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Why the Waco Biker Shootout Prosecutions Flopped

Nearly seven years after a wild shootout at a gathering of bikers in Waco, Tx., killed nine and wounded 20 others, not one of the 177 arrests has produced a criminal conviction thanks to missteps by the police and prosecutors, The New York Times Magazine reports. In a lengthy examination of what led to the melee and the legal machinations in its wake, the magazine found that McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna and his staff used boilerplate affidavits to make mass arrests on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity, a gang-prosecution tool that tied all the bikers present at the scene to a conspiracy to commit murder or aggravated assault. One defense lawyer called the approach farcical. “Justice is individualized,” Paul Looney said. “There’s no class-action prosecution.”


The shootout erupted at a May 2015 meeting of the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents, a normally low-key gathering of a coalition of motorcyclists who lobby state government over policies like helmet laws. But this meeting, at a chain restaurant called Twin Peaks, was preceded by rumblings of an escalating feud between two of the state's biggest outlaw motorcycle clubs, the Cossacks and the Bandidos. The first biker's case to go to trial, ending in a mistrial, featured ambiguous evidence of guilt of an actual crime. At the same time, the DA was under attack in civil lawsuits alleging he had financial and political incentives to prosecute the cases that should disqualify him. Reyna's response was to dismiss cases in which his disqualification was sought. There were problems with the evidence, too. The chaotic nature of the shootout made singling out particular shooters difficult. A further complication is Texas' permissive gun laws and "stand your ground" law, all of which gave defense lawyers ammunition to neuter evidence of gun-carrying and use at the shootout.

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