Barred from the courtroom
by Gary Kent
Nov 17, 2010 | 4221 views | 15 15 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print

view image
Members of a Houston-based equal rights organization are accusing Bee County Courthouse security personnel of locking them out of a district courtroom and assaulting one of their group during prison hearings last week.

But others who were there on Nov. 10 say the locked courtroom door was a simple matter of security and no one was either locked out of the room or assaulted.

Erskin Hill, a representative of All People for Justice, said he was in Beeville to witness a hearing for David Eugene Rentz, a William G. McConnell Unit inmate serving a 65-year prison sentence for an armed robbery conviction resulting from an incident that occurred on Jan. 8, 2001. He had been convicted of that offense in May of the following year in DeWitt County.

The Nov. 10 hearing before District Judge Ronald Yeager was for pretrial motions related to an indictment on a charge of possession of a prohibited item in a correctional facility.

According to the indictment, Rentz had a cellular phone in his possession on July 1, 2008, while serving a sentence at the McConnell Unit.

The offense was enhanced to a third degree felony, meaning Rentz could be sentenced to an additional 10 years in prison, if convicted.

In a related indictment, a county grand jury also indicted Tracy Richardson, also known as Tracy L. Isenhart, on a charge of providing a cellular phone to Rentz on July 1, 2008.

Richardson, who was apparently visiting Rentz from Colorado at the McConnell Unit when the alleged offense took place, also faces a possible 10-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.

Richardson has turned down a plea bargain offer and has offered an “open plea” to the court.

That means that a district judge will decide her fate at a hearing on Jan. 18, 2011, when the presiding judge will review a pre-sentencing investigation related to her case.

Hill said he and two men were in town with Rentz’s mother, Helen Wilson, to offer support for Rentz. He said he had been told that state prosecutors had been trying to get Rentz to turn state’s evidence against corrupt correctional officers and wardens working within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who have been providing cellular phones to inmates.

Hill said the practice is big business within the Texas prison system because correctional officers can get anywhere from $800 to $1,000 for each cell phone they get into the state’s prisons.

Hill said Rentz has a right to refuse to testify against TDCJ employees suspected of smuggling cell phones into prisons. He said Rentz has already had his life threatened in the event that he does provide information about the smuggling of cell phones.

However, Mark Edwards, a Bee County assistant district attorney working as a special prosecutor for the state, denies that there has been any attempt to get Rentz to testify against anyone.

“Not once have I ever spoken to Rentz’s attorney (state’s counsel) about him testifying against anyone else,” Edward said Monday.

But Hill believes that was exactly what was happening when he and two members of his organization walked into Yeager’s courtroom a week ago.

“I’ve been doing this (protecting defendants’ rights) for over 25 years,” Hill said. “We’re not going to do anything out of line.”

Hill claimed he got up, walked out of the courtroom to go to the restroom, was confronted by bailiff and courthouse security officer Bill Lazenby and was told he could not go back into the courtroom.

Hill claimed that Lazenby had locked the door to the courtroom and then said he had done so for security purposes.

Hill also said that Lazenby pushed one of his members, Brother Kenneth, and told Kenneth that it was his courtroom and he could do anything he wants.

Hill described Kenneth as the head of security for his organization.

Kenneth confirmed that Lazenby had put his hand on him and had pushed him.

Mrs. Wilson said that her son had told her that his life had been threatened over the cell phone charge.

“He was scared,” Wilson said. Hill then said that Rentz’s father had been killed in prison.

Wilson said her son had been held in both administrative segregation and solitary confinement at McConnell for his protection after the cell phone charge was filed.

Courthouse employees have a different version of the events on Nov. 10 and at a previous hearing regarding the charge against Richardson.

Employees in the office of District Clerk Anna Marie Silvas said Hill and others from his organization have been to the courthouse several times in recent weeks, always interested in the Rentz and Richardson cases.

Jay Brionez, an investigator for Edwards’ office, said he witnessed one of the alleged assault incidents in which Lazenby was supposed to have put his hand on one of the APFJ members. He said the man actually walked into Lazenby’s hand after the bailiff raised his hand to stop the man at the door to the courtroom, Brionez said there was no assault.

Brionez said each of the incidents took place during pre-trial hearings in which several prison inmates were in the courthouse. He said it is rare that anyone is ever in the courtroom during those hearings.

The investigator said Hill and the other two men kept getting up and walking in and out of the courtroom, a claim that Hill denied.

During one of the hearings, local attorney Rick Vestal, who was representing Richardson, complained that members of APFJ were talking to his client and interfering with his ability to confer with her.

Edwards said that the presiding judge in that hearing, Joel Johnson, ordered the activity to stop.

“Johnson sets the tone up there,” Edwards said. It is his court.

Lazenby said he never locked the courtroom door on Nov. 10. The door was locked by a TDCJ correctional officer who was standing inside the courtroom near the door when Hill tried to re-enter the courtroom.

Hill had left the courtroom during Rentz’s hearing to go to the restroom. But Lazenby told him he would have to go to the restroom downstairs because the facilities on the second floor of the building had been secured because inmates were using them.

There were 11 inmates on the second floor at the time, Lazenby explained, and each one was being kept in a different area of that floor. Nine correctional officers were there to assist Lazenby and bailiff Clifford Bagwell.

The inmates were all security risks, many of whom are serving long prison sentences. The inmates are also shackled while they are in the courthouse and are unable to defend themselves. Lazenby said the correctional officers and bailiffs have to assure their safety.

The bailiff said Hill objected to having to go to the first floor to use the restroom. Then he walked toward the small courtroom on the second floor where an inmate was being held and he was stopped by a correctional officer.

Then Hill approached a witness room where another inmate was being held and he was stopped again.

“To be honest, I was trying to avoid a confrontation,” Lazenby said. He said he approached Hill and said, “Sir, you need to go back into the courtroom and sit down.”

The bailiff said Hill raised his voice at that point and that prompted the correctional officer inside the courtroom door to lock it.

“Those were his orders,” Lazenby said of the officer who locked the door. Any time there is a disturbance outside the courtroom, the door must be locked immediately.

“Nobody was forbidden entrance to the courtroom,” Lazenby said. He added that once the commotion outside the door settled down, he (Lazenby) unlocked the door and told Hill he could re-enter the courtroom. But Hill refused.

Lazenby said Rent’s initial hearing took no more than 15-20 minutes and half that time Hill was inside the courtroom.

Hill apparently left the courthouse, Lazenby said, and when he returned he opened the courtroom door and looked inside. But Hill did not go inside. He apparently turned around and left the courthouse at that time.

Hill still claimed that he was kept out of the courtroom and that Kenneth was assaulted by the bailiff. He said he plans to have assault charges filed against Lazenby.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
January 08, 2011
bevodett I am intrested in the issue brought befor the court would you please explain.
December 27, 2010
dawnzo101 In response to your question

In the police reports the co-defendent's son was a suspect when ask at trial if he was a suspect the police and Ranger testified NO I find that incorrect according to reports he was a suspect when the officer was ask what was said in the car on the way to the cemetary he answred she had said what about my son take care of my son.

The victims testify that they describe the intruder to have dark hair that is incorrect the discreption given that night said the suspect was slim about 5' 10" dressed wearing a small black military style cap'camouflage face paint'along sleeved camouflage shirt and pants black lace-up boots and wearing ear phones.At trial they testifed they describe him to have dark hair and eyes an anglo nose I do not find that in the report given.The victims go to the grandson's home of the co- defendent several day later (arter being told he thought David Rentz was involed ) and ask if he had a picture of Rentz when ask if they knew what the robber look like they said no it could had bee a black man. the grandson gives the victims a picture of Rentz he (the grandson said he did not or he did not remember giving them one ) the mother and daughter to the co-defendent said yes he did.

The report given the night of the robbery taken by the Yorktown police said they recived a call at 11:55 from the victims they said they had returned home from the Herman and Sons hall at 11:40 pm the subject had left the residance at 11:45 pm the wolfs waited ten minutes and then at 11:55 called the sheriff. they say at trial they returned home at 11:30 11:35 that they were in the home for twenty to twemity five minutes with the defendent I ask how is that when the report given the night of the robbery they said they returned at 11:40 and the suspect had left at 11:45 why such a change in the time could it be that the (1)The opportunity of the witness to view the criminal at the time of the crime (2)The witness degree of attention.Addmitedly they had been drinking (3)the accuracy of the witness prior description of the criminal :they said they did not know he could had been a black man(4)the level of certainty demonstrated by the witness at the confrotation: the in court identifaction was suggestive sence only Rentz was there and dressed in orange with D O C on the back (5)the length of time between the crime and confrontation: it was months later. I believe the victims were educated to how the law is. The victim testifys he knew the next day he thought of Rentz yet he did not call the sheriff to report his suspicion (Why) when ask who they were with that night at the bar they cant recall they say it had been a long time ago yet they say they go there two or three times a week but he can recall a man he had met for just a few hours two or three years back. I find that amazing.There's other issues as well the tainted identifaction by the Rangers prior to the identifaction by the victim's the error of the courts the courts admit the testimony of the Texas ranger was in error but found it to be harmless I dis agree i haveinmy possion a letter sentto the jurors that ask minus the testimony of the Texas Ranger would he had found Rentz guilty he answers no Ask did he feel the in court identifaction alone was enough to convict Rentz he answers no so I can not find it to be harmless error by the court's It has also been discovered the conviction and sentence were imposed upon the defendent in violation of his constitutional right of due process of law this has been brought befor the court yet they denie him a certificate of appealability.How can we stand by and continue to let these injustice's take place with in our justice system? I belive we need more people like Erskin Hill to protect the people from these injustice's
December 16, 2010
that is why they dont want people like Erskin Hill in the courtrooms They do what they want and get away with it.
December 16, 2010
@bevodette what issues do you find in the wittness statements and police reports?
December 16, 2010
dawnzo101 Thank you for your intrest It was a copper bracelet that Rentz wore. At trial a wittness claimed that he saw Rentz with a bracelet on the victiams claim there was a gold braselet taken. Yet when the bracelet was discovered later in a pawn shop in San Antonio it had not been pawned by the defendent but by the son in law or this wittness. and agian no fingerprints of Rentz were found.the wittness testifies that Rentz needed to barrow $5.000.00 from his wife (sister to the codefendent) and Rentz was going to pawn it to pay them back they never say they lent Rentz the money the value of the bracelet was $10.000.00 according to the victam so I ask how did the son in law get possion of the bracelet and why would they pawn it for a mere $250.00 if it were to cover this loan? Now we have a man who just commited a robbery he has taken over $144.000.00 in cash and personal items. I ask why would he need to barrow money from anyone the victiams claim he took $5.000.00 in cash and how is it that the son in law pawns the bracelet and has also has given other iteams from the robbery to his wife did Rentz just give it all away?He dose not sound like a robber to me Yet more like Robin hood who else rob's and gives it all away!!!!!
December 02, 2010
@bevodett what was not made avaible at the trial? what effect could it had?
November 28, 2010
While we are talking about injustice and cover-ups I would like to bring up the trial of David Rentz a man serving 65 years for a crime that they have no physical evidence that he committed. Only testimony of those who were no doubt involved (and later had the charges dismissed). I have researched this case and I have discovered evidence that was not made available at trial, unfortunately was misplaced, and there are discrepancies in the police reports, witness statements and actual testimony given. The Ranger had given a single photo (admittedly) of Mr. Rentz to the victims and told them that this is David Rentz. Then he gave them a six photo array and asked "Can you pick him out?" A bit suggestive don't you think? Illegal and improper procedure. Then the supposed confession that was given dated 10/10/2001 that he had told the Ranger that he did it. Now you have a man that at the time was being held in the Colorado jail and the Ranger's go to question Mr. Rentz who in turn asked at the time asked for an attorney. One of the Ranger's left to go get a jailer so he is no longer present to hear "the confession" and then the defendant simply just gave a confession?? If so, why was it not put in writing or recorded?? They had the means to do so. Then the Ranger's leave giving Mr. Rentz their business card telling him if you want to talk, call us. Why? According to the one Ranger he had already confessed! And by the way, the interview with Mr. Rentz was 10/11/2001 not 10/10/2001 according to the report of the Texas Rangers. They have no evidence to put him at the crime scene, no fingerprints. He was not in possession of any of the stolen property, all they have were statements given from the family of the co defendant and the word of the co defendant. But not one person could state for a fact that Rentz had actually committed the crime. Statements read "I believe or I think Rentz committed the robbery." Now I ask you, can a belief or a thought be construed as evidence? In researching the law, it says you have to have knowledge of a crime. With the exception of the co defendant, I don't find that in the reports. There are several other issues that would make one question if he if fact was involved in this crime or was he just a scapegoat for a well executed plan? How a jury found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt amazes me. This is a miscarriage of justice not only for Rentz but for any of us who may be next! I would be interested to hear anyone eles's thoughts.
November 23, 2010
I have been watching this story Last night November 22 at 11:58 pm A person made a comment to @ bevodett It began like this @bevodett you said it I don't recall word for word how it was written so I will do my best to bring it back to the reader's. the person was telling of an incident that took place in Beeville it was said that some kids and a man were driving drunk and had ran in to each other they said the man went to prison for it and the kids just walk around town saying how scared they were. The person mention that some one who worked for the courts had removed evidence/ achol why the cops watched they made the comment BLOW'S ME AWAY!!!! and im talking about Beeville. That is comment # 8 as of 11:58 pm on Nov 22 2010 Now I have to wonder why this has been removed??? could it be that the oleboy's are up to the same tatics! is it not funny how things just disappear when the truth come's out well I will say it didn't take them long to get it off but I would like people to know it did exist.

At the above reference time myself and my mother seen it. Why would it just disappear where did it go??? could it be the person who made it was threaten or felt they better not bring it to light! I wonder or do they have the power to cover up anything they choose!!!!!
November 20, 2010
I think they should all pull their heads out and use some common sense here, people have the right to sit in on any proceeding open to the public. Why does TDJC fear a human rights activast entering the court room, what are they afraid of anyway?? And I think Mr. Vestal should go to work for the DA, he seems to prefer that side of the courtroom the way I see it! And why we are asking questions, why not ask "How can a man get sentanced for robbery as if he murdered someone?" Come on..... I know for a fact that there are murderer's who do less time. And how about the ones who actually committed the crime? What did they get?? Not a darn thing! They didn't get a day!! As citizens of this great country of ours we should strive to become more aware of the injustice that occurs within our justice systems and start taking steps to bring this kind of thing to a screeching halt!
November 20, 2010
65 years for robbery, less for killing a person? Because they value money and stuff more than Human life.
November 19, 2010
I am just amazed that a person can be sentenced to 65 years in prison for robbery, and yet you can kill another person for a far less sentence. I also am very disturbed that the attorney of Richardson would have any problem with an equal rights activist talking to his client. Whose side are you on Rick Vestal? You should welcome the protection of the civil rights of your clients, unless of course "the good ole boy" system is your system of choice. We should not allow the behavior of the Beeville court and prison system continue it is unethical and illegal!
November 19, 2010
This is wrongful justice and acts against Erskin Hill, a representative of All People for Justice

ensuring equal rights is accountable win the Richardson Case. Protocol security measures for personnel entering in/out of the court room failed during the Nov 10, 2010 hearing. As a result, of lack of security detail. This sites wrongful justice for all without Hill attendance in the Richardson Case. Being held out by security, prompts security protocol review to be put in question. Protocol by Lazenby in question?
November 18, 2010
We all know how it works! THE GOOD OLE BOY SYSTEM. They all scratch one and others back's. Clearly this local attorney representing Richardson is an OLE BOY...or why would he deny his client suport from an organization such as A.P.F.J who are there to ensure the rights of the accused! Maybe Richardson needs new counsel.
November 18, 2010
I believe that All People for Justice have every right to attend any public hearing, so why are courtroom doors being locked? Illegal things are done in secret. Is there a conspiracy with TDJC? What will happen if our Justice system is allowed to continue to violate our constitutional and civil rights.
November 17, 2010
Mr. Lazenby has free reign and is a loose canon. He belives he is above God..Welcome to Beeville outsiders...