Sects and Lies

His looks could not have helped.

That's the first thing you think as you watch Edward Lee Stevenson lower his large, lumpy frame onto a visiting-room stool. His face appears narrow and squirrel-like, compressed as it is by goggle-size bifocals and limp, gray-black hair. His teeth, noticeably misaligned and punctuated by a scattering of gold crowns, are arranged into a pronounced overbite, which slurs his diction ever so slightly. His breath has the unpleasant scent of problem gums, or maybe tooth decay.

Stevenson's oldest daughter, who once thought the idea of his being imprisoned too far-fetched to consider, believes his appearance--the teeth, the glasses, the eccentric manner--helped put him where he is. "He's a weird, ugly guy," she says. "If he looked like Robert Redford, nobody would have believed these things against him."

And even in prison, there are few offenses greater than being convicted of "these things."

"Nobody in here admits they're a sex offender," Stevenson says from the prison visiting room in his slightly hurried way. "There's probably a lot here, but everybody makes up stories. They're drunk drivers or drug dealers. They'll say they were caught with an illegal gun." On his days out on the "field force," hoeing, planting, harvesting, or plucking weeds from cracks in a nearby airstrip, he mainly hopes nobody will ask. "People in here aren't violent," he says. "They're scared."

Stevenson's words, his story of being falsely accused of unforgivable crimes, would be easier to follow if Lupe Miranda, the guard just outside the steel-plate door, would stop shaking his keys. Tink...tink...tink... Like a watch ticking away the man's sentence, the sound pings down the linoleum floors of this minimum-security compound in Cuero, Texas, which for the next 16 years could be Stevenson's home. Tink...tink...tink...

Located on the edge of a small county seat--a collection of turn-of-the-century storefronts and supply stores southeast of San Antonio--the prison has surroundings that are almost picturesque. Brahma cattle, big-humped and beige, graze in an adjacent field. Stands of oaks and pecans hang across the farm-to-market road. For Stevenson, life inside the fences and metal-sided buildings is almost pleasant compared with his most unhappy home, he says. He reads his science-fiction novels and his Travis McGee mysteries in his two-man cell. No nonstop domestic strife. No waiting for the multiples in his wife's multiple personality to, as he puts it, "clash."

Two years ago, as Stevenson complained in vain that he was the victim of a mentally unstable and vindictive ex-wife, a Tarrant County jury heard three family members--his ex-wife, a daughter, and a son--accuse the 56-year-old Vietnam vet of fondling his 16-year-old daughter and routinely masturbating in front of her in their Arlington home. Amending her story later, the daughter said he raped her too.

Stevenson, who could not afford a lawyer and foolishly chose to represent himself, let prosecutor Lisa Callaghan, a veteran of the Crimes Against Children Unit, pick the jury. He called no witnesses in the guilt-innocence portion of the trial. And as jurors now relate, he never could make a clear point as he attempted to cross-examine his family, those accusing him of the crime.

"The prosecution lined up witnesses who testified to the facts. He did nothing, absolutely nothing, to discredit those facts," recalls juror Douglas Free.

The results for Stevenson were disastrous.

Instead of casting doubt on a case built on delayed outcries, recovered memories, and a complete lack of physical evidence, he landed an 18-year sentence and a trial record almost entirely devoid of legal objections on which to base future appeals.

Too bad, one could say. He made his own dumb mistakes. "The jury heard the witnesses, saw the witnesses," says Callaghan, who maintains she brought a solid case. "They saw stuff [in the way the witnesses gave their accounts] you can't see now...There is a quality when people are telling the truth you can see and hear."

Stevenson's story would have ended with that had three people not come forward in recent months insisting his case deserves another look. They are his oldest daughter, Sheila Lott, who is estranged from the entire family but has now given a detailed affidavit about their odd, unhappy life; the defendant's mother, Ima Jean Ely, who is paying for a new legal challenge; and Fort Worth defense attorney Ward Casey, who filed a legal action last summer seeking to gain Stevenson a new trial.

They say false charges could easily have emerged from the Stevenson household, which was disturbed in a variety of ways. As members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the family was unusually insulated from the outside world, says Sheila Lott. The kids didn't go to school or play with neighbors or do anything to expose them to much beyond their mother's enormous influence. Lott says her siblings, particularly the youngest two, were dominated by Shirley Stevenson, a woman who claimed to have multiple-personality disorder and various undiagnosed diseases, and did strange, neurotic things such as insist she was pregnant when it was obvious she was not.

When police and prosecutors are asked to investigate sex-related charges made against a backdrop of divorce and disputes over child support, as was the case here, one would expect prosecutors to exhibit considerable skepticism about what is being alleged. In this instance, says Casey, they ignored some clear, contradictory evidence and chose instead to rely on the word of family witnesses who were unusually close, one of whom had a big ax to grind.

"It was a swearing match," Casey says. "These accusations were so stale, so implausible...Those witnesses were troubled enough, manipulated enough, to lie."

Edward and Shirley Stevenson agree on few things about their 25 years together beyond a few basic details.

They met in 1967, after they had written each other while he was stationed in Vietnam. Of the several men she had written to from her Tampa-area home, "he sounded really lonely, more lonely than some of the other boys I was writing to," Shirley testified at his trial. Born and raised in Abilene, the son of a schoolteacher, Edward had enlisted in the Air Force after failing to finish any courses during his one year in college.

Just four days after they met in person, Edward and Shirley were married. By 1968, they had their first child, Sheila. Another daughter, Shelly, followed in 1971.

By that time, says Edward, the honeymoon was over. "After Shelly was born, she started to get harder to get along with. We started fighting over all kinds of things."

One thing they did agree on, though, was their decision in the late 1960s to join the Jehovah's Witnesses, the door-to-door proselytizers who had been predicting the world would end in 1975. "These Witnesses came to the house and I turned them away, and Shirley said, 'Oh, I like their literature.' She got me interested in starting Bible study with them...and I moved into that religion."

The Stevensons began distributing the Witnesses' newsletter, The Watchtower, most Saturdays, attending church at the Kingdom Hall, and adopting the habits and beliefs of the sect: eschewing material gain, education, and all manner of holidays in order to get to work preparing to be saved.

"When Ed came back from Vietnam, he decided our government was a little on the corrupt side, and he didn't want a lot to do with it," recalls Stevenson's younger brother, Leland Beatty, who manages a foundation that does rural development work. "He wanted to live as simple and pure and God-fearing a life as he possibly could."

In long, involved letters, Stevenson tried to convert his two brothers and mother, lifelong Methodists, to his new faith.

"It was a good religion if you're poor, and we were poor," recalls Sheila Lott. "You don't have birthdays or Christmas or the Fourth of July. You don't have phone calls from friends or Girl Scouts." The only contact she was allowed to have with nonbelievers, she recalls, is when she and her parents knocked on their doors selling Watchtowers, Bibles, and books.

From the time she was born until she left home at age 18, Lott says, the family moved about eight times among trailers, duplexes, and small rent houses in Florida and Texas. Usually they packed up and left in advance of unpaid bills. Their houses were small, cluttered with "pack-rat stuff like newspapers, milk jugs, egg cartons, old furniture, and clothes," and dark. Her mother, she says, usually hung blankets or quilts over all of the windows. As Edward recalls: "In the middle of a bright summer day, you'd have to put a light on to see."

Edward worked in jobs such as carpentry or repairing electric motors, or labored in the fields picking strawberries. He turned his paycheck over to his wife, who managed the family bills. Making as little as $5,000 in a bad year, he earned enough to afford 15-year-old station wagons and a black-and-white TV. "One day it would be beans and franks, the next macaroni and cheese, the next beans and franks," recalls daughter Sheila.

By the late '70s, there were two more mouths to feed. In 1975, a third daughter, Sally, was born, and in 1978, a son, Sam. (Both of these names have been changed to protect the privacy of complainants in a sex-crimes case.)

By the time the two youngest children were starting public school in Clyde, a small town near Abilene, Shirley Stevenson decided they would be home-schooled. The decision rankled Edward's mother, Ima Jean Ely, who taught public school in Abilene for 21 years.

"I talked to school officials asking if she could keep them out of school, and they wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole," Ely recalls. "Sometimes I'd go to Clyde during the day to see if the children were studying. They'd just be sitting around in that dark house. I felt so sorry for the kids."

Stevenson says his ex-wife, who has a 10th-grade education, actually did teach the kids, bringing home from the library stacks of books, which they learned to read. There also were days when something came over her and she was so listless, she wouldn't get out of bed, her daughter and ex-husband say.

Shelly Stevenson, the second-oldest child, testified at her father's trial that living in her family was "like being locked away in a terrible prison somewhere." But she and her older sister, Sheila, have far different ideas about who was at fault.

"He was mean to his family, always wanted respect. That's all he ever talked about, but he never did anything," Shelly testified about her father. She declined to be interviewed for this story.

Her sister Sheila Lott, who is now a graphics technician at a sign company in Abilene, says her parents "really fought, but things were always my mother's way. If we're gonna go somewhere, it was where she wanted to go. In her house, she reigns. My mom is the kind of person who, if you disagree with her, she is angry, she doesn't love you."

Sheila recalls that when she was about 11 years old, her mother took her into her bedroom and told her she was going to kill her. "She said I had to decide what method she would use to kill me, and if I didn't, she would decide on the method, and it would be the most painful she could imagine...In the morning she didn't say anything more about it."

In her sworn affidavit, Sheila states: "When I was about 13 years old, my mother developed multiple sclerosis. She was so disabled, she had to use a wheelchair for approximately three or four years." A few years later, though, "My mother did not have multiple sclerosis anymore, but she had developed multiple-personality disorder."

The daughter adds, "She'd say she was this little girl, and I'd think, whatever. If it was big on TV or in the news, that's what she had. It was all in her mind."

Shirley Stevenson and her daughter Sally, who still live together, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Edward says he believes the multiple-personality disorder was real. "Sam and I would try to count how many personalities she had," he says. But he says his wife was unstable just some of the time. Some days she would go off to her job as a grocery checker and be just fine.

"We didn't always live in a somber house," Edward recalls. "We talked, we studied, we played together outside and went on our Watchtower walks together. We grew a garden outside and planted and hoed and stuff, Shirley and all of us."

More often, though, there were deep, drawn-out arguments and fighting "over money, or little things, over everything," recalls Sheila Lott. "There wasn't a lot of love in that house." The combat was mostly verbal, with the kids drilled by their mother to take her side, she says. At worst, her father would swing a fist and deliberately miss. Once, she recalls, her mother threw a glass of tea at her father. He split her lip.

As for attitudes toward sex--something that would be quite telling given events to come--Sheila says the household was as conservative as its faith. "When my mother told me about the birds and the bees, I came away with the impression that when a baby is conceived, a man and woman lie in bed fully clothed and God makes something go from him to her...She very much made us feel sex was dirty."

Even a suggestion of raciness in a TV program would bar it from the family set, Sheila and her father agree.

In 1988, the family had moved to a little brick bungalow in a blue-collar section of Arlington, and Sheila left home, mad at both of her parents. The second oldest, Shelly, was also about to go out on her own.

The marriage was just about over too.

In June 1992, the Stevensons separated, and Edward moved out. Less than two years later, in February 1994, they finalized a contested divorce in which the only outstanding issue was custody of Sam, who was 16 at the time.

At the divorce hearing, Stevenson remembers, his son testified that he would rather kill himself than be made to have visitation rights with his father. Stevenson says his son's words showed the depth of hatred for him that his wife had helped instill. Sam got his wish to stay in the custody of his mom.

More critical, though, is the fact that at the hearing in 1994, two years after Stevenson had moved away, nobody in the family said a word about the behavior for which he is now behind bars. Not his son, his daughter, or his wife. In a proceeding in which his character and actions would have been a central issue, nobody accused him of such things.

Two and a half years later, however, on November 11, 1996, Shirley, Sally, and Sam Stevenson showed up at the Arlington police station telling extremely disturbing tales. Back in 1992, they claimed, when Stevenson was still living with them, he was a sexual monster--groping his daughter and masturbating in front of her. As it came out in court, presented by a veteran prosecutor who says she can discern when someone is telling the truth, their stories required a few leaps of faith to be believed.

Stevenson says the catalyst for the charges was yet another fight, this time over the two months or so he was behind in his $200-a-month child support, an obligation that was soon to run out as his son became an adult. "She told me I'd better get the money," he says, "or she would make me pay."

Looking "bedraggled, sort of whipped," in the words of the detective who took the case, Shirley Stevenson arrived at the Arlington police station that November morning with two of her children: Sally, who was then 21 and living at home, and Sam, who was about to turn 18.

The mother had driven them. Neither owned a car or had learned to drive.

In an interview room, Sally told detective James Warman of the sex-crimes squad that Edward Stevenson deliberately masturbated in front of her on at least 10 occasions in early 1992. He would be on his bed, more or less ordering her to watch from the doorway of his room, she said.

"Since he was my father and I was just a kid, I had to obey him," she later told the jury--which may or may not have processed that she was a "kid" of 16 at the time.

Her mother said she, too, witnessed this ugly ritual, but didn't think to report it to police until now. "I did not know it was against the law," Shirley Stevenson told jurors at her husband's trial. "I knew it was against God's law of everything good, but I didn't know police would do anything about it." The son also said he witnessed his sister at his father's door.

The three accused Stevenson of groping Sally's breasts through her clothing while he play-wrestled with her, again, behavior that supposedly began when she was 16.

But there was more to tell, a lot more.

According to Warman, three weeks after Sally accused her father of exposing himself and groping her, she said she remembered something else that happened that spring of 1992. It was something she left out the first time she talked to police: Her father had raped her.

"I did not remember it when I made the first statement," she testified later. "I had made drawings to help me remember, because I knew that what I had remembered him doing had not been all, and so my mother and my brother were talking about the pictures I had just drawn, and I was thinking about them, and suddenly I remembered what he had done."

Her mother also testified about how these memories were suddenly "recovered."

"I had seen different programs on television where children had been in traumatic situations of one kind or another...but wouldn't be able to talk about it...So what they would do, they would have these children draw pictures of their feelings or what they would remember, so I asked [Sally] to draw a picture of Ed. It was just kind of a stick figure, but I kept gently persisting, and over the course of a few days, I asked her to draw a picture of what happened in the bedroom."

Pretty soon Sally was drawing figures that represented the bed and the door and her father. Shirley testified how she suggested to her daughter that the drawing showed Sally in her father's bed. "And she said, yes, they were both on the bed. She closed her eyes and nodded, and when she opened them, she just looked so--like guilty and disgusted and every emotion you can imagine. And I just told her, I said, 'It's OK.'"

Thus, Sally came to remember, as a 21-year-old woman, that her father had raped her four and a half years earlier.

"...He forced himself on me both anally and the normal way that a man would do that sort of thing with a woman," Sally told the jury.

She also testified that "bits of memory" had returned to her about how her father would molest her and her older sister Shelly when she was "5 or 6."

"There is a memory that I have of my father taking me and my sister Shelly to the library, where he would meet another man, and that other man would take Shelly away, and then my father would take me to the hotel...He would then rape me."

Sally's sister Shelly testified--after Stevenson had already been convicted in the first phase of the trial--that these events simply did not happen. Her father never did anything sexual, never had any kind of sexual contact with any of the children, she said during the trial's sentencing phase.

According to Sheila Lott, Shelly has told her the same thing in private. Sheila, who did not testify at the trial, said later in her affidavit, "I never heard anybody accuse my dad of any type of sexual misconduct. He certainly did not masturbate in front of the children. If he had, my mother would have called the police in a heartbeat."

What did Callaghan think of the apparent hole in the case caused by Shelly's testimony?

The fact that Shelly said the library-hotel episode didn't happen had no bearing on how she assessed the case or the truthfulness of what was being alleged, she says.

"The question is whether what [Sally] said was true. It's not about this other stuff," says Callaghan, suggesting that perhaps Shelly was molested but simply doesn't want to talk about it.

Asked whether she pressed Shelly on this important matter of corroboration, Callaghan replied, "If that is something she prefers not to discuss, I am not going to make it emotionally difficult for her more than I have to...A lot of kids suppress stuff they don't want to talk about. She wasn't going to talk about it. I didn't ask her about it, didn't talk about it."

But Shelly, who was in her mid-20s when she took the stand, did talk about it. She said under oath that it didn't happen.

Another very graphic bit of evidence that seemed not to support stories of forceful rapes was the testimony of Cheryl Gharis, an emergency-room nurse who did a rape exam on Sally. She testified that the young woman's hymen was still intact.

Again, Callaghan says this was not a problem in the case. "It doesn't mean anything one way or another," says Callaghan. "In most instances, sexual abusers don't actually perform full intercourse. What they usually do is rub their genitals."

But that, the trial record shows, is not what Sally said on the witness stand. She said in frank detail that "he put his penis in my vagina" during the alleged 1992 assault.

Stevenson, working in his own defense, did nothing to underscore these kinds of troubling inconsistencies. For the most part, he offered his claim that his ex-wife put the children up to smearing him but did not subpoena any witnesses or ask the precise questions needed to bolster his defense. He returned several times to the weakly supportive fact that police found no pornography at his Addison apartment, where he had moved after the divorce, and that he kept none at the family home.

But Callaghan did have one thing, one piece of hard evidence, that she says showed the defendant to have a sick, sexual mind. It was a letter he had written to his daughter shortly after the 1992 divorce. It read: "Dear Sally, you sure looked smashing in the suit at court the other day. Pink sure looks good on you. It sure made me wonder if any young brothers were noticing as well. Well? How 'bout the flowers. I bought some tulips at the grocery store the other day and they sure are pretty. They have almost burgundy petals, soft and feathery. I sure thought of you and wondered if you had practiced your 'green thumb' any since I've been gone. Well, be good. I know you are anyway, and call or write, especially if I can be of help. Bye now. Love, Dad."

In her closing argument to the jury, Callaghan said the letter was filled with "sexualized content," particularly its "obsessive discussion of botany" and "observations concerning her appearance."

Stevenson says the letter was nothing more than an icebreaker following the divorce. What could be wrong about inquiring whether his then-19-year-old daughter had caught the eye of any boys at church? And gardening was an interest he and his daughter shared, something he could bring up in strained times.

Says Casey, the defense attorney, "They're true believers down there at the DA's office. If you ask me, anyone who saw sex in that letter is the one I'd say had a sick mind."

Throughout Stevenson's trial, Casey says, contradictory evidence was shoved aside with explanations of what "usually happens" in sex-abuse cases, such as memories being repressed or outcries delayed. And the hard evidence, the letter, was no evidence at all.

As his own attorney, though, Stevenson made none of those points, poked none of those holes. "When he cross-examined his family, it sounded like a bunch of people arguing about stuff around the kitchen table," says Casey, whose best-known court victory, the winning of a probated sentence for an accomplice in a race-hate murder case, prompted 10,000 people to march through downtown Fort Worth in 1992.

Rather than go to the heart of the matter, Stevenson brought up tangential family spats, such as the time in 1990 when his wife snatched Sheila's 2-year-old child because she wanted to raise the toddler herself. The police were called, but she gave the child back, and no charges were filed.

Worse, he didn't know enough to object when the state was going out of bounds.

In response to one of Callaghan's questions, Warman, the detective, said he thought Sally was telling the truth about the sexual abuse. Under the law, experts aren't allowed to testify what they think about witnesses' truthfulness. "Police aren't human lie detectors," Casey says. That is something the law gives to the jury to decide. "Stevenson didn't know that," Casey adds. "Hell, he testified he thought those prosecutors had been real fair to him."

Stevenson was sentenced to 18 years for touching his daughter's breasts through her clothing and 10 years for indecent exposure, terms that visiting Judge Calvin Ashley set to run at the same time. Callaghan presented the evidence about the alleged rapes, but she dropped the charge at trial. Still, she argued to the jury that the rape evidence helped prove the other two charges.

Casey calls the tactic "poisoning the well," and Stevenson did nothing to blunt its effects. The defense attorney suspects it explains the lengthy sentences for the charges that did go to the jury.

Given what jurors remember about the case, he might be right.

"I thought we should give him more time," recalls Douglas Free, a 38-year-old information tech worker from Grapevine. "It was pretty clear to me he raped that girl."

He says he and others on the panel thought a 20-year sentence, the most they could give for a second-degree felony, was too low. Then again, with several close relatives in police work, Free says he was surprised he was chosen for the jury at all. "I'm the kind of person who thinks the legal system does too much to protect the guilty," he says. "I'm not a guy a defense lawyer would pick."

In this case, though, the prosecutor did all the picking.

As Stevenson sat back during jury selection and didn't say a word, Callaghan quizzed prospective jurors about their attitudes on a number of sensitive issues in the case. "Anyone think that, frankly, repressed memory or memories that come back a long time later is just too weird? That you couldn't accept that as a possibility? Do you think that you could listen to evidence concerning repressed memory and decide whether you think it happened?"

When several on the panel answered "Yes" to the last question, Callaghan affirmed their views to the rest. "In other words, people can do that because, OK, that happened, but I still have to live in this world and I still have to go on despite it." She also asked whether prospective jurors had problems with delayed outcries from victims or whether they could convict someone with no physical evidence, as was the issue here.

Ima Jean Ely, the defendant's mother, was in the courtroom from the start of her son's trial. She remembers thinking when he told Callaghan she could pick the jury, "It's all over for him. How could he be so ignorant?"

Says Casey, "As lawyers, we go to all these seminars, spend years listening to people teach you how to pick juries, how to make that first impression talking with them. And here Stevenson doesn't even make an attempt. That's how it all started."

Several Fort Worth defense lawyers who weren't involved in the case say self-representation, which never is a wise idea, is particularly foolhardy when the charges involve incest or domestic sexual abuse. "They try these cases with no physical evidence all the time, and they're dad-gum difficult to defend," says Bill Magnuson. "The attitude is, if a child makes an outcry, they tend to believe it. Even a good lawyer has a difficult time."

It is on this issue--how Stevenson came to represent himself--that Casey is hanging his attempt to gain Stevenson a new trial. He says the implausible facts of the case, and new evidence such as Sheila's affidavit, show that the issue of representation was critical to Stevenson's getting a fair trial.

Legally, though, it isn't enough to say Stevenson did a terrible job playing his own lawyer. Casey argues that Tarrant County's system of appointing lawyers to people who can't afford one worked to coerce Stevenson into representing himself.

From the first time detective Warman came to question him in November 1996, Stevenson maintained his innocence, insisting that the charges were organized by his spiteful ex-wife.

After his arrest in December 1996, he was released on $5,000 bail and paid Fort Worth defense attorney Brian Willett $2,500 to represent him. According to a sworn statement from Stevenson, Willett later told him that the $2,500 only covered fees for an uncontested case--in other words, it paid only for entering a guilty or no-contest plea. It would take another $7,500 to defend him in a trial.

Stevenson says he told his lawyer that he couldn't afford the fee--by the time of the trial he was working as a pizza-delivery man--and that under no circumstances would he accept a plea-bargain.

This is the juncture, Casey claims, where Stevenson was forced to make an unfair and unconstitutional choice.

On his bail bond, Stevenson was informed in bold type that he was required to appear in court with a lawyer, and that if he did not, he could be found "to have violated a condition of bond and may be arrested and placed in jail and his bond forfeited."

Stevenson didn't want to accept a guilty plea, and he didn't want to go to jail. "I already waived my right to a speedy trial, so I thought I'd sit in jail for a year or two. Then maybe they'd offer me a plea," he says. "I wasn't ever going to plead guilty to doing these filthy, disgusting things."

So Stevenson wrote the court a note saying, "I will under no circumstances accept a plea...I move this court to remove [his lawyer] and proceed to trial pro se...representing myself."

Also guiding Stevenson's thoughts, Casey says, is the common practice in Tarrant County of offering court-appointed lawyers only to defendants who are too poor to make bail. To support that, he collected affidavits from seven Fort Worth defense attorneys who said it is the long-standing practice of the county's judges to advise defendants that a lawyer will not be appointed to represent them if they are out on bail.

That is fairly common across the state, according to a State Bar of Texas study released in September. The report, written by Fort Worth attorney Allan Butcher, found that most Texas counties have no criteria for determining whether defendants are indigent. Two-thirds of defense lawyers surveyed across the state said that whether a person is able to post bail is the standard typically used in the courts to determine a person's eligibility for court-appointed counsel.

This leaves people such as Stevenson--who had enough money to make bail but not enough to afford an attorney who would take the case to trial--in a bind, Casey contends. It forced him to choose between two rights: the right to bail and the right to legal counsel. The bond-requirement warning pushed him into defending himself.

Prosecutor Callaghan calls Casey's argument "bunk." Stevenson made it clear that even if he could afford a lawyer, he wanted to represent himself. He said on the record that he had a better chance of acquittal on his own. "He is very arrogant. He made it clear he was smarter than all of us, and he was going to get out of it for that reason," the prosecutor says.

Her office's legal response to Casey's challenge contends that the court never threatened Stevenson with jail if he requested a court-appointed attorney.

But Casey argues in response: "No court, no lawyer ever advised [Stevenson] that his bail would not be forfeited and that he would not be placed back in jail if he requested that the court appoint him an attorney."

Fort Worth defense attorney Tim Moore says Casey's argument is interesting, but he doesn't give it much of a chance. "With our appeals courts, he's probably out of luck," says Moore, pointing to the pro-prosecution bent of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in recent years. "If they won't let guys out when their DNA shows they weren't at the scene, you have to wonder in a case like this."

Ima Jean Ely says Casey has admitted to her that a new trial is a long shot, but she's willing to pay for him to take it through the state appeals process. And Casey seems willing to take it beyond that--to the federal courts--if need be.

"He needs a full, fair hearing," Casey says. "He's already had a lawyer who has said, 'Pay me or I'm out of here.'"

Like many prisoners, Stevenson spends a little time with the law books these days--to pass the hours, maybe to see if the fat, brown volumes hold any secrets to his case. He sent a letter from Cuero while this story was being researched that included references to Tiberius Caesar, the U.S. Constitution, and Texas judges' oath of office.

If he was arrogant about his courtroom abilities at his 1998 trial, he isn't anymore. "This crime didn't happen. I needed a lawyer to tell the jury that," he says. "I was way out of my league."


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