Deborah Branch died Nov. 19 in Houston after a battle with cancer. She served as a prosecutor in Beeville and previously in Victoria.
BEEVILLE – Bee County’s 156th Judicial District Attorney José Aliseda said he does not “think there are many like her.”
He was talking about Deborah Branch, his first assistant district attorney, who died Nov. 19 in Houston after a battle with cancer.
Everyone who had worked with Branch since she was hired as former District Attorney Martha Warner’s first assistant district attorney had nothing but admiration for a woman they had come to love and respect.
Branch had just turned 64 on Valentine’s Day this year. By then she was already fighting her disease. Friends said she had moved from her home in Victoria and had gone to live with her only child, Monique Horton McNeely.
“I thought she was just an amazing person,” Warner said when contacted this week.
Branch was born and had grown up in New York City and had retired as a full commander from the U.S. Navy in 2009.
“I’m ex Navy,” Aliseda said, “and we got along together. She was my XO (executive officer).
“She had a lot of responsibility because she was my first assistant,” Aliseda said.
Both Aliseda and Warner said they were impressed by her dedication to the Girl Scouts of America. Branch had served at a director of the Greater South Texas Area for the organization.
“I married a Texan,” Branch told this newspaper six years ago when she explained why she moved to Texas.
She earned her bachelor of arts degree in political science in 1989 from the University of Houston. In 1991, she received her law degree from the same school.
She started her practice as a prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Houston. She called that “a good place to learn.”
In 1996, she hung out her shingle and began her own practice. From then until 1999 she did “a little bit of everything” as she became board certified. She represented clients in cases ranging from tax matters to criminal defense.
But deep inside, a staunchly conservative mother and grandmother knew she wanted to prosecute criminals.
She was offered a position as a prosecutor in Victoria, and she said, “I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
“I believe all of us are God’s children,” she said when she decided to seek election as district attorney in Victoria several years ago. “God was real clear that you deserve punishment if you do wrong. I don’t hate people because they violated the law. But I do have to see that justice is done.”
Warner said Branch had been the first assistant in Victoria at the time she hired her to work here.
“She was very good,” Warner said. Those who watched her in the courtroom during trials came away with the feeling that she was a powerful presence before a judge or jury.
Branch and Warner shared a common concern for stopping sex crimes and child molestation offenses in Bee County.
Those cases became a specialty for Branch in the district courtroom here.
Warner also wanted Branch to take on more drug and gang cases because she was so talented in the courtroom.
Warner said Branch also was a master of the English language.
“She wrote beautifully,” Warner said. Any time the district attorney had to write something she would have Branch read what she had written and correct any grammar and spelling errors.
“I’m going to miss visiting with her,” Warner said.
Aliseda shared that sentiment. “I don’t think there are many like her,” he said.
One comforting element in Branch’s life was her deep belief in God and her dedication to her church.
She had served as the superintendent of her Sunday school at the Mt. Nebo Baptist Church in Victoria, said district attorney’s office employee Dawn Tarver.
Tarver has been in touch with Branch’s daughter in Houston, but as of press time this week funeral arrangements were still pending.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.