualifies as the most bizarre public official in the great state of Texas. Since a subscription is required, I have copied the story from the Texarkana Gazette that updates an important story from Red River County.
Miller is the judge who was recently recused after going to war with the state Attorney General’s Office. Varley is the prosecutor who accused a Texas attorney and his wife of a heinous crime on the uncorroborated word of an emotionally disturbed woman with a checkered past. Since the finish line in the Varley-Miller race is the lip of a yawning precipice (think of James Dean and “Buzz” in Rebel without a Cause), there can be no winner and Red River County justice is the clear loser.
Incredibly, prosecutor Val Varley spent a quarter-million dollars prosecuting Mark and Rhonda Lesher without conducting a single interview with the couple. By the time the Leshers where acquitted by a Collin County jury in January of 2009, it was clear to any objective observer that Shannon Coyel, Varley’s star witness, had perjured herself every time she opened her mouth. Her story of being drugged and raped weren’t just off-the-wall, they were demonstrably false. Although Coyel was eventually charged with misdemeanor perjury in Red River County, Varley still hasn’t investigated the incident (more on this below).
You will remember Val Varley as the gung-ho prosecutor who showed up at a bogus drug bust sporting a flak jacket and waving an automatic rifle. This cameo appearance made him a potential fact witness in the case and led to his recusal. The Attorney General’s office took over the prosecution and, after a careful review of the facts, negotiated a plea agreement with a single defendant and filed motions to dismiss charges against half a dozen clearly innocent people. Judge Miller refused to sign off on the deal until brothers Mark and Vergil Richardson agreed to drop their civil suit against a host of Red River County officials. Miller’s actions aren’t just irresponsible, they may be criminal.
Now 6th District Judge Eric Clifford has appointed Paris, Texas, attorney Barney Sawyer to assess the severity of the perjury charges against Shannon Coyel. My gut tells me that Ms. Coyel’s testimony was coerced by her husband Jerry (one of the wealthiest men in Red River County) and County Attorney Val Varley. It appears likely that the lies Ms. Coyel told at trial were initially sold to two sets of grand jurors. Attorneys representing the Leshers have obtained judicial permission to depose members of both grand juries.
Not surprisingly, Mark and Rhonda Lesher have accused Mr. Varley of conducting a vindictive prosecution.
This is a cautionary tale that shows how easily the unfettered power of the American prosecutor can be abused and how difficult it can be to remedy the damage. You haven’t heard the end of this one.
Perjury charges may rise
Special prosecutor named to study accuser in Lesher case
Lynn LaRowe – Texarkana Gazette -Published: 09/14/2010
CLARKSVILLE, Texas—A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate possible perjury by a woman who accused area attorney Mark Lesher and his wife of raping her in 2007.
Mark and Rhonda Lesher and Robert “Red” McCarver were acquitted by a jury in Collin County last year of aggravated sexual assault. Their accuser, Shannon Coyel of Clarksville, faces a charge of misdemeanor perjury in Collin County, where the trial was held because of pretrial publicity.
Friday, 6th District Judge Eric Clifford, who serves Red River and Lamar counties, appointed Paris, Texas, attorney Barney Sawyer to determine whether Shannon Coyel lied when she testified before the two Red River County grand juries that indicted the Leshers and McCarver in 2008.
“Red River County spent a lot of money, probably $250,000, prosecuting that case,” Clifford said. “It needs looking into.”
Clifford added that the pending perjury charge in Collin County, coupled with a recent ruling in a civil, malicious prosecution action connected to the criminal case, made his order appointing a special prosecutor necessary as well.
“Obviously we’re pleased. It appears an investigation is going to be conducted that should have been conducted immediately after our trial,” Mark Lesher said. “Val Varley should have done this.”
The Leshers and McCarver were twice indicted by Red River County grand juries. The first round of indictments for sexual assault were legally flawed and tossed out. A second grand jury indicted the Leshers and McCarver for aggravated sexual assault.
The Leshers have criticized Red River County District Attorney Val Varley for failing to conduct a thorough investigation before bringing Coyel before a grand jury to testify. The Leshers were never interviewed by law enforcement and were not given the opportunity to appear before either of the grand juries that indicted them.
Following their January 2009 acquittal in Collin County, the Leshers filed a malicious prosecution suit in Collin County naming Shannon Coyel, her husband, Jerry Coyel, and Varley as defendants.
Recently the presiding judge granted a motion by the Leshers’ attorney to lift the veil of secrecy typically attached to grand jury proceedings. That means the Leshers’ attorney, William Demond of Austin, can formally question them about Coyel’s testimony before the grand jury.
Jerry Luther, foreman of the second grand jury to indict the Leshers, signed an affidavit expressing concerns with Shannon Coyel’s grand jury testimony.
“I was a little bit embarrassed for indicting the Leshers and I felt that we had been lied to,” Luther’s affidavit states.
The depositions of the grand jurors who indicted the Leshers could prove helpful to the special prosecutor in determining whether Shannon Coyel should face perjury charges in Red River County.