Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Defense attorney claims Harrison DA mishandled evidence in McDaniel case

By Bridget Ortigo
May 25, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Indicted former Hallsville ISD coach Dean McDaniel's defense attorney filed a motion Tuesday accusing Harrison County District Attorney Coke Solomon of improperly distributing child pornography images to him that were on the phone of Solomon's witness.

Dallas defense attorney Mark Lassiter filed the motion on Tuesday to return the evidence to the court, saying it contained pornographic images of a teenager obtained from the phone of another teenager who is listed as the victim and witness in the case. McDaniel is accused of improper relationship between a teacher and student.

"The prosecution mailed a disc to me containing everything on the prosecution witness' phone," Lassiter said. "I reviewed the information from the phone, including the more than 80,000 text messages because the state did not indicate which texts were relevant. During the review, I found multiple instances of the witness soliciting naked photographs from different younger women."

Lassiter said the witness was 17 years old at the time of the text messages when he asked a 15-year-old girl to send him nude photos.

Lassiter said he found a nude photo of the same girl on the witness' phone, as well as a graphic photo of an unidentified female's sexual organ sent to the witness' phone from a friend of the witness.

"I immediately stopped reviewing the content and contacted the court to arrange a time to turn this disc back over," Lassiter said. "I am not allowed to be in possession of child pornography. The Harrison County district attorney is not allowed to distribute child pornography to me by mailing me the disc."

Lassiter said there could be more images on the disc, but Solomon said there is not.

Lassiter said he filed the motion with the court and turned the disc over to Longview Police Detective Audrey Wright on Tuesday to prove he did everything he could to no longer be in possession of the images.

"Normally, when you have evidence in a criminal case that contains child pornography, the DA keeps the evidence locked up, and you have to make arrangements to view it there," Lassiter said. "You are not allowed to take it home and put it on your computer - that is considered possession of child pornography, according to the law. You are also not allowed to distribute it to anyone, and the DA should know the statute regarding child pornography."

Lassiter said Solomon should have reviewed the evidence from the witness before mailing it to him, but Solomon said he did not have time before sending it off and was not aware of the graphic images contained on the phone until Lassiter told him.

"The defense requested to have all of the evidence that I have, and according to the Michael Morton Act, I am required to turn it over to him as soon as possible," Solomon said Tuesday. "I didn't have time to go through all of it before sending it."

Solomon said he was not aware of a specific time limit in the Michael Morton Act of when he is required to turn over evidence to the defense, just that it must be "as soon as possible."

Part of the act states, "(regarding child pornography) provides that such evidence must remain in the care, custody, or control of the court or the State. In both statutes, the State must make the property or material reasonably available to the defendant."

Lassiter said Solomon carelessly handled the evidence by failing to review it before mailing it out and potentially exposing the images to others.

Solomon said he and Lassiter have the right to view all evidence in criminal cases, which sometimes contain images of child pornography, and Lassiter is just trying to intimidate his key witness in the hopes he won't testify against McDaniel.

"I am appalled that he would attempt to make an excuse for this behavior without investigating it just because this person is his witness," Lassiter said.

"This is child pornography and solicitation of a minor. I have made the DA aware of a crime, and he's unwilling to do anything about it. The ball is in their court to do what is right."

Longview Police Public Information Officer Sgt. Shane McCarter said Tuesday that Wright did take the disc from Lassiter and is reviewing it.

"We will look at what's on there and make a determination if it's something we can follow up on or if it's just something that's part of a case in Harrison County," McCarter said.

Solomon said he will let Longview police look at the evidence and support whatever determination they make regarding the disc.

Shortly after Lassiter filed the motion Tuesday notifying the court of what he referred to as "improper evidence," Solomon filed a motion to have Lassiter's motion sealed from the public.

The News Messenger obtained a copy of both motions before any motions were granted to be sealed Tuesday.

A trial date of Aug. 7 is set for a jury to hear the improper relationship between student and teacher charge involving McDaniel, as well as a separate charge of three counts of indecency with a child by exposure.



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