Edna Injustice Update

After more than a year-and-a-half in prison for a crime he insists he did not commit, Rick Patterson, one of 29 blacks arrested and charged with selling drugs in Edna, Texas, was granted parole.

After more than a year-and-a-half in prison for a crime he insists he did not commit, 51-year-old Frederick Patterson was granted parole. Patterson and his wife, Jocelyn, were among 29 blacks arrested and charged with selling minor amounts of crack cocaine to a police informant in 2002 in Edna, Texas (see "Crackpot Crackdown," Oct. 21, 2005). Officials claimed that Patterson was Edna's "major dealer," from whom most of those arrested in the joint Edna PD/Jackson Co. Sheriff's Department sting purchased small amounts of crack cocaine. Nonetheless, there was no direct evidence linking Patterson to the drug trade – police never recovered any money, or drugs, nor did they even search Patterson's home or car – save for the word of a single confidential informant, Santos Castro Castañeda. Police said Castañeda, an admitted crack addict, told them she wanted to help rid Edna of crack dealers – in an effort, she said, to keep herself clean. So police gave Castañeda cash and sent her out to troll for crack on the streets of Edna's predominately black southeast side, armed only with a small tape recorder they placed in her handbag. The only evidence police had was the scratchy recording of Castañeda talking into the tape, telling police where she was driving and to whom she was talking; indeed, police failed even to maintain visual contact with Castañeda during her alleged buys.

Rick Patterson was one of only two of the 29 defendants who refused to cop a plea offered by longtime Jackson Co. District Attorney Bobby Bell. Patterson, who, like his wife, Jocelyn, was born and raised in Edna – and who raised his own family there – had no criminal record of any kind. (He had never even been cited for so much as a speeding ticket.) Without any evidence, he felt certain he could beat the flimsy rap. But in August 2004, a Jackson Co. jury found him guilty and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. In an extra measure of spite, Bell subsequently had Patterson indicted on a perjury charge, stemming from Patterson's testimony at trial during which he insisted upon his innocence.

Frightened by the outcome of her husband's trial, Jocelyn – who was indicted on a single count of selling crack to Castañeda after her husband declined to accept Bell's plea offer – pled guilty to the charge (a plea she ultimately tried to rescind) and was sentenced in November of 2004 to two years flat time, meaning without a chance for early release. But in an unexpected and relatively rare move – one that, perhaps, belies the strength of the state's case against him – Rick Patterson was informed late last month that the parole board has granted his bid for early release, and is slated for release in late September or early October. Patterson's daughter LaTrinda tells the Chronicle that she isn't sure what will happen with the pending perjury charge, but she hopes that, with the help of Houston attorney Joseph Willie, she'll be able to have her father released from that charge on bond. She said that Patterson will try to have his parole moved from Jackson to Harris Co., so that he can move in with her in Houston.

Meanwhile, Jocelyn is slated for release in November, at the end of her two-year term. But LaTrinda says that her family will continue to fight to have her parents' wrongful convictions overturned. Rick's appeal – initially denied by a three-judge panel of Texas' 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi – is still pending in that court on a motion for rehearing by the full bench, filed by Willie and Panhandle attorney Jeff Blackburn (head of the Texas Tech Innocence Project, which was instrumental in overturning the convictions in the notorious 1999 Tulia case). Jocelyn's appeal, denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals, is pending in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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