Bill over at the CCO is keeping us up to date on the Mark Bell case. The case involves missing evidence, a search of an attorney’s private office, and a murder case. What’s not to be interested in??
Interestingly enough, the attorney’s office who was searched is Keith Gore, currently running for judge of the 296th judical district court. His private office was searched after Judge Rusch issued a search warrant allowing the search despite a hearing already being set in another court.
CSI Frisco: The Mark Lyle Bell episode
By Bill Baumbach of the Collin County Observer
It was the day after Christmas in 2007 when police were called to a house just south of downtown Frisco.
A woman who had been shot had run to a neighbor’s house and called for help. Upstairs in the house next door, the police found the body of 36 year old Craig Nail. He died of gunshot wounds before the police arrived. The woman who was shot was his girlfriend, Therisa Hofman. She was Care Flighted to a hospital, and later recovered.
|Mark Lyle Bell|
|Vera Elizabeth Guthrie-Nail|
|Thomas Edward Grace|
Two weeks later, the Frisco police announced they had made an arrest in the murder/shooting case. Arrested was Craig Nail’s ex-wife, Vera Elizabeth Guthrie-Nail.
Later a Collin County Grand Jury indicted Guthrie-Nail, Thomas Edward Grace, and Mark Lyle Bell — all on charges of capital murder. Guthrie-Nail was accused of using Thomas Grace as an intermediary to contract a murder for hire with Mark Bell, the triggerman.
During the grand jury investigation, prosecutors learned that Mark Bell’s wife had given his attorney, Keith Gore, some letters and a sealed shoe box, which she told Gore contained evidence crucial to his defense, but which prosecutors allege contained evidence that would tie Bell to the murder.
The District Attorney’s office then went to Judge Robert Dry, who was supervising the Grand Jury and asked for a subpoena for the box, letters and a pair of boots they believed were also given to Gore by Mrs. Bell. Dry scheduled a hearing on the request for 5 days later.
However later that same day, the DA and a Frisco police detective also filed a request for a search warrant on Keith Gore’s office with a different judge. Judge Mark Rusch issued the warrant, and detectives seized some letters, a multi-page, stapled document, and a sealed shoe box. No boots were found.
The seized items were taken by police to Judge Rusch, who was at home at the time, and later to the Frisco police evidence room.
What happened next is in dispute.
The Collin County District Attorney’s office and the Frisco police allege that Judge Rusch used a knife to open the seals of the shoe box and inspect its contents. Judge Rusch denies this and says he gave the box back to the prosecution team still sealed.
According to a motion filed with the appeals court by the defense, at a later court hearing officers involved in the search stated that the contents of the box had been switched out. They said the box originally contained a Wal Mart receipt, but later the receipt was missing and a business card from a Wal Mart security officer was substituted. The defense claims that the receipt was exculpatory evidence – that it would prove that the boots sought by police were purchased after the murder.
But the receipt is gone. Who done it?
Claiming that by inspecting the seized evidence, Judge Mark Rusch became a material witness, the defense team sought to have Judge Rusch recused. A hearing was held before an assigned judge who ordered that Rusch recuse himself from the case — to be replaced by Judge Chris Oldner.
The defense also accused the Collin County District Attorney’s office of prosecutorial misconduct and sought to question the First Assistant District Attorney, Greg Davis. Judge Oldner denied the request.
Oldner also denied a defense motion to disqualify the District Attorney’s Office from the case.
Bell’s attorneys appealed Oldner’s decisions to the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, which also refused to force the DA off the case. Bell has now appealed again, this time to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which earlier this month agreed to hear the case and has ordered that arguments be submitted.
So who is lying – The judge? The DA? The police?
Perhaps we’ll never know who opened the shoe box, and what happened to the evidence. It does seem possible that misconduct and mishandling of evidence could make prosecution of Mr. Bell difficult if not impossible.
This 2 year old case is starting to look like something from a television detective story plot. Unfortunately it’s unlikely that a super detective is going to come on the scene with his scientific tool kit and tell us who done it.
CSI:Frisco? Not hardly.