1985 War in Waco

 

by Carlton Stowers 1986

A year ago we reported on the investigation being conducted into allegations that McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell had, among other things, taken payoffs from lawyers in exchange for not prosecuting DWI and drug cases (“War In Waco,” October 1985). At the time, Feazell insisted that the joint investigation by the FBI, the Department of Public Safety, and the Waco Police Department was nothing more than a retaliatory measure prompted by his and Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox’s questioning of the hundreds of confessions taken from accused mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas. Many of the charges against Lucas unraveled and were eventually dropped, thus removing him as the handy, catch-all killer who could be blamed for every unsolved murder in the state.

Feazell also blasted a series of WFAA-Channel 8 reports that raised questions about his handling of specific cases. The outspoken DA accused Channel 8 of being involved with the investigating agencies and eventually filed a $34 million lawsuit against WFAA and reporter Charles Duncan. Feazell insisted that he had done nothing illegal. But he felt he would, in all likelihood, be indicted.

On September 16, he was. The twelve-count indictment charges Feazell with violation of the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and mail fraud.

As waiting television cameras (including those of Channel 8, which had arrived the night before) filmed the event, Feazell was surrounded, handcuffed, and escorted into his courthouse annex office. His attorney, Gary Richardson, a former Oklahoma federal prosecutor, says he has never seen an arrest conducted in such a manner.

Following his arrest, Feazell’s office, home, and automobiles were searched. Among the materials taken from his office, he says, were documents he had been gathering in preparation for his case against Channel 8.

The assault on Feazell has not let up since his arrest; if anything, it has intensified-and Feazell’s accusers seem determined to use any means at their disposal.

On September 25, the day before he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, an FBI inventory report was filed with the U.S. District Clerk’s office in Austin, stating that among the items found in the search of the Feazell home were syringes, none with needles, and a water pipe containing marijuana residue.

Berni Feazell, who was at home during the search, said one of the disposable syringes was taken from her four-year-old son’s toy box. A nurse in the office of Dr. Rat Pryor, a Waco physician, remembers giving the syringe to young Greg Fea-zell after administering a vaccination shot last April.

Another syringe was given to Mrs. Feazell by the family veterinarian to use in giving liquid medicine to a sick dog. “I suggested the need to get some liquids into the dog’s stomach, and gave Berni the syringe.” says Dr. Robert Barkley of the Barkley Animal Clinic in Waco. Additionally, federal agents removed a syringe from a gag plaque that had been given to Feazell during his prosecution of a capital murder case. Mounted on the wooden plaque were a horseshoe and the syringe, to rep-resent lethal injection.

The water pipe, Feazell told Channel 8, had been brought to him by a neighbor who had found it in his yard “two, maybe three years ago.” Feazell told the neighbor, E.B. Hawthorne, who died recently, that he would take it to his office and have it disposed of. “I forgot about it,” Feazell says. “But if I was smoking dope and aware that I was being investigated, don’t you think I would have known where that pipe was?”

Joyce Burleson, a bookkeeper in the offices of Dr. Richard Kleiman in Waco, says she recalls a visit by Hawthorne shortly after he found the pipe in his yard. ’”A bunch of kids had apparently had a party in the neighborhood the night before and he had found the pipe in his yard that morning. I asked him what he had done with the pipe and he said he had taken it to the district attorney.” Kathy Radle, a former insurance clerk in the office, recalls the same conversation.

There was no mention of drug use in the indictments against Feazell. On the day of his arraignment, however. Feazell voluntarily went to the McLennan County Adult Probation office and paid S30 to have a drug screen run. The test showed no evidence of marijuana, cocaine, or amphetamines.

The case against Feazell has taken strange twists. Reporters interviewed defendants involved in several of the DWI cases listed in the indictment, in which Fea-zell allegedly took payoff money from a Waco attorney. However, Virginia Shookman, James Kol-achek, and James Fauver, each charged with DWI, denied they had been asked to pay bribe money.

Kolachek said there was never any mention of Feazell or bribe payoffs in his conversations with his lawyer. He also said he was never questioned by the FBI or asked to appear before the federal grand jury investigating Feazell.

Though Feazell could face a maximum of ninety years in prison.and $560,000 in fines if convicted on all counts, he appears to have strong support in Waco. Recently, a local doctor conducted an informal poll, asking patients whether they favored Feazell or his GOP opponent, Paul Gartner, in the November election. The results: Feazell sixty-one, Gartner one.

 

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