A sexual assault case and two other felonies were unceremoniously dismissed last week against the former police chief of Lancaster ISD.
But nine years and five months after Keith Wilkerson was indicted, our review of the cases raises serious questions about why a Dallas County judge allowed them to drag on for so long in his court. That the allegations were of such a serious nature and levied against a longtime public official, then dismissed in a minutes-long hearing without explanation, makes this all the more serious.
Wilkerson, who has maintained his innocence, tells us “he’s lost all faith in the justice system.” We can see why.
In February 2013, Wilkerson was indicted on one charge of sex assault, allegedly involving a co-worker; one charge of official oppression apparently related to the first case; and a charge of insurance claim fraud, apparently involving a car accident. They were assigned to Criminal District Court No. 5 Judge Carter Thompson.
Although no details of the cases were released by then-Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, the indictments were widely reported by the news media, and Wilkerson, then 42, promptly lost his job as Lancaster ISD police chief after 11 years with the department.
In our review of the files, we learned that the case progressed at a slow but not unusual pace for the first year, and an initial jury trial was set for August 2014. But that trial never happened, and so began years of postponements.
Some of the initial delays could be attributed to shuffling attorneys on both sides. The original defense lawyer, Kevin Brooks, was hired in January 2015 by then-Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk. That meant that not only did Wilkerson need a new attorney, but Hawk recused her office.
Thompson appointed an outside attorney “pro tem” to represent the state. With all new lawyers, the cases effectively went back to square one, and once again the cases were passed month after month, mostly for “investigation” by attorneys for both sides.
In June 2015, Thompson appointed a new pro-tem attorney, Dallas lawyer Michael Todd, for reasons that aren’t clear from court files. After a second trial date in October 2016 was postponed, Wilkerson’s new defense lawyer withdrew as he took a job with the Travis County district attorney. His third attorney and Todd agreed on a third trial date for August 2017. That date was postponed until December 2017, then again to February 2018, with no explanation given in the files. Wilkerson’s third attorney then withdrew from the case, and two new defense attorneys were assigned.
At that point, things seemed not to just come to a standstill, but go in reverse. For 18 months, the cases were scheduled back to initial settings as if the indictments had just been handed up. A sixth trial date of October 2019 was finally set, then reset for February 2020 and again for May 2020. Then COVID-19 forced closure of the courthouse, and the case was put on hold indefinitely.
Court documents show that Todd and defense attorneys Lalon Peale and Paul Johnson agreed on a ninth trial setting for December 2021; then a 10th for February 2022 then an 11th in May 2022. No reason in the court files was given.
Peale and Johnson declined to comment.
Frustrated with the delays, Wilkerson this spring asked Dallas lawyer Marilynn Mayse to take over. She quickly arranged for a July 11 trial and filed a motion to dismiss all three cases based on grounds that Wilkerson’s constitutional right to a speedy trial had been denied.
On Monday morning, Todd, Mayse and the judge first met privately in his chambers, Wilkerson told us. They emerged minutes later, and the judge reportedly ordered the cases dismissed without explanation.
Wilkerson left the courtroom relieved but angry. Copies of the dismissal orders show that Thompson did not grant Mayse’s motion, rather one offered by the prosecutor just that morning “in the interest of justice.” Todd offered no further explanation when we later asked him, and he refused to say if he had the consent to move for the dismissal from the woman who made the sexual assault accusation.
We could not reach the complainant. She was identified in court documents only by her initials.
Asked why the cases were pending for so long, Todd said it was because Wilkerson had six defense lawyers. But we think that is a poor excuse, noting that Mayse had been on the case for only three months, and the previous two acted as a team. Asked about Thompson’s oversight of the case, Todd said he had no criticism of the judge.
But Wilkerson did, saying he didn’t understand how Thompson could have allowed the case to remain on his docket for so long. “There is no earthly reason why it should have taken this long,” he said. We agree.
The former police chief said he suffered deep depression over the years as the charges hung over his head. Not only could he not get a job in law enforcement, but it was difficult to get a job at all.
“I went from going to college for eight years, getting my doctorate, becoming chief of police, all for nothing,” he told us. He said he went from a six-figure salary to “cutting yards and things of that nature.” He said his faith and support of family kept him going.
Wilkerson said he questioned whether Todd was accountable to anyone. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said he had no oversight of the case as his office was recused years ago. We note, however, that Todd was accountable to the judge, to whom he swore an oath to uphold the law and keep the case moving. Thompson did not return calls or respond to emails we sent through his court coordinator.
Regardless, our review turned up no reason why the judge should have allowed such lengthy delays, and we are disturbed that it dragged on for so long. If “justice delayed is justice denied,” as the adage says, then what happened in the State of Texas vs. Keith Wilkerson was not justice at all.
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