Advertisements

The problem with coverups is that the truth is unlikely to ever be known. There may be glimpses of the truth from time to time, but the facts remain unknown. For 28 years, Jaime Esparza governed over criminal cases in El Paso. Many individuals are currently in prison doing time for crimes. For the criminals in jail, doing time is the consequence of their crimes. But for the incarcerated innocent inmates, doing time for crimes they did not commit is a crime in itself. According to the National Registry of Exonerations maintained by three universities (University of California, Michigan Law of School & Michigan State University), as of April 2, 2022 there are 3,049 individuals that have been exonerated since 1989. Over 3,000 people have been determined not to be guilty of the crime they were convicted of. [1]

In El Paso there have been several criminal cases where those prosecuted and convicted of crimes were later exonerated of the crime.

In 1952, Milford Bickford, Jr. was convicted of stealing $75. Bickford was sentenced to 15 years in prison, although two people testified he had been in a theater during the robbery. On March 21, 1955, Bickford received a full pardon from the Texas governor after another individual confessed to the robbery and the two victims of the crime agreed that they were mistaken when they testified in court that Bickford had been the one to rob them. The same man, William G. Kartson, who admitted to the robbery that Bickerson had been convicted of, also admitted to the robbery that Kenneth Massey had been convicted of in 1953. Massey had been sentenced to 15 years in prison. Massey had testified that he had been driving to Tucson when the robbery occurred. In 1954, the Texas governor pardoned him for the crime. [1]

In 1984, Federico Macias was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In 1993, prosecutors declined to prosecute Macias. Macias had successfully petitioned the court for a new trial because Macias was able to prove that he was out of state at the time of the murder. This was evidence that he was not allowed to present in court.

In 1988, Brandon Moon was convicted on three counts of sexual assault. In December 2004, Moon was released from prison after DNA testing proved he was innocent of the crime. He was exonerated in 2005. [1]

In 1988 and 1989 Gale Dove (1989) and Michelle Noble (1988), who were convicted in 1986 on child abuse cases in the notorious YMCA case, were finally exonerated. Both were exonerated because the prosecutors “presented extensive hearsay and inadmissible evidence” at trial. [1]

When Jaime Esparza became the district attorney in 1993, one of the first cases his office prosecuted was the murder of Robert Cobb on May 11, 1994. Alejandro Hernandez was convicted later in 1994 for the Cobb murder. On June 21, 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals “vacated” Hernandez’ conviction. [1]

Daniel Villegas, who was prosecuted by Jaime Esparza, was convicted of murder in 1995. Villegas was exonerated in 2018 [1] but not before Esparza tried to convict him again after a judge ruled that Villegas was “factually innocent” of the crime. Esparza used one of his assistant District Attorney’s, Denise Butterworth, to prosecute Villegas. As we previously reported, two assistant district attorneys issued a Brady letter alleging that Butterworth could illegally influence what El Paso’s medical examiner would write in an autopsy report to make it easier to convict those accused of crimes.

In 2014, Jaime Esparza’s office prosecuted Dejuan Jordan for failure to register as a sex offender, twice, once in 2014 and a second time in 2016. Both times Jordan was sentenced to jail for the violation. In 2004 Jordan had pled guilty in Indiana for the sexual battery of a 15-year-old. The problem with Esparza’s office prosecuting Jordan twice for not registering as a sex offender was that in 2013 the Texas Department of Public Safety “had determined that the Indiana charges of sexual battery did not require sex offender registration in Texas”. On December 19, 2018 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated both of Jordan’s convictions for the failure to register as a sex offender. [1]

These cases illustrate that there are real consequences to the lives of individuals when the legal system is abusive. Trust is a required element in the criminal system. Can the community trust the prosecutors to honestly prosecute the criminals? Can the community trust the medical examiner to produce accurate autopsy reports so that the proper individuals are prosecuted and convicted? Trust is an important element of a fair legal system.

As we previously reported, Jaime Esparza was investigated by a grand jury for an alleged theft, defended a medical examiner proven to have lied under oath and had at least one prosecutor working for him who had a Brady letter issued against her. The community knows these things because they have trickled out for various reasons. The question is, how many acts of malfeasance is the public not aware of? How many cover ups has Jaime Esparza participated in?

The Racist Coverup

On May 3, 1996, several court room employees reported having heard an assistant district attorney proclaim that “Juarez should be bombed,” that Mexican Americans are “intellectually deficient” and that the law should be administered by “good ol’ boy” Anglos. [4] As a result of what was allegedly said, an official complaint was filed, at least one judge prohibited the attorney – who allegedly made the comments – from his courtroom, and the attorney resigned.

Were the disparaging comments made? The public does not know because instead of transparency, Jaime Esparza covered up the investigation into the incident.

According to attorney Carlos Spector, a bailiff, a probation officer and another court reporter heard then-assistant district attorney Roger White make those disparaging remarks, including that blacks and Mexicans have “lowered educational standards” in America. [4]

Spector filed a formal complaint with Esparza stating that Mexican Americans could not “get a fair trial” when White was prosecuting. Spector asked that Esparza investigate the alleged comments because White’s “unmitigated vulgarity, insensitivity and racism not only taint your [Esparza’s] office, but also the entire justice system”.

Esparza ignored the allegations and the complaint letter for over two months.

The day after the El Paso Herald Post exposed the letter to Esparza about White’s comments, the newspaper published an editorial stating that “racism in any context is unacceptable,” adding that the newspaper “wondered why Esparza” had been “so slow in responding to these extremely serious allegations”. The newspaper continued, the allegations “casts an ugly shadow over the District Attorney’s Office and the entire El Paso judicial system”. [7]

On July 17, 1996, Esparza finally addressed the allegations. His response was to announce that White had “quit his position in the DA’s office”. [5] But Esparza refused to address whether the resignation was the result of the alleged remarks or what Esparza’s investigation into the matter found.

Esparza’s refusal to be forthcoming to community about serious allegations can only be described as a cover up.

The community does not know if the offensive statements attributed to Roger White were ever made because Esparza covered up the incident, first by not acknowledging it until he was forced to by the newspaper and second, by refusing to be forthcoming with the findings of his investigation. However, Judge Herb Marsh, who oversaw the Texas Impact Court where drug cases were handled, told Esparza that White should not be assigned to his court, suggesting that there was substance to the allegations made against White. March said that White had the “right to say anything [he] wants, but statements like repeated racial slurs have no place” in his courtroom. [9]

Marsh had written statements from court reporter Leticia Dittmar and probation officer Rebekah Mejia where both alleged that White had “made several racist comments about blacks and Hispanics”. [9]

On July 17, 1996, the El Paso Herald Post reported that Esparza told them that he had concluded his investigation into Roger White, “but refused to comment” on the findings. Esparza told the newspaper that White had resigned but remained on paid leave until his official resignation date of September 1. White had worked for Esparza “for about a year”. [3]

The Mexican American Bar Association Chimes In

On August 2, 1996, the Mexican American Bar Association (MABA) held a luncheon where Jaime Esparza argued that the White matter was a “personnel” issue. However, the MABA membership argued that the allegations against White was “an affront to the majority of the taxpayers” that paid Esparza’s salary. [2]

MABA had “specifically invited” Esparza to address why it had taken 10 weeks to investigate the allegations against White. Esparza told the MABA members in attendance that he “had more duties to discharge and the liability of the county to consider” before investigating White’s actions. [2]

Esparza, a member of MABA was “chastised” by the membership for “dragging his feet” in investigating White on the allegations of racism. Although Esparza kept insisting that that the White case was a personnel matter that was now closed, Mexican-American attorneys continued to demand an apology from Esparza’s office and details about the investigation, which Esparza continued to deny. [5]

El Paso civil rights attorney, Tony Silva said that the issue “was not dead” and that Esparza owed “an apology to the community”. Silva told the El Paso Herald Post that he considered Esparza a friend, and that although he “usually” stood silent when Hispanic officials were involved in matters related to racism, that he could “no longer” remain silent. Silva said that he was “particularly dismayed that Mr. Esparza didn’t act swiftly” to the allegations. Attorney Fernando Chacon, then president of MABA added that he feels “that if Willie Davis can apologize to the nation for what Mark Fuhrman said, surely Jaime Esparza can apologize to the community of El Paso”. [5]

In 1996, Mark Fuhrman pleaded “no contest” to a charge of perjury. Fuhrman had denied using a derogatory slur during the infamous O.J. Simpson trial for the murder of his wife. A tape recording later emerged of Fuhrman using the slur “about 4 times”. [6]

Chacon added that Esparza “dragging his feet and hiding behind free speech only makes it worse”. [5] Chacon told Esparza at the luncheon that Esparza “should have enough guts to stand up to the community and tell us what really happened”. Another attorney, Mario Gonzalez “accused Esparza’s prosecutors of fostering an anti-immigrant climate in the DA’s office”. [8]

Jaime Esparza is not prosecuting criminal cases currently, although he is seeking to be appointed as the United States Attorney for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas by the Biden administration. Should Esparza be appointed the lead federal prosecutor, questions about his ability to fairly adjudicate cases must be addressed. Whether his previous assistant district attorney, Roger White was racist or not remains unanswered. The reason the public does not know if White uttered the racist comments is because Esparza covered up the results of his investigation and let White quietly resign before the community learned the truth.

Covering up whether a prosecutor is racist or not is dangerous to a system that can order an individual killed, must rely in the trust that all those involved in prosecuting someone criminally must do so transparently for the benefit of the community and not on bias or for political gain.

To understand the danger of the coverup one need not look further than the Brady letter issued against another assistant district attorney alleging that she had the ability to distort official autopsy reports to make it easier to convict someone. The medical examiner, at the time of the Brady letter, was Paul Shrode who has been proven in court to lie under oath. The only reason the public knows about the Brady letter is because Esparza is no longer in office. Add to the evidence the number of individuals prosecuted by Esparza’s office that were later exonerated, including the Daniel Villegas case where a judge determined that Villegas was “factually innocent” and yet Esparza vindictively tried to prosecute him again only for a jury to not find Villegas guilty.

Thus, the question that needs to be answered is how many more coverups by Esparza lead to innocent people in jail?

Author’s note: In upcoming articles we will be publishing extensive reporting on the Brandon Moon, Daniel Villegas, YMCA cases.

Footnotes:

  1. The National Registry of Exonerations Database (law.umich.edu/special/exoneration), accessed on April 2, 2022.
  2. Aaron Martinez, “Esparza seeks to head US Attorney’s Office of West Texas after three-decades as DA,” El Paso Times, December 23, 2020.
  3. Robbie Farley-Villalobos, “Sensitivity training suggested,” El Paso Herald Post, August 3, 1996.
  4. Sonny Lopez, “Prosecutor resigns after accusation of racism,” El Paso Herald Post, July 18, 1996.
  5. Sonny Lopez, “Group asks for apology from DA,” El Paso Herald Post, August 21, 1996.
  6. Alan Abrahamson, “Fuhrman Grants Interview, Apologizes for Slurs,” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1996.
  7. Editorial, “Racism allegations must be delt with speedily, effectively,” El Paso Herald Post, July 16, 1996.
  8. Raul Hernandez, “Exchange mars bar luncheon,” El Paso Times, August 3, 1996.
  9. Raul Hernandez, “Judge restricts lawyer,” El Paso Times, July 17, 1996.

Martin Paredes

Reporting on public corruption, border politics, immigration and public policy in El Paso since 2000.

One reply on “The Jaime Esparza Racist Coverup: “Good Ol’ Boy” Anglos Should Administer Justice”

  1. I was at that 1996 MABA meeting in which the White issue was discussed. My recollection of that meeting is that the majority of the membership, including myself, attended to show support for Esparza. Those who were critical were obviously taking advantage of a difficult situation due to prior personal grievances they had against Esparza, who had cleaned house within the DA’s office after taking office in 1993. This article is so slanted against the truth that I am amazed it was published. While Esparza is not perfect, he ran the DA’s office with honor and distinction and I am proud to have worked for him.

Comments are closed.