by Barbara A. Taft, President
People of the Heart
Gary Cobb, one of the perpetrators of the travesty launched against an innocent child, LaCresha Murray, in 1996, has been eliminated from the race for District Attorney. Rosemary Lehmberg, however, still holds a smoking gun. In the interest of changing the guard and securing perhaps a more just, merciful and law-abiding person in the office of Travis County District Attorney, I offer the following.
In 1996, Rosemary Lehmberg and Gary Cobb filed capital murder charges against an 11-year-old, with no physical, eye witness or forensic evidence physically linking either the home or anyone there with the numerous injuries suffered by a deceased two and a half year old. Lehmberg, Cobb and/or their subordinates assisted three seasoned APD detectives assigned to the case by advising them in circumventing the Magistrate Law, which demands that a child in police custody, before a statement is taken, be presented to a judge, who explains the ramifications of talking to the police and generally assigns an attorney. Based on advice received from the D.A.’s office, the detectives arranged for Child Protective Service (CPS) to leave this child alone in an empty building on CPS’ campus to be “found” by the detectives, thereby eliminating any charge that she was in police custody and, in effect, waiving her rights under the Magistrate law.
No evidence, no confession, no case. Desperate, the detectives interrogated the 11-year-old for three hours, continually suggesting a scenario to explain the baby’s injuries, badgering and bullying her, pounding on the table, threatening her grandparents, threatening her with incarceration, a child without an attorney, parent or advocate of any kind, a child who hadn’t spoken with a family member for five days. 39 times Murray denied any knowledge of the baby’s injuries. They frightened her into signing a statement manufactured and typed on site by the detectives, a statement that failed to explain the injuries; that she couldn’t read, that she was “forced” to sign.
Because they used an illegally obtained statement from a child, because the circumstances indicated it may have been coerced, the conviction was reversed for the second time by the 3rd Court of Appeals. In using that statement, Cobb and Lehmberg knowingly sanctioned breaking the law and exploiting the ignorance, fear and youth of a child in lieu of real evidence in order to get their indictment, a conviction and a sentence of 25 years; however, like so many lawbreakers, they left behind evidence of their crime – the interrogation tape, memoranda from the D.A.’s office regarding the question of police custody and the courtroom testimony of the homicide detectives, more than willing to pass the buck for illegally obtaining a statement to the district attorneys on the case.
Further, Lehmberg and Cobb failed to pursue the truth of what happened to Baby Jayla. Available evidence indicated she had been injured 12 to 14 hours before her death, but neither the D.A. nor APD ever went to the baby’s home to investigate. They ignored apparent old injuries and that Baby Jayla was “off the charts” in size and weight; but a child abuse case would not have garnered the state and nationwide headlines Earle secured with a child-killer case during a hotly contested re-election campaign.
How many other children have been wrongfully imprisoned, children who didn’t happen to have a champion as did Murray, a champion who, thanks to the grace of God, got the attention of the New York Times and 60 Minutes? Two months after 60 Minutes aired “Juvenile Injustice?” Murray was home and the Texas legislature had moved to close the loophole Cobb and Lehmberg used to incarcerate an innocent child, a loophole which for Murray resulted in three excruciating, damaging years in prison and two more years threatened with prosecution and
hounded by the press.
If we cannot depend on our prosecutors to exercise some caution, perhaps a little mercy before consigning a child to the justice system, to wrongful prosecution; if we cannot depend on them to pursue the real perpetrators and not the expedient or convenient scapegoat, what kind of society are we preparing for other children as they reach adulthood? Rosemary Lehmberg failed to exercise due diligence, acted to circumvent Texas law and in so doing caused irreparable damage to a very young child and her family. At the very least, she should not be District Attorney.
For more information on this case, including a transcript of the Interrogation of LaCresha Murray, see www.peopleoftheheart.org.