DA's comments to ABC13 play major role in DWI case
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Despite a grand jury investigation into reports of major problems with the city's drunk driving testing units, a jury Friday convicted a man based on their results.
The case called into question comments made by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos to ABC13 Eyewitness News about her mistrust in the Houston Police Department's handling of DWI testing.
13 Undercover was the first to report that maintenance problems with the BAT vans could lead to bad results. On Friday, comments the DA made to Eyewitness News earlier this week took front and center stage in court.
This was just another DWI case until the defense attorney took Lykos to task. Earlier this week, the DA told Eyewitness News she didn't trust HPD to run the city's embattled mobile DWI breath testing vans.
"I want the Texas Department of Public Safety to supervise the technicians so that we can be assured that everything is done according to protocol," Lykos said.
Defense attorney Jacquelyn Carpenter argued if the county's top attorney has serious doubts about whether breath tests were valid, why should a jury believe them and convict her client of driving drunk. She told jurors, "humans make mistakes and machines malfunction."
"How do you say that the BAT van is a reliable test and you're still conducting an investigation on whether the BAT van is a reliable test? It contradicts all reason," said defense attorney Jacquelyn Carpenter.
This is the first time prosecutors have gone to trial with BAT van evidence since their boss made those statements. On Friday, the DA's words came back to haunt her. Our interview with Lykos was subpoenaed as evidence, but the judge ruled against it. Instead, the jury heard an audio recording of the same interview made by someone from the DA's Office.
Lykos couldn't come to court because she's at a training conference in Hawaii.
"We actually had to go back to his chambers and listen to the audiotape and that's when the judge was persuaded that it's the words," said Joe Larsen, attorney for KTRK.
The DA's Office is currently under investigation for possible criminal misconduct. A grand jury is trying to figure out if Lykos' staff tried to cover up problems with the BAT van tests.
When ABC13 reporter Ted Oberg asked Lykos Monday if she did anything wrong, the DA replied, "Of course not."
And even though Lykos told Eyewitness News she was done trusting HPD to tell her the truth about DWI testing, the jury in this case went ahead and found the defendant guilty.
"The jury heard evidence about the reliability and accuracy of the BAT vans. We're very happy with their verdict and we appreciate their time and effort they took in listening to the case this week. We know it took a lot of time," said prosecutor Sarah Mickelson.
Four prosecutors have been subpoenaed in that grand jury investigation.
You may remember 13 Undercover investigations exposed the BAT van issues back in March. Since then, a grand jury has launched a probe into who knew about the problems and when.
Here's a look at a timeline in the BAT van investigation:
- Our 13 Undercover investigations exposed maintenance problems with the BAT vans back in March.
- Emails we uncovered about the Breathalyzer accuracy prompted attorneys to challenge DWI cases connected to the vans.
- A hearing was held in July where Culbertson openly testified about the lack of response to the BAT van issues.
- In October, Harris County commissioners terminated a contract with Culbertson's current employer to provide DWI testing in the county.
- Last Friday, Eyewitness News first reported that the grand jury appeared to be investigating how the DA's Office and HPD handled reports of the BAT van problems.
- On Tuesday, we confirmed four prosecutors have been subpoenaed in that investigation.
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