DA Watkins: "Justice at Its Best"
This week's Observer cover story on DNA exonerations will be available shortly, but recent news about the case of Clay Chabot proves that these revelations of dubious convictions are just going to keep on coming. And, as District Attorney Craig Watkins points out, it shows that -- despite naysayers’ criticism that he was an inexperienced defense attorney and unprepared for the job -- Dallas voters made the right decision when they elected him.
It also shows that Watkins made the right decision in requesting funds from the Dallas County Commissioners Court to set up a special squad called the Convictions Integrity Unit and hire a top-notch attorney with 23 years of private criminal defense experience, Mike Ware, to head it. Ware, who is an assistant professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law and director of the school’s Innocence Project, has been on the job all of two weeks.
A jury gave Clay Reed Chabot life in prison for the 1986 murder of Galua Crosby in Garland after his co-defendant, Gerald Edmond Pabst, testified against him. It was a gruesome attack. Crosby, in her 20s, was trussed up, sexually assaulted and shot three times in the head. Chabot has long maintained his innocence. His 2001 plea for a post-conviction DNA test through the Innocence Project was finally approved by a judge on December 26, 2005. Criminal defense attorney Bruce Anton was appointed to file the writ required to get a test considered. The results, released in June, have implicated Pabst, now 55.
The Texas Rangers, working with the Ohio Bureau of Investigations, found and arrested Pabst at a bar near Geneva, Ohio. Pabst has waived extradition and was brought to Dallas yesterday.
Ware supervised the presentation of the DNA results to a grand jury on July 27. The grand jury wasted no time in returning an indictment of Pabst.
What it means for Chabot is unclear.
“We’re not prepared to agree that Clay Chabot had no involvement in the murder or sexual assault,” Ware tells Unfair Park. “We’re still investigating what his role may have been. There’s other evidence other than Pabst’s testimony, although Pabst’s testimony was the main evidence against him.”
Pabst was the first man looked at for the murder but he was released shortly after his arrest when he told police he had no involvement.
“Mr. Chabot was indicted based on information Pabst gave to the police,” says Ware. “Pabst was also indicted shortly before Mr. Chabot’s trial. Pabst testified for the state, saying he was there at the residence when the murder took place and that they’d gone there together in Pabst’s car. He admitted that he helped tie the victim’s legs. But he claimed not to have any direct involvement with the actual shooting or sexual assault and that Mr. Chabot was responsible for that.”
Pabst testified that he had made no deal with prosecutor Janice Warder, who later become a judge, and that he had no expectation of a deal in return for his testimony against his brother-in-law. But the following week his murder charge was dismissed and Pabst pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft for stealing Croby's radio.
What this means for Chabot is unclear. “Ultimately a judge will make that determination,” says Ware. “There’s no evidence of Mr. Chabot’s DNA in the sex assault. The only DNA connected to the assault was Mr. Pabst. We’re still in the investigation of his involvement. A judge may determine he’s entitled to a new trial. The DA’s office hasn’t finished making a decision as to what our stance is going to be.”
Ware says the gun used in the murder was in Chabot's custody, who testified that Pabst borrowed it and returned it to him the afternoon of the murder. Physical evidence linked the murder to that gun.
“We had received so much criticism when we requested this special unit,” Watkins tells Unfair Park. “Even if you go back to the campaign, they made the issue that I was a defense attorney, too young and inexperienced, that I didn’t know what I was doing. Based on what we are doing to bring credibility to the system, I think I was prepared. It was a change we needed in Dallas County. A lot of people thought it should be left to defense attorneys. We went and found the guy who allegedly committed this crime. That’s justice at its best.” --Glenna Whitley