Defense decries publicity in trial over deadly Houston raid
HOUSTON (AP) — Attorneys for a former Houston police officer charged with murder in connection with a deadly drug raid decried the publicity the case has generated and suggested Wednesday that newly discovered evidence could undermine prosecutors' claims that the couple who lived at the home were unfairly targeted.
But during a court hearing, prosecutors reiterated that the pair were not drug dealers. They said former Officer Gerald Goines’ actions during the raid were part of a long history of misconduct and lies that resulted in multiple convictions and cases tied to him being overturned or dismissed.
Goines faces two murder charge s as well as other counts in state and federal court stemming from the raid he led in January 2019, in which Dennis Tuttle, 59, and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, 58, were killed. The families of Tuttle and Nicholas have filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the city and 13 officers.
Prosecutors say Goines lied to obtain a search warrant by claiming a confidential informant had bought heroin at the home. Goines later said there was no informant and he bought the drugs himself, they allege. Prosecutors have said police found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in the house, but no heroin, and Goines wrongly portrayed the couple as dangerous dealers.
Nicole DeBorde, one of Goines’ attorneys, said during the hearing that new evidence she was recently made aware of shows police believed the couple “were dealing drugs of a serious nature” and had large amounts of narcotics and lots of guns.
Prosecutors denied that, saying the evidence does not show Tuttle and Nicholas were dangerous. They also said the evidence was not new and had previously been provided to the defense.
“We have no information that they are drug dealers,” said Tanisha Manning, a prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Family and friends of Tuttle and Nicholas have maintained that the married couple of 20 years were not criminals but animal lovers who lived quiet, simple lives when they were killed.
A dozen officers tied to the narcotics squad that carried out the raid have been indicted following a corruption probe. Most face charges related to an alleged overtime scheme, allegations of falsifying documentation about drug payments to confidential informants or for allegedly lying on police reports.
Wednesday’s hearing also focused on a defense request to dismiss the murder charges because of purported prosecutorial misconduct.
Goines' lawyers alleged that District Attorney Kim Ogg has generated excess publicity in the case that has made it impossible to pick an impartial jury. They alleged that improper actions included comments critical of Goines and the raid posted on the Houston Chronicle's website by Ogg’s former spokesman Dane Schiller, using the pseudonym “Dude Goggles.”
Schiller testified last week that he posted on the paper’s website in a personal capacity and few of his comments were about the raid, the Chronicle reported.
“The right has been damaged irreparably to have a fair trial in this community,” DeBorde said Wednesday.
State district Judge Frank Aguilar said that while some of the comments from the district attorney’s office violated rules of professional conduct, he was rejecting the motion to dismiss the murder charges. Aguilar held off on ruling on a defense motion to move the trial out of Houston.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned five convictions linked to Goines, while prosecutors have dismissed at least 150 cases tied to him.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70