Harris Co. DA's office dedicating resources to clear up backlog of capital murder cases

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Saturday, June 25, 2022
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Eleven prosecutors in the Harris County District Attorney's Office will focus specifically on moving capital murder cases through the court system.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Eleven prosecutors in the Harris County District Attorney's Office will focus specifically on moving capital murder cases through the court system.

District Attorney Kim Ogg said there is currently a 135,000 case backlog. Of those cases, 450 are capital murders.

"We have to make a decision about what is most important with the resources we have, and everyone agrees on murder," Ogg said. "It's a non-partisan issue."

The new division created within her office has been assigned 300 of those cases and will receive all of the new capital murder cases moving forward, with the exception of murders of police officers.

"With the crisis that the city is in, we want to get violent offenders off the streets and out of our jails," Ogg said. "They need speedy trials."

She said the senior lawyers will be able to move the cases through the system with efficiency and effectiveness.

"By giving specialized prosecutors the training and resources they need to handle the most important cases, the capital murders, we know that we will be delivering a better product and this will in holding more people accountable send a message to the criminal element that it is just a matter of time before we get you," Ogg said.

SEE RELATED: Prosecutors triage cases to fight 'heavy burden' of backlogged cases

Former president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, Joe Vinas, believes prosecutors who are not in the homicide division will suffer under Ogg's new plan.

"Once you try that first murder, then it kind of changes the way you prosecute things," Vinas explained. "Once you do that, it changes how you prosecute robbery cases, maybe even sexual assault cases, so the prosecutors who are still trying those cases aren't getting the benefit of trying those murder cases."

Vinas also doesn't think the plan will move cases through the courts any quicker.

"Just because the DA's office has sent these cases off into a specialized division doesn't mean that the court will be more prepared to hear them," Vinas said. "It doesn't mean the defense will be available to try them. It doesn't mean the prosecutor is going to be available either."

Ogg has asked the courts for an emergency docket for trial of capital murder cases, which has not happened. ABC13 is waiting to hear back from the courts to see if that is something they are considering.

She also said her office will continue to work with the police department to advocate for more funding for their evidence lab, which is "dramatically underfunded."

"Our trial schedule is wholly dependent upon the police getting the evidence to us in good condition with an authentic chain of custody and it be tested quickly," Ogg said. "When the lab can't function properly because they are under-staffed, it slows the entire process down. We are going to move forward with the cases in which we are ready."

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