KIN SEEK GRAND JURY PROBE OF AGENCIES
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Grand jury indictments in the deaths of Melanie McCracken in 1995 and Stephanie Houston in 2000 didn't come easy, but they eventually did come.
The women's families say shoddy investigations by law enforcement and other agencies made the system resist, and they want the system itself and its minions to come under grand jury scrutiny.
Today, Bill Houston, the father of Stephanie Houston, and Nancy Grice, the mother of Melanie McCracken, were expected to file a petition seeking the convening of a grand jury to investigate allegations that government employees and others paid by the public improperly investigated both cases.
The petition was expected to be filed this morning with the
"The big step is getting the signatures verified," he said.
The families don't necessarily expect that any indictments will come because of the grand jury, Corwin said. "The grand jury is an investigative body, not just a charging body," he said. "We're not here to say, 'Charge these people' but to compel testimony and provide documentation on just what happened in those investigations. If there was no wrongdoing, then there was no wrongdoing."
But Corwin and the families say they believe there was
plenty of wrongdoing. Three boxes of evidence and hours of interviews gathered
over the years should convince a grand jury, Corwin said. "We had witnesses coming the next day
and people who knew what happened to my daughter,"
Both families say they believe their cases were given short
shrift because they were deaths caused by domestic violence. "The police said my daughter deserved
what she got,"
Both families also point to the involvement of the State Police in both cases as part of the reason for the botched investigations. That's largely because of the involvement of retired State Police Lt. Mark McCracken, now charged with his wife's death and the lead investigator in the Stephanie Houston case. The grand jury that last fall indicted Mark McCracken on first-degree murder and other charges had requested that a new grand jury be empaneled to "review the conduct" of the State Police who investigated the case.
Special prosecutor Randall Harris, who handled the McCracken indictment, said the jury strongly believed that the State Police should have never investigated one of its own for murder. State Police have countered that its investigations in both cases was proper.
Grice and Bill Houston had initially asked both the 13th
Judicial District Attorney's Office and the Attorney General's Office for the
grand jury probe but were turned down. "We've
been fighting the justice system for years and it's been like chopping down a
giant tree with a little ax,"
District Attorney Lemuel Martinez, credited with reopening the McCracken case in 2001 and naming Harris as special prosecutor, declined to initiate a second grand jury to investigate either case. "Lemuel Martinez would not do the investigation despite the previous grand jury's request because he did not want to investigate officers within his jurisdiction," Corwin said.
Michael Cox, director of the Attorney General's Office
Special Prosecution and Investigations Unit, said his office does not have the
authority to initiate such an investigation.
"In some states, the Attorney General has authority over
investigations," Cox said. "That's not true in
Corwin said without the aid of either the district attorney or the attorney general, the families were left with a little-known state provision that allows citizens to seek their own grand jury investigation, provided they submit the required number of signatures.
"There was nowhere else to turn to," he said. "It should not be the parents' responsibility to call for and to get an investigation going." But that is what both Grice and Bill Houston did in their daughters' deaths. And that, they said, is when they discovered a mountain of discrepancies and intentional obstructions in both cases.
"We're not just looking at mistakes," Corwin said. "Mistakes get made. Cases sometimes get screwed up despite the best of intentions. But in these cases and others we don't even know about, we think there is an overt effort to improperly conduct investigations."