AUSTIN -- Indictments were dropped Friday morning against Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina and his wife in the June 28 arson fire that the destroyed the family home in the Houston suburb of Spring.
The move came one day after a grand jury in Harris County charged the couple in the fire that had been ruled arson, and one day after Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal was quoted as saying that his office did not have sufficient evidence to move forward with prosecution.
Two members of the grand jury publicly rebuked Rosenthal, telling media outlets in Houston that the justice process had been thwarted.
"I've just never seen anything like the vigor with which these two defendants were defended by the Harris County District Attorney's Office,"’ Jeffrey Dorrell, the assistant grand jury foreman, was quoted in the Houston Chronicle as saying. "It was theater of the absurd. We knew before we handed the indictment down that the district attorney was going to refuse to prosecute, but we did it anyway."
Medina's 5,000-square-foot home burned after a fire started in a detached three-car garage. Neighboring houses also sustained heavy damage, and investigators found evidence of an accelerant where the blaze started. Medina, who was serving as Gov. Rick Perry's top lawyer when the governor appointed him to the state's highest civil court in November 2004, has maintained his innocence.
"He testified before the grand jury on Oct. 31 saying that neither he nor anyone in his family had anything to do with this," Medina's attorney, Terry Yates of Houston, said Thursday night. "This comes as a real shocker. We thought this was behind us."
The indictments accused Francisca Medina of arson and David Medina of tampering with the investigation.
According to news accounts, the fire broke out in the Medinas' garage and spread to their house and two neighboring homes, causing an estimated $900,000 in damage. The Harris County fire marshal's office ruled it arson.
Investigators discovered that a year before the blaze, the mortgage holder on the Medinas' $400,000 house filed suit to foreclose after five payments had been missed, according to the reports. The suit was settled in December 2006.
In an interview with The Associated Press late last year, Yates confirmed that David Medina, who is paid about $150,000 as a Supreme Court justice, had been dealing with financial problems. The family had also failed to keep up payments on the homeowner's insurance policy, Yates told the AP.
Perry's office had no comment on Thursday's events. Medina, a Republican who won a six-year term in 2006, was a corporate lawyer for Cooper Industries in Houston and served as a state district judge in Harris County before joining Perry's administration. He is a native of Galveston and graduate of the South Texas College of Law in Houston.
The last sitting Texas Supreme Court justice to face indictment was Don Yarborough, who took office in 1977 while under charges of forgery and perjury. He resigned seven months after being sworn in. He was convicted and then fled to Grenada. Yarborough was apprehended in 1983 and returned to Texas to begin his five-year prison sentence.
Under the indictment, Medina could have faced from two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.