'Operation Crackdown' Update

Court grants appeal rehearing to one of 29 black residents in Edna, Texas, charged with drug dealing in connection with a 2002 undercover sting operation

On May 9, Texas' 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi granted Frederick Patterson's bid for a rehearing of his appeal of three convictions for dealing minor amounts of crack cocaine. Patterson was one of 29 black residents in Edna, Texas, who were rounded up and charged with drug dealing in connection with a 2002 undercover sting operation, coyly named "Operation Crackdown." Patterson (and his wife, Joycelyn, who was also charged as a result of the sting) has maintained his innocence and argues that he was wrongly convicted based solely on the testimony of a former crack addict turned police confidential informant named Santos Castro Castañeda (see "Crackpot Crackdown," Oct. 21, 2005). Indeed, without any evidence linking Patterson to the alleged drug deals – officials never searched his home or his car, nor did they obtain any financial or other records because, Jackson Co. District Attorney Bobby Bell told the Chronicle last year, they lacked the probable cause to do so – the state relied on Castañeda's weak testimony corroborated only by the testimony of three already convicted individuals to whom Patterson allegedly sold drugs. Patterson's attorneys – Houston lawyer Joseph Willie and Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn – argue that under the 2001 law concerning corroborative evidence (crafted in the wake of the 1999 Tulia debacle) the state could not use the testimony of the three who, in essence, are "accomplice witnesses."

A three-judge panel of the 13th Court denied Patterson's appeal back in October, allowing the corroboration, but noting that no Texas court had yet addressed the question of whether an informant may "corroborate the testimony of an accomplice, and vice versa." "We are aware of the absence of guiding case precedent in this area of law," Justice Dori Contreras Garza wrote for the court, "but we are confident that the legislature would have combined the informant and accomplice corroboration provisions if it had intended to prohibit an informant from corroborating the testimony of an accomplice and vice versa." Stunned by the court's decision, Patterson petitioned again, asking that the justices reconsider their conclusion; on May 9 the court finally agreed to revisit the matter. The case is set for oral argument May 31 in Corpus Christi.

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