Motions denied in capital murder defendant’s hearing

January 9, 2013

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One of the three capital murder defendants in the shooting death of Hood County businessman Gene Sabin had two major requests turned down – including a motion aimed at barring DNA evidence – by Judge Ralph Walton in a pretrial hearing Friday in 355th Judicial District Court.

Justin Wade Ragan of Granbury, through his attorney Cole Bryan, had entered a motion to suppress the DNA results collected by law enforcement officers who investigated the Jan. 17, 2012, shooting at the business Sabin owned and operated, T.J.’s Private Club and Cafe.

Sabin, 63, was found dead early that morning in the cafe, which is near the entrance to the Oak Trail Shores subdivision.

The two others indicted on murder charges in Sabin’s death, also Hood County residents, are Kimberly Danielle Milwicz, a former employee at T.J.’s, and Gordon Ray Lewis.

All three, each with bond set at $1 million on the murder charge, remain in custody and will be tried separately. District Attorney Rob Christian said that the state is not seeking the death penalty for any of the three defendants. A conviction, however, would mean an automatic sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

Walton ruled that Ragan’s DNA sample, which was collected by Cari Davis, an investigator for the Hood County District Attorney’s Office, could be entered as evidence in his upcoming trial. Davis testified that she had read Ragan his Miranda warning rights. She also noted on the stand that Ragan voluntarily signed a consent form to allow her to take the sample, using the mouth swab method.

Bryan contended that the act of taking the oral sample amounted to an improper procedure because Ragan had not yet had contact with a court-appointed attorney at that point. Bryan began serving as Ragan’s lawyer six days later, on Jan. 23, Walton noted during the hearing.

“That is police-initiated contact,” Bryan told the judge. “Taking of this (DNA sample) – a warrant is absolutely necessary in this case.”

Bryan also attempted to get a ruling that Ragan’s recorded statements given to investigators, including Texas Ranger Don Stoner of Johnson County, were not admissible. Bryan suggested that Ragan’s admitted use of methamphetamine prior to his arrest “rendered him incapable of making a confession.”

Hood County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Berry countered that Ragan’s behavior during the interview with Stoner showed “nothing that prevented him from making independent, informed decisions.”

During a portion of a DVD recording of his interview with the Ranger in the Bosque County Jail, Ragan appeared fidgety and after admitting to having used meth that day, stated, “I’m still kind of high.”

But Stoner, who testified that he has experience working as a narcotics officer, testified that the defendant was “coherent,” and that whatever drug use Ragan had experienced before being taken into custody didn’t “render him incapable of making a statement.”

“The motion to suppress is denied,” Walton stated.

Bryan’s other primary goal, also was denied by Walton, was to gain more time to prepare for the case through a motion for continuance.

Bryan argued that the witness list became “substantially enlarged” as of Dec. 28, growing from 53 potential witnesses to approximately 133 since that date.

Berry told Walton that prosecutors did that to make sure that the defense had every potential name connected with the Sabin case to meet legal full disclosure requirements.

Berry then emphasized that “many on that list are not people we intend to call as a witness.”

Walton ruled that prosecutors had to provide Bryan and co-counsel Mark Piland a list of those on the list who will not be called to the witness stand in Ragan’s trial.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on the morning of Monday, Jan. 28. Attorneys on both sides agreed that the trial could last at least three days and potentially as long as five days.

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