For three years, a confessed attempted murderer roamed the streets of Dallas, going on a crime spree that ended when he killed a man in July 2007. Michael Wyatt had pleaded guilty to the attempted murder in 2004, but the Dallas District Attorney's Office wanted him to testify against his co-defendant Aaron Vaughn, so Wyatt stayed out of prison on bond while Vaughn awaited trial.
Now Wyatt is back -- in a fashion -- in a political ad that targets Susan Hawk, the Republican running against District Attorney Craig Watkins. The ad suggests that Hawk, who at the time was a judge in Wyatt's case, was to blame to letting Wyatt remain free until the day he killed a man in an Oak Cliff drug house.
There's one problem with that theory, though. It contradicts Watkins' own words at the time of the killing.
See also: Witness for the Prosecution
The Lone Star Project, a Democratic political action committee, debuted a new ad last week that claims Hawk should have done more to keep Wyatt in prison. Even worse, the PAC charges, Hawk altered court records in 2012, removing Wyatt's references to a deadly weapon in his attempted murder plea and minimizing the charges against him.
Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, says the case is a reflection of Hawk's political opportunism, just like her running as both a Republican and a Democrat in previous elections. As she geared up to take on Watkins, Angle says, Hawk sought to soften any potential blow Wyatt's case would strike against her campaign.
But the history of the case tells a different story. As reported in the Observer in 2007, Watkins and his office have already taken partial responsibility for Wyatt's crimes while out on bail.
Although the deal with Wyatt was struck before Watkins was elected district attorney in November 2006, his office missed an easy opportunity to revoke Wyatt's bond when he was picked up for a drug charge in January 2007, months before he committed manslaughter in Oak Cliff.
Watkins assistant Terri Moore acknowledged in 2007 that the prosecutor in the case, Patrick Jordan, should have revoked Wyatt's bond. Watkins blamed his office's lack of resources for Wyatt's freedom in a prepared statement at the time.
"When a District Attorney's Office is inadequately funded and understaffed, it translates into not having the proper resources in place to monitor the activities of defendants once they made bond," Watkins said. "Due to the circumstance of this particular case, an unfortunate error was made, however, we are seeking proper funding and staffing for this office to minimize and eliminate errors like this one in the future."
Now, it seems that the Lone Star Project has seized the case and is attempting to lay the blame on Hawk with an ad suggesting she is weak on crime. It includes a timeline featuring the former judge and Wyatt's mugshot. Watkins' campaign sent out a tweet featuring the ad.
Hawk says that the ad is further proof that Watkins should not continue as district attorney.
"Our DA is purposefully misleading voters and spreading information that he knows is untrue. This sort of false attack is just another reason why voters should not trust him," she said.
As for the record change, it was nothing more than a routine correction to the record, she says.
The ad, we think, has interesting parallels to this classic gem:
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.