By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
District Judge Ray Elliott was furious. "You caused this," he said, pointing to prosecutor Steve Deutch.
Dowdy's first trial for manslaughter began August 28, 2000, and ended two days later. After learning a police officer had talked to the judge about the case outside the courtroom, Dowdy's attorney Beau Williams moved for a mistrial. Elliott accused Deutch of sending the man to talk to him, but he had no choice but to grant Williams' request.
Williams may have felt relief. Elliott had told her that "if you had an expert that said this crash was caused due to a flash of light from a UFO, that would be more admissible" than her proposed defense: involuntary intoxication as the result of GHB.
A year later, when Dowdy's second trial began, Deutch was gone, and two women had taken over: Christy Miller and Connie Smotherman. And on the bench: Susan Caswell, arguably the worst judge in the Oklahoma County district courthouse.
In a building where judges are known for high-handed, arrogant and unethical behavior--based on opinions issued by judges on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals--that's saying something.
In 2002, Judge Elliott referred a racketeering case to a higher court, saying that if the allegations against Susan Caswell and another judge were true, "it would position a very dark cloud over this courthouse...These allegations attack the very foundation which supports this profession."
They were true. The dark cloud was Judge Caswell, and the details reveal the cozy relationship between the district attorney's office, Caswell and a few of her cronies on the bench.
It began as a 26-count indictment with nine defendants. As the trial was about to begin, the district attorney's office asked Special Judge Charles Hill for a continuance. All of the defense attorneys opposed the motion. Hill denied the state's request.
Prosecutors did an end run to Caswell and another judge who--without jurisdiction or notice to defense attorneys--yanked the case from Hill's court. They assigned it to another judge, who promptly declared a 152-day continuance.
Caswell had no authority over the case. The defense filed a motion alleging the judges' actions presented "a systemic and systematic, fundamental and apparently continuing pattern of rule-breaking, judge shopping and general prosecutorial and judicial misconduct so pervasive as to taint the Oklahoma County judicial system."
Appellate judges ruled in favor of the defense; the racketeering case was ultimately dismissed as a result.
Even before Caswell took the bench in January 1999, her ability to be a neutral, unbiased judge was in doubt. The wife of an Oklahoma City police officer and a prosecutor under Macy for 13 years, Caswell ran for election with a promise that she would "continue to 'fight' for victims' rights." That troubled criminal defense attorneys whose clients are innocent until proven guilty.
In the intervening years, she has acquired a reputation as a "prosecutor in a black robe." Notorious for rolling her eyes and grimacing as defense attorneys speak, Caswell makes her feelings plain.
In July 2000, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 4-0 that Caswell should recuse herself from a child abuse trial because her campaign literature made her appear biased. Judge Charles S. Chapel went further, saying she should remove herself from all criminal trials.
A few months later, Caswell was disqualified from a high-profile murder case. At the request of the district attorney's office, she had ordered the draining of a lake to find a murder weapon and gave repeated orders with no notice to the defense, delaying the trial for months.
Mickey Homsey, the defense lawyer in that case, said in his motion to remove the judge that walking into Caswell's courtroom was like entering the "district attorney's annex."
"I agree," concurred Judge Chapel. "In these proceedings, Judge Caswell turned her office into an investigative arm for the district attorney...Indeed, there are many serious and scary problems in this record, but the most serious difficulty is that in her zeal to assist the prosecution, this judge unilaterally and illegally denied the defendant in this case the benefits of our adversarial system."
This appellate bitch slap didn't faze Caswell. She learned how trial judges behave under Macy.
In October 2000, Dowdy petitioned the court for permission to move to Kansas City. She wanted to get a job and live with Mulac until the trial. The court agreed as long as Dowdy didn't drive and was on a device called a Sobrietor. When it blared three times a day--at 7 a.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. --Dowdy had to speak and blow into it. If the device detected alcohol, it notified officials through a phone line. Dowdy never failed a test.
But that's not how it would appear to the jury in Dowdy's second trial, which began January 8, 2001.
The transcript reveals that Caswell at every turn favored the prosecution. At times, the assistant district attorneys didn't even have to object. The judge did it for them, once going on for 10 pages presenting the state's arguments on the admissibility of evidence without prosecutors ever saying a word. At times, Caswell's rulings were contradictory, always to the benefit of prosecutors.