There were so many questions that were never answered. An immediate determination of suicide was made and it has been a struggle trying to understand how an assumption, or excuse, was used to deny my daughter what she deserved. She did her part to serve her country and many others in Chicago and in Austin, and was rewarded by being treated like a dead dog on the tracks.
The death of a child is said to be an unimaginable loss. This is true. The pain is unimaginable, and the longing to touch the other side of death to bring back your child because a part of you has died too. I will discuss the spiritual of this loss in Part 2, Touching the Other World. This part is to do with this world and the living.
After talking to witnesses and friends about the night of her death, I found that my daughter was happy, dancing to one of her favorite local bands, flirting with her husband of two months, talking about her future plans to move to Austin and go to graduate school, thrilled about her first commission as a graphic artist to illustrate a new novel, and was generally having fun. As she did so many other times, she left the bar to walk home in a town that claimed to be safe, and expected her husband to follow within 30 minutes, because that was their rule. (It takes six to seven minutes to walk from the bar to their house.) He had to be home thirty minutes after her. A witness said she cashed out, found her husband, kissed him on the lips and said, "Love you, see you at home." He helped the band load up, because they were longtime friends, talked to a couple of people outside and tried to make his way home within thirty minutes. The train was stopped on the tracks and it took him some time to finally get home. When he arrived home, she was not there.
We both waited for hours by the stopped train, and I came to understand that I was waiting to be told that my daughter had been killed. I was in shock and too stunned to speak that morning when Deputy Sheriff Cesar Menendez, who had been on traffic control, handed me my daughter's purse and Android phone. I did not understand why they were giving them to me instead of holding them for evidence, but I was in shock and could not ask. I was afraid to look at the items, but there were no signs of blood, tissue or dirt on them: they appeared clean, not even dusty. The purse strap was torn from the purse on one end and the phone screen was black and cracked, but the alarm went off that morning. It was working to a certain extent.
I placed both items in plastic bags, just in case there had been a mistake and someone came to ask for them to be examined. I had been too afraid to ask anything, even when a Border Patrol agent asked me if my daughter had been on medication. I said yes, and it bothered me, but he had walked away by the time I was ready to ask why he was asking me that. My mind was in slow motion.
My daughter had the misfortune of being a special needs child, but not in the usual sense. She was extremely intelligent, gifted in art, and a very loving child. With her gifts came sensitivity and understanding. She was always a self-motivated overachiever and planner of projects and goals, noted for carrying tiny notebooks full of notes on all manner of things she was planning or doing.
She participated in the Magnet Program for Gifted and Talented students from the seventh grade until she graduated 10th in her class with a 4.5 GPA from the Liberal Arts and Science Academy at LBJ High School in Austin, Texas. That GPA included classes in a double strand of Liberal Arts and Science and Math AP (Advanced Preparation) courses. She attended the University of Chicago and graduated with honors in sociology. From Chicago she went into the Peace Corps and served two years in St. Lucia in the eastern Caribbean. From the time she was sixteen until she graduated college, she volunteered in domestic violence shelters to work with children, both in east Austin and south Chicago. While in the Peace Corps, I was told by her fellow volunteers, she was the only volunteer who would go into the shanty towns, the poorest sections, to talk to the parents of her students.
She came to live with me after her service and met the love of her life and soul mate, John, in Marfa, Texas. I have always doubted the existence of soul mates, but with John and Melaney, I have come to realize it was true for them. They fit each other so well.
She also had the misfortune of having two parents with clinical depression. I was teaching her many things about the condition I have lived with all my life. How to find reasons to want to live, how love is actually the real cure for depression (but, yes, medication can help), why she would not want to hurt the people who loved her and who she loved, why every time the voice of the illness tried to convince her things were bad, it was an exaggeration of fact. She was embracing learning how to cope with depression with the determination she had for everything. If there was a way she could do it, she would. Her husband, John, wanted to help and we were both impressed with his acceptance. It is difficult to understand clinical depression if you have never had it or been close to someone who has.
The cast of characters we dealt with are notable. Rod Ponton represented Glyn Robert Chambers in 1992, the co-defendant and confidential informant of former Presidio County Sheriff Rick Thompson, who was arrested for transporting a ton of cocaine in a sheriff horse trailer. He is now serving a life sentence. Mr. Ponton won election as District Attorney narrowly in a Democratic primary. He is also the Texas DA that refuses to reopen a case in Fort Stockton, Texas, where a woman named Sonia J. Cacy was convicted with outdated forensic science of murdering her uncle in 1993 by arson. Mr. Ponton has asked Attorney General Gregg Abbott (yes, that Gregg Abbott) to assist in blocking a reopening of the case. He has his own criminal past. There are stories that he starves his horses, stories that he has a past of sexual assaults that have never been prosecuted, and other lurid rumors. When his name is mentioned, people use words like snake and scum. I have heard many people say, "If Rod Ponton is speaking, he's lying."
Ponton's Investigator, Kevin Ficke, was convicted of tampering with evidence while employed with the Uvalde Sheriff Department in 1992, and served four years probation. He sued Hays County for wrongful termination after quitting because the Hays County DA questioned his credibility, and lost(pdf). Interestingly, his wife was charged in Guadalupe County for forging prescriptions before he accepted the position in west Texas. It appears this led to the closure and eviction of a non-profit children's shelter they were running.
Sheriff Danny Dominguez is harder to pin down, but according to his own statements to me, in September 2013 he said he had twenty-two years of experience in law enforcement. An article(pdf) in the Big Bend Sentinel regarding his election in 1996 said he was a Marfa City police officer at that time and a former deputy sheriff. I imagine that would make him a deputy sheriff in 1991, serving under Rick Thompson. I learned, after publishing this diary, that he was in fact Deputy Sheriff to Rick Thompson, stationed in the town of Presidio.
My son and two other men went to talk to Sheriff Dominguez the next day, Friday, August 9, 2013, because of news reports that she had been lying on the tracks when the train struck her. (I thought that was incorrect from what I observed that night, but found out later I was wrong.) The sheriff was rude, asking him who he was. When he identified himself he was asked what he wanted. When my son said his sister had been killed the day before, he said curtly, I'm sorry for your loss, there's nothing we can do. He told my son that if we wanted further investigation that we should consider hiring a private investigator. He talked to them in the lobby, instead of taking them to a private place. During that conversation, Sheriff Dominguez told them that he had to use the Border Patrol to assist because "all my deputies were in training last night." That was confusing because Deputy Menendez was there for traffic control. It came to be an alarming statement when other facts came to light.
The sheriff denied releasing information saying she was lying on the tracks. He was asked if there was any indication that she had been assaulted and he said that the autopsy would show that. My son confirmed with him that an autopsy had been ordered.
In the days following her death, I waited to be contacted by Sheriff Dominguez, or any other law enforcement. The sheriff department is the only law enforcement in Marfa, Texas. The City of Marfa disbanded their police force in 2008 and contracted with the County to provide law enforcement through the sheriff department. An oversight committee was supposed to have been formed as part of the contract, but it never came up until after the death of my daughter. The County Commissioners Court decided it was not needed in January 2014. The sole objector was County Judge Paul Hunt.
My family came to Marfa to suffer with me, arriving that day, and wanting to help. The site of the train striking my daughter's body was never taped off as an investigation scene or crime scene. People were free to walk the site, and they did. My family said blood, brain tissue, bones and hair remained on the tracks. It was not cleaned off until the following Monday, and only because of the memorial service that was to be held in the park next to where the train struck her. In the days after her death, my family searched the tracks for anything that could be found around the site of Melaney's death. They observed that no law enforcement came to gather any evidence.
But one member of my family found half of the eyeglasses Melaney was wearing that night. The left half looked as if it had been broken right in half at the nose. The glass was shattered out of the frame and a small part of the frame was missing, but the left wing was still attached. It was found fifteen to twenty feet east of where the train hit her body, farther from the road than she was. She was not seen wearing them in the video and could not have been because of her position. My family did not find the other half of the glasses. Again, there were no blood, tissue or dirt on them and there had been no rain. I placed the left half of her eyeglasses in another plastic bag and waited for someone to ask for them.
No one contacted me. I found out that Sheriff Dominguez had not contacted anyone to question them about the night of my daughter's death. I made an appointment with the JP to discuss this and other things on the Monday following Melaney's death, August 12, 2013. My sister and I and other members of our family talked to the Justice of the Peace, Cinderela Guevara (yes, that is her real name). When we asked if a rape kit had been ordered, she seemed surprised. She said she had only ordered a toxicology report. We did not understand until later that she meant she had only ordered a toxicology report and not an autopsy. She later tried to say that it was Dr. Contin's suggestion because she thought the cause of death was obvious. My sister asked her at one meeting, "With all due respect, Judge, how do you know she wasn't already dead when she was hit by the train?" Ms. Guevara said nothing to that and just stared nervously at my sister. Had the possibility never entered her mind? What was called an autopsy report, so they could insist that an autopsy had been performed, were two pages signed by Dr. Contin on the evening of August 8, 2013, stating that "after investigation" it was determined that Melaney "intentionally placed herself on the tracks" and the cause of death was suicide. It appears that Dr. Contin only did a superficial visual examination and never took any samples or tissues, other than from the liver (approximately 8 hours after her death on a summer night) for the toxicology report. After researching the finding, we found that samples should not be taken from the liver, especially after physical trauma, because of the possibility of contamination.
The Union Pacific Railroad claims representative told our attorney that if they had known an autopsy had not been ordered they would have paid for one. We, of course, would have offered to pay for one if anyone had told us there was no autopsy ordered. We believed an autopsy had been performed and had my daughter's body cremated. Unfortunately, her husband's family wanted everything over with as soon as possible and asked to have it done immediately. That was our collective mistake, but we were all so much in grief that everything was passing in a daze and the ramifications did not become clear for some time.
My sister and my daughter's paternal aunt and I went to see Cinderela Guevara several times. I went to see her alone two times. I am very lucky I never called her, I just showed up by myself and she saw me.
When she was alone with me, Ms. Guevara asked about my religious beliefs several times. We spoke about the Catholic faith and on September 3, 2013, when I met with her, she told me that she had prayed to God for an answer as to whether it was suicide or not and asked God to give her an answer in the video. She said she did not receive an answer as to that, but she did receive an answer from God. She stated to me that God told her that, yes this was a tragedy, but the true tragedy was that Melaney had died without accepting Jesus Christ as her savior.
I wrote about this conversation in a letter to the editor of the Big Bend Sentinel newspaper, published October 10, 2013. I wondered if she thought God had punished me because I had left the Catholic faith and failed to bring up my children as Catholics. This was the woman who was deciding the cause of death of my daughter. Was she willing to consider any investigation of a homicide if she believed I was being punished by God?
On that date she arranged for me to meet with Rod Ponton because I asked her to tell me what investigation had been done by Sheriff Dominguez. She said the Sheriff assured her he was looking into everything, but she could not name one single thing that she knew he had done.
She mentioned that Sheriff Dominguez told her he was responding to the sound of shots fired when he received the call for the train. I told her that did not make sense. I had specifically looked at the computer clock, which is set on satellite time, and the second gunshot like sound happened at exactly 12:42 a.m. The first one was no more than a minute prior to that. My understanding at that time, from what people had told me, was that the train began stopping at about 12:25 a.m. Why was the sheriff responding to the gunshot sounds and not the train? She said maybe the times were mixed up, but that was when she called the District Attorney to arrange an appointment for me. What purpose would that serve? She said I could tell him my concerns about the Sheriff. She never told me what good friends the Sheriff and Rod Ponton were.
I wondered after I met with Mr. Ponton and his investigator, Kevin Ficke, two days later, if they were just trying to waste time, prolong the wait, and see if I would go away. I felt like going to the media at that point, but other family members thought I should wait and give the authorities their chance to make it right. Mr. Ponton said he might decide to call a grand jury to investigate, but it could take four to six weeks. He did not. He said he was only going to review the investigation and that the Sheriff was the law enforcement official who decided to ask for help in investigations, whether it was from the District Attorney's office or the Texas Rangers division of the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The Sheriff thought no further investigation was needed and told the Rangers in the area that it was a suicide and the family was having trouble accepting that.
I gave Rod Ponton and Kevin Ficke a list of witnesses and phone numbers and emailed various things, trying to show that my daughter was not suicidal that night. She had left her browsers open and was in the middle of an application for a job in San Antonio, and had another job site open. She sent me a draft resignation letter that night, saying she would resign in October and asking for my input. I pointed out to him the fact that there is no way for Marfa residents to know when trains will pass (it can be twenty minutes or four hours between trains), and the fact that the purse and phone did not appear to have been hurled by a train and would have been shattered if they had been, and on and on. We found thing after thing that pointed to a walk home that ended with someone placing her on those tracks to hide a crime, either an assault or being hit by a vehicle. Someone had hurt my child and killed her and no one was listening.
I explained why people with depression who seek treatment are not the ones who are going to hurt themselves or others. It is people who go off of their medication or never use it because they believe it will harm them more than help them. Seeking treatment and taking medication is a statement that you want to live as normal a life as possible. They sought no mental health expert's opinion because that was not the answer they were looking for.
I told Rod Ponton, Kevin Ficke and Chief Deputy Nunez about Presidio County Deputy Sheriff Mitchell Garcia and his reputation for following women in his vehicles, whether they were walking, bicycling or driving. I gave them names of women who told me they had been followed, and said we had discovered that he had followed Melaney. I told Chief Deputy Nunez on September 29, 2013 and he said a notarized statement was required to file a complaint, but no one had ever submitted one. Although he did say he had heard of a woman who would not file one, it had been reported by someone else and that was not allowed. I told him the women were all afraid of being further harassed and he said he did not believe the people of Marfa were afraid of law enforcement, and that they should not be.
After giving Rod Ponton and Kevin Ficke lists of witnesses, with phone numbers and addresses, that were willing to say that my daughter was happy and dancing on the night of her death, on Friday afternoon, September 13, 2013, I was emailed by Rod Ponton. He told to make an appointment with Sheriff Dominguez to give a statement and to contact all my witnesses myself and have them make appointments with the Sheriff to give statements. I contacted witnesses and asked them to provide statements to the Sheriff. Several of them did. They had to make an appointment to go in and give a statement, come back and get the prepared statement, get it notarized and return it. Every phone call, every text, every email brought back all the trauma every time. It was so hard.
On September 16, 2013, I met with Sheriff Dominguez. That video was recorded with his knowledge on a personal I-pad and shows Danny Dominguez stating to me that I had to prove to him that my daughter did not commit suicide, among many other notable comments. He did not know what time my daughter left the bar where she had been dancing. He did not know that only law enforcement could request or subpoena copies of text messages from providers. We had already provided copies of telephone records from her provider, and law enforcement had not requested them. He asked me if he could have her telephone: the same telephone that his deputy handed me the morning of Melaney's death. He had broken chain of custody himself and now he wanted that phone back. I just looked at him and didn't say anything. What I may have been thinking was, "So you can destroy that evidence too, M---F---?" He stuttered at my look and asked if he could have the phone number. He assured me during the statement that an autopsy had been performed. The results were taking a while.
Kevin Ficke worked on her husband, John, trying to convince him that his wife had committed suicide. He told John, "I don't want to know how she was that day, I want to know how she was before." He told me, "I don't want to know how she was three days before, I want to know how she was that night." He only focused on anything that would show she was depressed. John told him about an episode in the depths of her last episode of depression. He said it was around 4th of July, they had been at a friend's house. They were smoking pot, which was unusual because Melaney did not like marijuana use, she said it made her too much in her mind. She fell asleep waiting to go home. He got her in the car and she was half asleep as they drove home. When they arrived there, she jumped out of the car and started running towards the train tracks, saying she wanted to kill herself. She tripped and fell and skinned her knees. John had been running after her, they both knew he could easily outrun her. He picked her up and took her home, telling her, I love you, baby, I love you. Two or three days later she came to him saying she had gone to the railroad tracks by herself. (The ruling stated it was two or three weeks.) She said she saw a dog that had been hit by a train and it scared her. She turned to leave and almost got her foot stuck in the tracks. She panicked, and in that second, she told John, "I was so scared, but not for me. I was afraid for you because I realized how much it would hurt you. I could never hurt you like that because I love you too much. I promise you I will never hurt you like that. And I don't want to end up like a dead dog on the tracks." The eventual ruling cut the story off at "she went to the tracks and got her foot stuck" as a justification for a finding of suicide.
I could not understand why I had not spoken with Melaney about this incident, until I realized, of course I had. Something about the skinned knees was nagging me, but I had no time think about details until I left Marfa and went to stay with my sister. I finally had time to think and I finally remembered the intense conversation I had with Melaney about her skinned knees.
I had noticed that she was not wearing skirts or shorts and one day I saw skinned knees under her capris. I asked her, how did you skin your knees? It led to me questioning her like a cop until she finally said, “John was chasing me because I was doing something really stupid and I’m too ashamed to tell you what it was.” We talked extensively about what to do, because I was very alarmed, but she never told me what it was she had done. So I didn’t know it was the tracks incident that we had spoken about until October. I had been too busy investigating her death and interviewing witnesses to be able to sit and think and grieve. I trusted her and my own eyes that she was doing much better than she had been. Like any loving parent, I watched her behavior, how she held herself, and her tone of voice, and knew that she was going to be okay. I grilled her. I’m her mom.
My sister, Maya, and Melaney's other aunt, my dear friend, Vicki, and my son, Jesse Parker, and many other friends in Marfa, helped me find out what was going on while I was paralyzed with grief for the first two weeks. After that I had to get up and start asking questions myself, because no one else could or would.
I followed rumors. One rumor said a woman named Marcie was telling people that Melaney had told her she was going to kill herself as she left the bar. I knew Marcie, I spoke with her and she said she wasn't even there. Marcie told me that if Melaney had said anything like that to her she would certainly not tell anyone but me or John. She was appalled her name was being used like that. Another rumor said that about six Border Patrol agents had seen the video and they had seen Melaney raise her arm as the train approached. I went to the substation and spoke to the supervisor. He assured me none of his agents had watched the video. He was sympathetic and told me how to request copies of statements.
I spoke to the Catholic priest who said I was the first person to say anything to him other than it was suicide, but that what I said made sense. He said nothing else made sense because she was loved by so many people and he had never seen so many masses or rosaries requested for anyone. He said she seemed to have so much in her life and everyone said she was very much in love with her husband and such a kind person. It just didn't make sense that someone as accomplished and gifted as her would taker her own life. I told him it didn't make sense because it wasn't true. I asked him to encourage anyone who may know something to come forward. He said he could not pursue justice for me, he could only forgive. I understood, he was very kind.
I spoke to many people and asked God for strength everyday, but there were some days when all I could do was lie in bed and weep.
Our attorney submitted formal open records requests to Sheriff Dominguez on August 23, 2013; and to Rod Ponton, on September 30, 2013. We did not receive a copy of the ruling from the County until I submitted a Texas Public Information Act request on October 13, 2013 to Judge Hunt. What Judge Hunt forwarded to us were copies of the information we had already received from the local newspaper, a copy of the ruling of determination of death and a copy of the toxicology report from the Medical Examiner, Dr. Juan Contin. Judge Hunt told me that he was the public information officer for Presidio County and was unaware of the previous open records requests submitted to Sheriff Dominguez and Rod Ponton. He said he was told by Sheriff Dominguez and Cinderela Guevara that their records were with Rod Ponton. No other information has been provided to the family. This conversation was heard by a friend who stood close to me while I spoke to Judge Hunt.
Many people in Marfa warned me that I would be harassed if I kept asking questions. I told them I had the right under the First Amendment to question public officials and the way they carry out the jobs they are paid to do by the public. I was wrong. In Marfa, no one has the right to question decisions made by the Sheriff Department. If you think you do, you will suffer the consequences.
On September 16, after my video recorded statement with the Sheriff, my son contacted Cinderela Guevara to plead with her not to make a ruling of suicide.
On September 29, 2013, Melaney's paternal aunt, Vicki, and I met with Cinderela Guevara for the last time and noted the presence of several deputies in the hallway as we left. Had security been called on two overweight old ladies? Why? I asked Rod Ponton and Kevin Ficke the next day and they said they did not know why Guevara would feel threatened by us.
That week I went to the newspaper and talked to the editor who published a story in the Big Bend Sentinel about my dissatisfaction with the investigation. The weekly paper came out with the story on Thursday morning, October 3, 2013. I made the karmic mistake of saying that I had nothing left to lose by going to the paper. That same day, a secret inquest was held between Cinderela Guevara, Rod Ponton, Kevin Ficke, Danny Dominguez and Deputy Nunez and they determined that my daughter had committed suicide.
On that morning John Rayburn contacted Kevin Ficke to ask when the inquest would be held. Mr. Ficke told him they would probably speak to him the following Thursday, October 10th. During that conversation, Mr. Ficke asked John, almost as an aside, if he had told a Border Patrol agent on the night of Melaney's death that she had called him or texted him and told him she was going to commit suicide. John said he had never said that to anyone. Mr. Ficke did not tell John that the inquest was happening at that time. We later realized they may have believed John sat in the bar for hours after receiving a text or phone call from Melaney saying she was going to kill herself. The receipt in her purse showed an incorrect time of 8:21, but the sheriff didn't know it was 3 hours and 42 minutes off until I told him during my interview of September 16th.
I was contacted by the newspaper on Tuesday, October 8th, and asked if I was aware an inquest had been held. I told them I did not know that and asked them if they could get a copy of the decision and if I could have a copy also. The reporter told me he was holding it in his hands. He gave me a copy of the decision and the Medical Examiner's report. He would not say how he obtained them.
On October 9th, my son spoke to Rod Ponton. He said Mr. Ponton laughed at him. On October 9th, my son posted on Facebook that he would be performing in a concert at a resort in Mexico. On October 10th, the editor published my letter about Cinderela Guevara's comment that God had told her what the true tragedy was in all of this.
On October 11th, a complaint was filed in federal court by Cinderela Guevara and Rod Ponton stating that my son had threatened to kill them. Ms. Guevara decided my son had told her he was going to kill her children in their last conversations on September 16th, the day I gave my statement to the Sheriff. There were no recordings, just her word. She allegedly made a complaint to the Sheriff, but a copy was never provided or produced, and we can find no record of it being filed. No one else in the courthouse was advised she had received a threat. Most did not know it had happened. I spoke to one courthouse employee who only found out by happenstance two days later that a threat had been made. She was concerned and thought it was strange that her office was not advised. Rod Ponton decided that my son had threatened him also and, sure enough, there were no recordings of the conversation. There was nothing to prove that it had occurred except their word against his.
I do not understand, however, how my son's call came into the District Attorney's office and was transferred to Mr. Ponton by someone else who didn't even ask who was calling. As someone who worked as a secretary for many years, the first thing you do is ask who is calling before you transfer so that you can tell the person receiving the call who it is. On another point, my children identify themselves when they call someone, even if that person knows who is calling. They both did it by habit. I can understand Cinderela Guevara answering her own phone, it is a more informal office, but she also has an assistant who screens calls who told me she was a deputy for the sheriff's office.
When he returned to the U.S. on October 14th, Jesse was detained at the border with a hold by the FBI for Interstate Communication threats. He was held without access or communication for two days and moved around. The same day he spoke to the FBI agents, they believed him and asked that he be released without bond. They said they were sorry but they couldn't help unless there were financial issues going on that could be looked into. It was a local law enforcement issue.
My son, Jesse Joaquin Parker, has had his life thrown inside out because I questioned the authorities in Marfa, Texas. He is a good man, a music teacher for many years, a professional musician, and has taught a class called Transcendental Rhythm, the Yoga of Drumming, blending the three elements most important in his life: teaching, drumming, and spirituality. He would never threaten to hurt anyone. He has no violence in his past, no arrests or complaints about uncontrolled anger issues, no public displays of anger or uncontrolled behavior at all, and domestic violence would never have been tolerated by the strong women he has loved in his life. One day, after he had just turned six, while playing in the sand at the beach, he looked up at me and asked, "Are we all just God's dreams?" At the age of twelve he was moved to tears by the courage and tyranny of Tianamen Square. He, too, has always been a self-motivated overachiever, brilliant and creative. He has not only followed a different drummer, he is the different drummer. I met some of his former high school students that were attending UT Austin, who spoke of him with fondness and stories of the cool things he would do with them, and it was always about drumming.
There is a reason music is called a discipline. You cannot get to this level without years of self-discipline:
They charged him in federal court in Pecos, Texas, and once again he was detained and had to appear for a bond hearing. He appeared in shackles during the mass of hearings that, in west Texas, are predominantly drug related or immigration arrests. When the judge asked him what level of education he had and he responded, "Masters," the judge paused and looked up from his paperwork. The judge released him on his own recognizance. For some reason, no one really seemed to think he was a threat.
On the day he was released in Arizona, October 17, 2013, my second letter to the editor was published. I had intended it to be my last communication with the newspaper, as I was leaving Marfa. Indeed, it was. One of the things I forgot to mention in that letter was the fact that the ruling stated that Melaney had submitted a resignation letter to her employers, Presidio County Health Services (PCHS) on August 7, 2013, "the day she died." This was completely false. I called the clinic and spoke to the human resources person -- I knew her personally, it is a small town. She said they had never received any kind of letter from Melaney. They knew she was going to leave, but the date was not certain yet. What this statement in the ruling may refer to is the email I sent Rod Ponton, forwarding her draft resignation letter in which she states she plans to leave in October, and discusses the time she has spent in the clinic and recommendations they may consider.
We have no money and no assets, so we had no choice but to ask for a Federal Public Defender as his lawyer. I had worked for the FPD many years before and remembered the lawyers I worked with as dedicated people. I said as much to David Fannin, my son's appointed lawyer.
Mr. Fannin never mentioned to my son or any of us that he was a Councilman for the City of Marfa, and Mayor Pro Tem. I find it hard to believe an experienced lawyer in his fifties would not come to the conclusion that there could be the appearance of a conflict of interest if we decided the City of Marfa could be a party to a lawsuit by us, because of their contract with the Presidio County Sheriff Department.
He did, at one point, tell me and Jesse's father separately that he thought we believed he was part of some conspiracy. We both, separately, denied it. He never contacted any of us either. He seemed to have no interest in my son's case. This seemed to be the kind of case the lawyers I once worked with would jump at, but he would not return my son's phone calls, emails, or messages. We felt helpless.
He said nothing could be done until the prosecutor complied with Brady requests to produce records that would be used in trial. All records must be produced to defense counsel, whether they support the prosecution's position or not. In late December, the prosecution produced approximately 58 pages of discovery, no recorded proof, and tried to prove their case by showing we were angry because of my letters and the article in the Big Bend Sentinel.
Jesse realized that if the "victims" were willing to lie to this extent in an affidavit filed in federal court, there would be no end to how they would lie to a jury. The victims were supposed to be upstanding citizens, devout churchgoers, public officials, and who would doubt their word against my son's and mine? This was going to be a conservative West Texas jury, and no one knows what any jury will do. We heard that the prosecution wanted this case over and they offered Jesse a pretrial diversion, where he would sign a plea agreement admitting to the charges that was never entered in court or before a judge. He would successfully serve eighteen months of probation and the charges would be dismissed. If he failed to complete probation, the plea agreement would be entered in court and he would be sentenced to the charges. Accepting the agreement, he could have his passport returned and be able to travel for his musical performances, and start to get on with his life, and somehow complete his grieving for his sister.
Friends offered to lie for him and say they were present during the phone calls. He did not consider their offers because he is an honest man. He will complete probation easily because he is a good man. It is his character to stay out of trouble. He said his attorney sounded relieved when he accepted the plea agreement. Apparently, he wanted to be free of this case also.
On February 24, 2014, I submitted a Texas Public Information Act request to Presidio County Judge Paul Hunt again. He received it on the 27th and responded by email to me on March 13, 2014.
email@example.com (firstname.lastname@example.org)Add to contactsAttachment 3/13/14 DocumentsThat might seem reasonable, except that they have already failed to submit requests for an Attorney General opinion on any of our requests. They had ten days from receipt of each one, and did not make a request. Under Texas law, their lack of objection means the records are public by default. If I submitted a new request to each person, they would each request AG opinions and stop my requests indefinitely. I submitted a formal complaint to the Open Records Division of the Attorney General's Office. Remarkably, Gregg Abbott is a strong supporter of open records on March 21, 2014, and it was received in that office on March 24, 2014. We will wait and see.
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I have attached a copy of my letter response to your most recent request, and I have forwarded your request to the JP, SO, and DA as stated in the letter. I believe that direct contact with each of these offices is your best opportunity for locating additional records.
My sincerest best wishes.
Presidio County Judge
432 729-4452 (voice)
432 729-4453 (fax)
the text of the letter said:
Regarding your request of February 24, 2014, received by me on February 27,
2014, I am unable to obtain any further records beyond those supplied in my earlier response to you of October 29, 2013.
However, your new request contains considerable detail regarding information
that may be available from others. Therefore, I am forwarding copies of this letter along with your request to the Presidio County Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, the Presidio County Sheriff, and the 83rd Judicial District Attorney. Please be aware that for clarity of the public records request you may need to contact each of them directly.
Notably, Presidio County was audited for 2012 and received an adverse opinion audit. That audit was completed in February 2014, one year late and gave the county an Adverse Opinion.
According to the draft audit report, there are six reasons, or six material weaknesses for the adverse opinion on the 2012 audit:The County Treasurer said none of the 2012 financial records for the Sheriff Department could be found. They had been placed in the old county jail in a section for her office by three subordinate employees. The records were suddenly found locked in a storage room next to the Treasurer's office by no other than Sheriff Danny Dominguez and the DA's Investigator, Rusty Taylor, a former Presidio County Chief Deputy Sheriff. As the auditor said, “It doesn’t mean anything. The audit has been issued and it’s over." The County accepted the Adverse Opinion on their audit and there is no need to review the records anymore. Funny and very convenient, in my own humble opinion.
During the course of the audit we were not provided the accounting records necessary to verify disbursement transactions selected in the random sample. We were also not provided with supporting documentation for the Operation Linebacker grant award...
The county was unable to provide documentation supporting a reconciliation of the county’s payroll to the quarterly and annual financial reports submitted to the federal agencies...
Co-mingling of grant awards and expenditures were not segregated by grant year or grant type. All grants, regardless of year or type that originated from the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, were accounted for in one fund. The grants and expenditures were unable to be broken out by grant type and grant year, those grants being Operation Stonegarden, and State Homeland Security Program, and State Homeland Security Program-Law Enforcement Terrorist Prevention Activities.
...posting errors and omissions were not identified in the normal course of the county’s performance of internal control procedures and were not resolved as of year end...
The capital asset accounting system has not been reconciled to the general ledger capital expenditures since December 31, 2007...
Failure to reconcile bank accounts to the general ledger on a timely basis results in unrecorded transactions and accounting errors not being identified and resolved on a timely basis, which leads to financial statement misstatements...
Cinderela Guevara beat Paul Hunt in a Democratic primary and will be the next County Judge of Presidio County.
The day before I left Marfa for the last time, I drove to the post office and on my way back decided to drive, one last time, by the house Melaney and John had shared. As I was driving toward their house, I had to brake suddenly to keep from hitting Deputy Sheriff Cesar Menendez, who was in such a hurry, he drove through the right corner in front of me without yielding at the stop sign. He must have heard my car stop suddenly because he slammed on his brakes in front of me. I gestured for him to go ahead, but he waved at me to go. I wondered if he was going to follow me for some reason and he did. I pulled over to the right side of the street so he could pass me as I was driving slowly past my daughter's house. I knew the deputies knew it was their house because they drove past back and forth as we moved John out. Deputy Menendez followed me around several blocks and at times drove on a parallel street following my actions. I waved at him a couple of times and he finally stopped following me as I passed in front of the Catholic church.
These officials are all Democrats.