death penalty news—-TEXAS

July 27


Defense lawyers group upset over search of office

Members of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association plan to attend
an upcoming hearing to protest what they say is a highly unusual search of
a defense attorney's office in connection with a murder-for-hire case in
suburban Dallas.

Collin County prosecutors seeking the death penalty against a man accused
of being a contract killer requested a court-ordered search of the offices
of the man's lawyers, saying they believed defense attorneys were hiding
incriminating evidence.

Attorneys for defendant Mark Lyle Bell and members of the Texas Criminal
Defense Lawyers Association said the February search violated
attorney-client privilege.

"I think it's unconscionable," David Schulman, one of Bell's attorneys,
said in a story in Sunday's editions of The Dallas Morning News.

Craig Jett, a former president of the defense lawyers association, said
defendants should be able to have private communications with their
attorneys and that such a search violates that right.

"I thought it was pretty outrageous to issue a search warrant for a
lawyer's office," Jett said.

Prosecutors defended the search, saying they believed the defense was
hiding evidence, including the boots Bell wore the night of the alleged
killing. The search turned up no boots but did yield a sealed box,
documents and handwritten letters from Bell to his wife.

"No one has a right to conceal evidence in a criminal case, including
attorneys," prosecutor Greg Davis said.

A hearing is scheduled Aug. 5 to determine whether state District Judge
Mark Rusch, who signed the search warrant, can stay on the case. Bell's
lawyers want him off the case.

Rusch declined to comment. The Texas Attorney General's Office said Rusch
should be able to stay on the case and should not have to testify at the

Southern Methodist University law professor Linda Eads said lawyers can be
subject to search warrants, but it's considered an extreme and rare
measure to execute one against an attorney. Courts must balance "the level
of probable cause against the incredible importance of the attorney-client
relationship," she said.

No trial date has been set in Bell's capital murder case. He is accused of
fatally shooting 36-year-old Craig Nail in his Frisco home in December.
Authorities said Nail's estranged wife, Vera Elizabeth Guthrie-Nail,
wanted him dead. She and another man, Thomas Edward Grace, face charges of
conspiracy to commit capital murder.

All 3 defendants remain in the Collin County Jail.

(source: Associated Press)