By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
"I remember it," Wade acknowledged.
"Well," Fowler continued, "I feel even more strongly about this one."
The district attorney looked at Fowler, then Kinne, saying nothing. Then he turned to walk to a nearby secretary's desk. "Schedule me a press conference for 4 p.m.," Wade said.
Billy Fowler and Norm Kinne stood against the wall in the back of the room, listening as the district attorney told members of the media that new evidence had come to light that indicated Lenell Geter was, in fact, innocent of the crime for which he'd been convicted. As Wade spoke, a secretary approached Fowler and whispered that he had a phone call. It was, she said, from someone in Lufkin.
In a troubled voice, the now familiar voice explained that his cousin had been receiving threatening phone calls from Curtis Mason since Fowler and Kinne had first visited him in the Harris County jail. The calls, he said, had continued following his transfer to Dallas. "He's threatening to kill her or have someone kill her because she's the only one he ever told about that Balch Springs robbery. She wants to talk to you."
Though Fowler and Kinne had, while reading reports during their visit to Houston, learned the name of the woman with whom Mason had been living and assumed she was, in fact, the cousin who had been mentioned, Fowler pleaded ignorance.
"You've never told me her name or where I can reach her," the investigator said.
After being given the woman's name and phone number, Fowler hung up and immediately called the jail to request that Mason not be allowed further use of the phone. He then dialed a number in Houston.
While Wade was addressing the media across the hall, Mason's former girlfriend was telling Fowler a story that removed any lingering doubts.
When she and Mason had lived together in Dallas, she had known he was dealing drugs but insisted she had never suspected him of committing robbery until he was arrested in Houston.
In December 1983, on the night the 60 Minutes report on Geter aired, Mason had called her from the Harris County jail to ask if she was watching the program. "She told me that they stayed on the phone during the entire Geter segment," Fowler recalled, "and Mason told her, 'That's me they're talking about, not Geter.'"
He admitted to her that he was the one who had robbed the Balch Springs restaurant and had even recognized two of the women who had been interviewed on the CBS show.
She went on to tell Fowler of Mason stealing her car and taking it to Beaumont, of joining him in Louisiana following his accident and of his ultimate arrest while they were living in Houston. She again insisted that she'd had no idea he was a robber until police came to their apartment and arrested him.
Though she had known of her boyfriend's involvement in the Balch Springs robbery since December, she had not placed a call for advice to her Lufkin relative until March, when Mason's attorney had approached her about serving as an alibi witness.
She began to cry as she continued to tell Fowler her story. "I love Curtis," she said, "but I'm afraid of him. When that lawyer came to me, and I realized that he wanted me to get on the witness stand and lie for him, I got really scared. I just didn't want to be a part of it."
"I'm glad you made the decision you did," Fowler replied.
Though never tried for the Balch Springs robbery, Mason was sentenced to 35 years for seven other aggravated robberies with a deadly weapon, fire arm possession and possession of cocaine and is now incarcerated at the Clements Unit in Amarillo.
The case was seldom out of Fowler's thoughts. Even after Geter's release from prison, people in the courthouse would stop him, unaware of his involvement, and ask if he really thought justice had been served. More than one person suggested that the entire episode had been nothing more than a case of Henry Wade putting a troublesome and controversial matter to rest in the best way he could. There were many who still felt Geter was guilty. Since Wade had offered no public detailing of his office's investigation into the case, Fowler didn't believe it was his place to do so.
"I never felt the district attorney's office was at fault in the case," he would later confide. "It just took the information brought to it, went to court and got a conviction. What a lot of people were never aware of was that Norm Kinne worked just as hard to right that wrong as he ever did to get a conviction. You can't ask more of a man than that."
"I did my job," Kinne said, "and Billy Fowler certainly did his."
Why, then, in the years that followed did he never tell the media details of the investigation that freed Geter? "Because," Kinne said, "nobody ever asked me." For some time after, a hint was in full view of anyone who entered his office. In a bookcase lay Mason's gun, which Fowler had rescued from Beaumont, a constant reminder of the investigation until he finally returned it to the Beaumont officer.