Judgement of Acquittal by Jury – Attorney Brett Harrison
Hard work and preparation led to a great result for our client. After a week-long trial a jury returned not guilty verdict in this serious felony charge. We are so happy for our client who has been living under this black cloud for almost a year and a half.
By Buck Files
After 44 months as a Marine and 158 weeks as a prosecutor for Smith County, I became a Texas criminal defense lawyer on September 15, 1970, at the age of 32. Three months later, Christmas was approaching and the Vietnam war was escalating. By the end of the year, there would be 184,314 American troops in country and 1,928 Americans would have died there. Memories of the Christmas Day that I spent in Vietnam in 1965 were still fresh in my mind – as they are even today.
We lawyers had our living tents, office tents and a courtroom tent on the side of Hill 323 near Danang. The monsoon season was almost over, but the mud and dampness were always with us. Christmas morning was dreary and that matched my mood. Two of my best friends had just rotated back to the Land of the Big PX and I missed their camaraderie. Most importantly, though, was that I missed my wife, Robyn, and my parents. This was the first time that I had been away from family on a Christmas Day and I learned what loneliness during the holiday season was all about.
And so it was that I began a tradition in 1970 that has continued. Each Christmas Day, I go to the jails here in Tyler and visit with all of my clients – 33 is the record. Some of them will have other visitors; some will not. Most, if not all, will be surprised to see me. I spend enough time with each client for them to know that I understand what it is to be away from family and friends on Christmas Day and that I am concerned about each of them. Some will become serious and reflect on the changes they intend to make in their lives to avoid being in confinement next year. For others, there will be a quiet resignation that this is yet another Christmas to be locked up. Often, I listen more than I talk.
Over the years, I’ve had former clients tell me how pleased they were to see me on a Christmas Day and conversations with parents who expressed their appreciation for my visits with their sons or daughters. I know that most of us will be celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah or just relaxing with our families on December 25th this year and may not be enthusiastic about having a visitation with clients as I am suggesting. If you give it a try, though, you’ll understand why it has been so rewarding for me for 50 Christmases.
Buck Files joined the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment at Phu Bai, Vietnam, in June, 1965, and was one of the first Marine lawyers in country. In August, he prosecuted the first general court-martial convened by the Marine Corps in Vietnam at the old French compound in Danang and spent another eight months trying cases and providing legal assistance for the Marines of the 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions, FMF.
The Texas Lawyer Creed: Conduct Above Reproach
Buck Files and Kenda Culpepper discuss the history of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed.
To listen, click: Podcast Link
The Texas Lawyer’s Creed has been a source of aspirational guidance for Texas lawyers for the past thirty years, and when it was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2013, lawyers were reminded of its continued relevance. But how exactly did this document come to be, and how has it helped Texas lawyers? In this edition of the State Bar of Texas Podcast, host Rocky Dhir welcomes Buck Files and Kenda Culpepper to discuss the history of the creed and its aim to help lawyers conduct themselves with the highest degree of professionalism.
Kenda Culpepper is the Rockwall County criminal district attorney.
Buck Files practices law with the firm of Bain, Files, Jarrett and Harrison in Tyler, Texas.
July 2, 2019
By Brett Harrison
Congratulations to our client who will not be prosecuted! There is no substitute for laying the proper groundwork before cases are indicted…
June 27th, 2019
For the last 3 days, Buck Files and Brett Harrison have been involved in a Jury Trial in the 114th District Court in Smith County. We’re pleased that our attorneys were able to protect the rights of John Henry Thompson and the jury found him Not Guilty on the charge of Aggravated Assault with the a Deadly Weapon.
“This cause was called for trial in Smith County, Texas. ‘I’he State appeared by her District Attorney.
Defendant appeared in person with Counsel, Buck Files and Brett Harrison.
It appeared to the Court that Defendant was mentally competent and had pleaded as shown above to the charging instrument. Both parties announced ready for trial. A jury was selected, impaneled, and sworn. The INDICTMENT was read to the jury, and Defendant entered a plea of NOT GUILTY to the charged offense. The Court received the plea and entered it of record. The jury heard the evidence submitted and the argument of counsel.
The Court charged the jury as to its duty to determine the guilt or innocence of Defendant, and the jury retired to consider the evidence. Upon returning to open court, the jury delivered its verdict.
The Court received the jury’s verdict and ordered the verdict entered of record upon the minutes of the Court as follows:
“We, the Jury, find the defendant, JOHN THOMPSON, NOT GUILTY.”
The Court ORDERS, ADJUDGES, AND DECREES that Defendant is NOT GUILTY of the charged offense as FOUND BY THE VERDICT OF THE JURY. The Court FURTHER ORDERS Defendant immediately discharged.”
By LouAnna Campbell, Tyler Paper
A Smith County jury deliberated for about 5 1/2 hours and returned a unanimous decision in a sentencing hearing for a Lindale woman who killed two people on Toll 49.
Jessica Lauren Vass, 36, received a probated sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000 after pleading guilty to intoxication manslaughter in the 2017 deaths of Gary McCrary, 62, of Flint, and Annette Burkhart, 56, of Garland, who were working to change a flat tire on Toll 49, north of Texas Highway 64, in Smith County.
As a condition of her probation, Vass will serve 120 days in the Smith County Jail and the rest of her sentence with the Smith County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. She will have to pay the fine.
The jury was able to consider the deferred adjudication because Vass had no prior felony convictions.
“It was what we asked for,” said Vass’ defense attorney Brett Harrison. “We’re very happy for Jessica and equally happy that the victims’ family members were able to express closure and peace.”
Vass was emotional when 241st District Court Judge Jack Skeen announced her sentence Thursday.
Members of the McCrary and Burkhart families talked with Vass, cried with her and hugged her after court adjourned.
During victim impact statements, McCrary’s stepdaughters expressed their forgiveness and even asked Skeen if it was possible to get up and give Vass a hug.
They both asked Vass to continue telling her story in order to honor McCrary’s memory.
Burkhart’s daughter Jennifer Le read a statement she called a tribute to her mother. It focused on the things her mother is missing.
Le told Vass she wants to get to know her and her family because she is a part of her life now.
“The forgiveness was really something to see,” Harrison said. “This was a tragic event. Not everyone is happy, but I hope this gives them a tiny bit of relief.”
Burkhart’s son Matthew Burkhart told Vass he is not ready to forgive her.
“I feel lost and broken,” he said. “I’m distant to my wife and daughter. I want my mom back. I want to talk to her. I want my daughter to hear her laugh. She can’t do that and that is why I can’t forgive you right now.”
During closing statements, Smith County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Bullock told jurors they are voices of the community.
“Whatever sentence you render the system did what it was supposed to do,” Bullock said. “What we can ask of you is that you remember those victims, remember what happened to them. Remember their family members and who was left behind.”
Vass pleaded guilty Monday to the charges and elected to have a jury decide on her punishment. Testimony began Tuesday and ended Wednesday.
Vass faced up to 20 years in prison for the second-degree felony charges.