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Sharen Wilson (Tarrant County District Attorney)

Sharen Wilson 

Tarrant County District Attorney

Sharen Wilson joined the podcast today and schooled JW and Brinton on Fort Worth Law. She talks about Fort Worth’s strengths and weaknesses. She shares her journey into law and her passions. It was a great conversation and we learned a lot.


She was elected District Attorney in 2014, becoming the first woman to hold the office and the 14th DA in the history of Tarrant County. She began her legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, where she went on to become the first female unit chief. After serving in private practice representing both civil and criminal clients, she was appointed by Governor Bill Clements to the bench of Tarrant’s Criminal District Court No. 1.


Sharen grew up in the Amarillo area, where she graduated from Amarillo College, Texas Tech University, and the Texas Tech University School of Law. In 2016, she was honored as a Distinguished Alumni by Texas Tech University Law School.

Audio Only

Episode Transcription: 

Do you have the seasonal allergies that are much like my partner on the podcast and they’re just a constant annoyance in my life
back to my intro thank you for being here today with us on FORTitude greetings to our JW Wilson calling track my ride is one Brinton Payne at do you have the
seasonal allergies that are much like my partner on the podcast and they’re just in a constant annoyance in my life.
Back to my intro, thank you for being here today with us on fortitude. You can continue to say and do this speaking to our listeners they continue to do and say things that are make us they make us feel welcome. And then as this we’re doing something positive in this world so we want to thank you guys and if you want to keep commenting, especially on my partner’s wardrobe, keep it up at someone what are they commenting on? Well, friends one lady was wondering if you could loose maybe a few buttons time or two ago. I wonder what he said let’s vest lesson s holdovers. Oh, this was during the summertime because you’re wearing some vest during the summertime I think well it’s nice
because we record now and the week and JW turns the air conditioner on here
it is building during the weekdays called call this call is crazy. Yes. Anyway if you have any more fashion advice for myself or Brinton please hit us up on our little our little site called fortitude FW Brinton  excuse me, is our website really got that one? Certainly somebody can email those wardrobes you choose? Yes, YouTube, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, Insta and Twitter @fortitudefw please hit us up. We would love to hear more information about us that’s maybe positive or not supposed to. But we aren’t here to talk about wardrobe Brinton, we, in fact are in the presence of a very interesting and accomplished woman. She oversees the Tarrant County criminal justice system, and was kind enough to spend some time with us here today. She’s the Tarrant County District Attorney. Her name is Sharon Wilson. Thank you, Sharon, for being with us here today. We appreciate it.
I think it’s my pleasure.
Thank you for sharing your time with us.
You have to make up your mind. So So Sharon Britton, she, this is her office, I think is that correct? Which floor is yours?
That would be the j
are you in this executive wing? Yeah. Good house. Very close, though. Yeah.
You are from Amarillo, Texas, originally, and you tend to Texas Tech, and thus lot Texas Tech law school. You made your way into the criminal justice world. And here in Tarrant County became our criminal prosecutor for criminal courts. Number one, correct.
I was the judge of criminal District Court number one. You know, when I first got here, I was a prosecutor and Tim Curry’s office. I got hired on as a line lawyer. Okay. We’ll
delve into that here shortly. But then you became in 2014. The 14th District turning in Tarrant County history in the very first woman to do that. Very cool. Yes. Thanks,
Tim. What was it that brought you here? Tim Curry, was it job? Is that what it was?
I mean, so yeah, you graduate from law school, and with everybody else that gets out, you start looking for a job and they hired me, so
Oh, that’s great.
I came here.
What was it about here that attracted you?
I got a job. That’s it. Wasn’t the
amount of counties away from now, Lubbock County or
so? You know, I mean, I’m always Fort Worth is a neat place to be. And I’d always known about Fort Worth because my grandparents who lived in Claude Texas outside Amarillo, our farm was in Claude always took the Fort Worth Sunday Star Telegram. So I’d known about Fort Worth my whole life because they always read the Sunday paper and talked about it. Oh, yeah.
Are you good?
Any memorable stories from there?
That’s remember the Fort Worth Star Telegram? Yeah.
As a judge in criminal courts. Number one you were once referred to as the toughest judge in Tarrant County. Is that you? Were those days? Yes. What made you such a tough judge?
Well, you know, I paid a whole lot of money to a campaign consultant to do that slogan. So
I did it. Did it work tough for accurate?
It was very accurate wasn’t a lie. So that’s, you know, okay. So what makes a person a tough judge? So a judge is supposed to just follow the law. Right? That’s easy enough. Follow the law sustained overruled. Next case, you’re not supposed to have an opinion about the facts of the case. You are supposed to follow the law, prosecutors and defense attorneys get to have opinions. So they get to litigate and advocate but judges just make rulings. That’s how it ought to be right. So but in our system of justice, we let the defendant choose who he wants to set punishment if he’s found guilty. So if the defendant is found guilty, he can either pick before trial, that he wants a jury to set his punishment or a judge to set his punishment. And nobody picked me ever. Twice in 23 years and what happened to them?
They’re still locked away. Pretty much. Yeah. That’s a good moniker for the toughest. But let
me say I had quite a few people would pick me on guilt in a sense, because, you know, you give all ties for a judge, criminal judge all ties go to the defense he, he starts off not guilty. Yeah, so it’s just close. That’s not enough.
Mm hmm. So how, how do you keep unbiased? I mean, come on. We’re in like, opinions city, right? It’s like, opinions on steroids in this life that we live now. So is it that you shut all media down as soon as you like, it? wasn’t as much, I guess, then. But how do you keep Oh, it
was pretty significant. Yeah. So I think, you know, judges can always so a person could be a jury, if they’ve read the paper, you know, you don’t have to come in being a blank slate, right. You can read things. But you got to be able to say, I’m going to base my decision on what I hear in court period. And what I hear in court, because there’s rules of evidence, there’s objections, and all that is to get to an accurate rendition of the facts, either for the jury to decide or for the judge to decide, right. So that’s why I think it’s so important judges, you know, if an effective judge is a lonely judge, judges shouldn’t be hanging out with lawyers, in my opinion, I tried not to, because what are you gonna talk about? You know, the big thing you’ve gotten communist what’s going on at the courthouse. So judges, for the most part, have their friends and family and other judges and
we have an office, your picture?
Is that we take your naps after like that just
gross hanging out with lawyers. Yeah. And you wonder why we had COVID in the jail, right? God, not somewhere.
I never want to be I guess, people who were there don’t feel I probably feel the same. Right. That’s probably why
you choose jury when you go in front of you. Right.
Well, and, and, you know, the jails not a nice place. It’s not supposed to be right. It’s supposed to keep bad people away from the rest of us. Right. Either because they’ve been found guilty or because they are awaiting trial. So it’s not supposed to look like the Hilton. Yeah,
there’s a more suitable picture right there. Sharon, tell the truth. As a judge, did you ever fall asleep at the at the desk now? Never. Now? Are you ever tempted to it to kind of pinch yourself? Maybe
now, probably not a criminal? I could see in some other cases, you know, courts of law, but I wouldn’t think in that one. You know, no,
but here’s the thing. Is it boring sometimes, because you’ve heard it a million times, you know, you’ve heard bored. So the most boring thing is more dark examination, right? Because the state takes two hours and talks to the jury. And they don’t make objections. And so the judge is just sitting there listening, because there’s nothing to you know, you don’t have a speaking part. Yeah. Right. And then the defense does the same thing. And it’s usually in the afternoon and by like six o’clock, you’re, you know, tired of it. It’s border is the that’s why they never show it on TV. Right? Because boring. Yeah. And now you don’t fall asleep. Right, because you got to make rulings
is the ruling like say the last ruling guilty or innocent when you’re I guess, sometimes it comes from the juror sometimes comes from you. But is that is that a very exciting part of the job? Is it? Do you sentencing a person to death as exciting? Is it when they deserve it? Obviously, yes, you’ve done that. 30 we withheld it, it wouldn’t be 13 times right there.
That was the lawyer, Prosecutor, defense attorney judge, but that is that is, you know, that’s different. Finding somebody guilty is not really exciting. You know, typically, when you find somebody guilty on a regular case, it’s because they’ve done something horrible to somebody. Right? So there’s just some justice in that. And
you’ve witnessed a lethal injection, correct?
Could you describe for us what that? I mean, aside from the obvious not laughing at that matter, but what’s that guy? What’s that feel like?
So it was a it was a it was a case that I had prosecuted. I was the prosecutor on definitely case and I had gotten very close with the family of the victim. And, and it didn’t get set for execution until like 1213 years later. Because that’s how long it takes to go all the way through the state. Yeah, hell it says system and then the federal system, right. So it was affirmed on every level. And, and then when it came time for execution, I got a call from the family. And they said, basically, you said you’d stay with us through the whole thing. Are you coming with us? And so I was like, you know, yes. And so I went with the family too. to the, to the execution.
Interesting. Did you leave there leaving a drink or needing a just to go cry? Or was it? Is it as powerful as the movies make it out to be? Or is it just like it’s very final
or final? And, and and let me tell you is also very humane compared to what he did to this woman? Sure. very humane. Fair enough. And and the the sad part about this particular case was, by the time he was executed for killing this young woman, her mother had already died of cancer. So her mom died without ever finding justice. Whoa. So I went with the the former the former husband, the widow, her brothers, and we called the dad on the way back on the way driving back
is DC, the Justice thing, that more and more as the world kind of continues to evolve in certain ways, you know, or at least it’s being reported that it is that that things like that continue to happen where justice is not served? What’s your kind of take on that? I mean, what is justice is? Yeah, and is the work never done? Right? I mean, is it Are you are you winning the battle now? Are you or is it just like, gosh, there’s just so much to keep up with? And with all of this? I mean, I know you’re not a judge now. But you know, you’re kind of at your spot there. I mean, Are you overwhelmed? Are you are you have things out in front of you that are like, we’re making good headway here. We continue to do this, you know, that type of thing. Sorry, it’s me. No question. No, I
get where you’re going. So I’m crime is changed. And I don’t know that I realized the extent to which crime has changed, because I was a judge for 23 years. But I had one of the 10 criminal district courts. So I only ever saw 10% of the felonies. I never saw misdemeanors, I saw 10% of the felonies, the ones that were computer assigned to my court. And then when I became a district attorney, and started looking at the broader picture of what crimes were actually being committed, I was surprised to find that we were number two in the state on intimate partner violence women killed by their spouses number two in the state, not per capita. Number two, and Houston was number one. Wow. Yeah, we were second to Harris County. And at that time, we were the fourth county it was Harris, Dallas, bear, and then us. So you know, population wise population was so that was huge. We went to the commissioner’s court in 2015. And 2015, we went to the commissioner’s court. Maybe it was the beginning of 2016. It was for the budget in 2016. In 2015 16 People in Tarrant County had been killed by their spouses, almost all women, purely, you know, female crime really, one man had died that year, but he was a secondary victim. They were shooting it the wife and killed him to the second year 2016. It was the same number. It was 16 people again, and we had secondary victims, small children, you know,
was there a reason like a leading reason? Can you get into that? Like, can you find that in the data? Like, what is it what’s
very interesting, and here’s the thing about intimate partner violence, and it’s very controlled, right? So if a man wants to beat his wife, he can be thinking about it all day long. And he didn’t do anything. Nobody. He didn’t beat up his secretary. He didn’t beat up anybody else at work, he probably doesn’t even react. And he stores it all up and then does it at home. That means it’s controllable. Right. And there’s actually some excellent studies out there about how you control that kind of violence. We worked on some of that. We went to Commissioner’s court and asked them for a team and just took pictures of the deceased lifetime pictures. But you know, it’s horrifying when you see all those people that have been killed by their spouses. So we started working on that the next year, it dropped to eight people that still too many the year after that eight people, but we were, you know, elated. And then 2020 happened. And we actually lost depends on the count right now. But it’s like 19 people. Yeah, because they couldn’t get out of the house. You couldn’t get out of the house and there was no controlling, right?
Yeah. No work to go do to be somebody else at or something like yeah,
and now we’re down to about, I think this year to date. I think we’ve had eight homicides, seven or eight. That is so much better than last year. Oh my gosh, yeah. But it’s still too much. And so we’ve really been working with police you know, our first thing is always what is the interaction with When law enforcement and the civilians because when you call 911, you don’t get my office, right? That’s a good thing. You get police officers that are going to show up and do things. And that was one of the things that we worked with the police is how do we how do they deal with the circumstances. And one of the things we found out is that if the abuser realizes that the cops are watching, watching and are going to be watching, then they can control their behavior. And that interesting,
I think chief Noakes told us just kind of in a roundabout way he wasn’t being wasn’t being definitive, but the pandemic has. It’s changed teen change crime for a while with domestic violence, alcoholism as divorces spiked up. This is an all stuff you deal with. But I think the domestic abuse aspect, which you just alluded to, was significantly affected by the PNM because we’re all at home all day together. And maybe some of us aren’t built that way. I don’t know. There’s no reason there’s no excuse for it, obviously. But that was a big deal because of the pandemic, but
and it’s significantly when put in 2020 crime across the board. And I just deal with Tarrant County, right, not in particular. But across the board in Tarrant County crime went down our case filings went down in Tarrant County in 2020. Family Violence went up.
So would you tell us Sharon, what a day in the life of the district attorney looks like? Generally speaking, so somewhat understand how your your your world works? You
wake up on the cot? Right there?
Yeah. You know, I think that when I when I when I thought I wanted to be when I wanted to be district attorney, I thought I’m gonna get to try cases again, because I love trying cases when I was an assistant district attorney. And we that didn’t happen because there’s too much going on. Right. So we have a law office of 344 people close to 200, attorneys, 100, staff, people 50 investigators. And so the life of the district attorney is really a management job. And, and for me, it is a day in the life. You know, I get to work. This morning, we had a meeting in our office with police officers from around the county, because the new mental health jail diversion center is going to be opening at the end of the year. And so our office is providing the training to the police officers for what mental health what who’s going to be appropriate for the diversion center not going to jail. So that was the beginning. We had a couple of meetings at the Tarrant County Law Enforcement Memorial this morning, which is a great thing that Tarrant County got actually built and dedicated in May, we added three more officers names to that today. Because they had died in the last year mostly because of COVID. And then, you know, meetings about process what a lot of what we’ve tried to do what I’ve tried to do is look at the data, you know, where what do we need to be addressing? And and how do we do that? But so on. And then here I am today.
Thank you. So doing a podcast.
First their first podcast, first podcast ever
so far. Do you hate it? Or do you love it?
You know, Y’all said put these earphones on? Yeah, you’re kind of cool.
I know. Well, that makes it sound like yeah, like when
you’re in an airplane.
So we’re in an office building, sorry, but we’re in an office building. And people will be talking over there doing office type work. And sometimes it’s distracting if you don’t have the earphones on. So we appreciate
set design, you would never know that we’re in an office building. But um, so we do have a proposition coming up on the ballot. So you think about growing really quickly growing population in Tarrant County, and you’ve got, okay, infrastructure, like roads, sewer, like things that people need to live that kind of thing. But on the other side of that we’ve got another building that we’re getting built with that proposition B. Can you talk about that? And what that fulfills, and to me, that’s kind of a good thing and a bad thing. It’s like, is it because crimes gonna go up with more people coming in? I mean, you know,
okay, so yes, crime is going up with more people coming in is that population increase means that crime increases except maybe Florida in the winter, right? Yeah, retire your age out of criminality. Yeah. You know, if all these people are coming here, there’s going to be there’s going to be an increase in crime, huge increase in population, right. And the hobby center was estimating that by 2040, will be almost at 3 million. Okay. So not only do we have an increase in population, we have to have we in our office we have asked for and received special teams to address specific crimes. Because when you look at the data, there are there is an increase in various kinds of crimes like we talked about intimate partner violence. One of the first things that we knew that we needed as soon as I got here was Elder financial fraud because the population is getting older and their targets, right, we let me say that we are targets. And that’s a wonderful team that works on that. And then, you know, we’ve always had gang, we’ve always had child sexual assault. We have an adult sexual assault team. It’s our newest group that really deals with dating violence. And they do an amazing work. In fact, they just finished that trial of the woman who was kidnapped and murdered in 74. Do you remember that and the defendant McCurley? What it was 80 something years old. Yeah. And so they just tried that case, at Cold Case, but they’ve done a great work on looking at all these adult sexual assault cases, the rapes in Tarrant County to look at patterns. It’s been very interesting. And so
there’s a become kind of a competition between counties and DHS officers who has the best data around that. And the way that it’s,
it’s interesting, I have no idea what other offices data
is, you just guys go with what you got?
Yeah. You know, we look a lot at what ours is, and trends. You know, what is it now? What is it been? Yeah, because I don’t think every county is the same. And you know, Texas is huge. Yeah, it’s just huge. And so even, you know, the big the big counties may look at certain things themselves, but But no, we don’t really
we probably can find this. But let me ask this just in a quick summary, pie chart, because you just listed off a bunch of stuff. Domestic abuse, like what takes up the biggest chunk of that pie. As far as crime goes,
Oh, the number one offense committed in Tarrant County. Yeah. So county wide possession marijuana, zero to two.
What? zero to two years?
ounces? Oh,
ounces. Okay.
Do you think that’s kind of silly? Or do you since law seem to be changing now? Yes. Well, I mean, across the country, they are I’m just Ed Wilson.
I read sometimes wrestle contrives to hear about Texas, right. Fair enough.
I Tarrant County, we are not
in Colorado, right. But things are changing. You can at least admit that. Yes, I have changed to the east. Nature was discussing the potential for this new revenue source if it were to become legalized. I’m not saying I know, I can speak more of that. But there are people that are discussing this. So that would take a little bit of a burden off your hands. I don’t know you have to spend time prosecuting these guys. And maybe that’s a burden. Maybe it’s not, maybe it’s part of the biggest part of the job.
So here’s the great thing about my job. I don’t make the laws. All I have to do is read them. I took a note to follow the law. So if the legislature says that possession marijuana zero to two is a crime, then it’s a crime. All right. That’s not my call. It is my call.
No interpretation. See no bias, just like when she was going with that. Yeah. So
it is my ability as the prosecutor to decide what offer we should make. Right? I don’t think that the taxpayers in Tarrant County and I certainly am not interested in filling our jail up with a bunch of possession of marijuana zero to two. And so in our office, on every possession of marijuana, zero to two, we tell the defense attorney and the client if they want to look online, if they’ll go get three consecutive clean UA is three months of sobriety, we’ll just dismiss because because sobriety, in my opinion, is kind of the beginning of rehabilitation. It’s like, can I get on with my life without marijuana? And it seems to be a good effect. We don’t have you know, the number of people that are possession where one is not a huge repeat group, right? So yeah, surely
what’s going on the intent to distribute? Because now I’m gonna, now I’m figuring out a way where I could get one could get caught with like, the minimal amount and then like, I’m kidding and be smart.
We need to felony amounts, you know, we’ve got bigger problem.
Okay, so that’s one piece. That’s the biggest piece of the pie chart. Yep. What’s the next biggest?
Um, so the number two offense in Tarrant County by in the whole county is possession controlled substances felony level?
That’s like the hard drugs? Yeah.
And the number three offense is family violence, that is not acceptable.
So how many times does one of those other two categories intervene with that third?
Oh, that’s interesting. Probably not as much as you know, many times is the person who beats their spouse also drunk or on drugs, which are pretty much
you know, gotta be in there somewhere. Right?
Yeah. But we know that because because remember, beating your spouse is a very controlled act. Yeah. I mean, it goes against what you think it goes against what you see in movies you know, people are drinking or using drugs and be you know, it’s so you make
it all day right without it kind of thing right? Is what you
want something you know, she did Something wrong that morning. They’re mad all day.
But like you said, it’s a controlled act. This person who’s doing this this horrible thing knows that it’s bad. They’re keeping it at bay until then the alcohol or the drugs are loosening them up, like okay, now. Yeah, it
can be sure.
One thing you mentioned Sharon, a fraud. You mentioned elderly fraud when things I have here reading about you, but what kind of things are people doing fraudulent wise to the elderly that you’re seeing
before? Can we get a word from our sponsor? That it’s just a timeshare for people 65 and older? Just one second? Just kidding. Just kidding.
So the the person who is the best on elder financial fraud is Laurie Darnell. She’s the head of our team. She’s amazing. And and, you know, one of so there’s all kinds, right? Some of it is the computer kinds of crimes. Because even even somebody who pays a lot of attention and says, Oh, I’m not gonna fall for this can fall for it. Some of them are just good, right? Or they’re just, you know,
there’s a lot of people in Uganda who need that money. Yeah. today.
I’m not going to
touch the shop job sitting at this desk. I understand.
And and some of them like one of the one of the cases that Laurie and her team tried, I think is two years ago was was a sweetheart swindler, right. So this woman, who was probably a gypsy would meet people online or run into them in the grocery store during the day, and she would just talk to them and get to be their best friend. And this particular woman stoled, you know, millions of dollars from eight different victims. And the jury in Tarrant County, very, I mean, very nice looking everybody out. The families of these victims who lost all their money, said she was so nice. And she talked about Jesus. And you know, they trusted her. And she stole all this money. The jury gave her 85 years in the penitentiary. 85 Thank you, Laurie.
Do you think she learned her lesson this?
Well, she’s got time to think about it. Oh, wow. Yeah. So well.
So what about gambling? This comes up these card like? Do we have a whole nother show on this? You know, that’s another
video crew just took off.
Right? Yeah. Go ahead and hide the craps table that’s on the pool table. No, but I just curious because it comes in all different forms. You got the electronic stuff, and it’s it. So where, again, it’s a law. And where are you on? Some? Is that Is it too hard of a question to
law? It’s not, you know, it’s not a hard question for interpretation.
Britain the law.
Right back at
me. Yeah. Yeah. A couple things you’ve done, Sharon, I’ll give you a little Oh, if the
camera couldn’t catch her eyes just looking at me like that. It’s unbelievable. All right. Now, I’m just kidding.
Okay, a couple things you’ve done nope, not worthy things we can discuss here. You establish the citizen advisory committee. You have started the DHS annual report. I’m going to ask you about this. If you brought you on start with assistant Advisory Committee, in brief summation what’s going on there?
You know, what we did was get people from throughout the county to sit down at the table and talk about, you know, what do you want from the DHS office? And it was really, so we haven’t had a meeting since 2020. Right. COVID Nobody wants to meet. Yeah. But when we early on, when we started, we had people from various organizations and various parts of town that, you know, south side of Fort Worth. Colleyville Southlake, and it was really interesting, the first couple of meetings because they were like, you know, the people from the South side or or minority groups were saying, Oh, those people in Colleyville and sounds like they don’t have any crime? Oh, yes, they do. You know, and that’s one of the things like with intimate partner violence, you find out you look at that list that those photographs, it’s the whole Dane County, and it’s every single race, and it’s every single I mean, you can look at the pictures economic Leslie, these people are very wealthy. And these people are not, I mean, you know, just you can tell by their clothes, right. So, it is there is a there are a lot of commonalities and it’s hard for people to recognize that. And, you know, we try to focus over and over again that we are countywide, right so
it’s Mo Money Mo Problems. Money Mo crime, I think. Right? What do you okay, you started the DS annual report?
Yes. First one in Texas and we do it every single year. I wish I’d brought you one because the one for 2020 has got the the Lady Justice on the front and she’s got a blue glove and a mask. Oh, yeah. Pretty funny. Yeah.
All numbers though. And so yeah, it’s got all kinds of data. Glad you forgot that today. That makes our job easier. You founded Tarrant county’s first conviction integrity unit?
Yes, we were the center 17 point in the nation when we started because the whole idea is I’m absolutely fine with locking bad people up for crimes that they’ve committed. I’m not okay, if we have the wrong person, or if they’ve been sentenced excessively. That makes sense. Yeah. And so that’s what that conviction integrity group does is really look at all of our cases. And one of the great things about Tarrant County, Tim Curry, who was the DA forever, right? He had a policy that was called the Open File policy. And if you worked for him as a prosecutor, you are required to give everything in your case file to the defense attorney, because he didn’t want anybody trying to ambush someone. Right? That was that was in the 70s That was so far ahead of the time, which was 2014 when they pass along, said that had to be the standard in the state of Texas. We’d been doing it since the 70s. That’s why you really don’t have a lot of exonerations in Tarrant County. We’ve had one and it dealt with jailhouse informants. You can tell me when I’m getting to know this. So the interesting thing about jailhouse informants is, you know, we have informants on the street confidential informants. It’s a good thing it helps solves crime.
That’s where I’m at GW in the jailhouse informant program.
Well, now I’m not covering
sorry. So in jail, you know, somebody may be you know, officing next you may be in the in the heavy next door. Yeah. And and, and they send out a letter saying, So and so told me all about their crime and I want to testify against him jailhouse informants. And the problem was this one case that we had the the defendant was convicted based on the jailhouse, there wasn’t a lot of as evidence or what, you know, damning DNA evidence there just wasn’t a lot of evidence.
What kind of crime was that murder?
was a murder. It was in Bedford he was an African American man, she was a white female. They were friends. And, and there was the police at the time had done the investigation. Okay, who, who kills most women, spouses and loved ones, right. Yeah. And so that was kind
of the I didn’t know the answer. How did you know that? So he’s been talking about his you’ve been listening. Oh, sorry. Oh, my shame. All my doubt on the paper in my head said.
Alright, continue. So um, it was very interesting because this guy that had testified against him in his trial and said, Oh, he told me did all this stuff was like a regular informant in Tarrant County. And I’ve been doing it he did it. Every time he got in jail. He would squeal on somebody to get his case dismissed. He’d been a competent in Formula like four times. Here’s the problem. The defense attorney didn’t know it. The trial attorneys for the state didn’t know it. Because you can’t know what goes on in somebody else’s case. It’s too big a county, there’s too many trials. If you’re a prosecutor and you’re on your court doing your work. You’re not watching the eight or nine other courts, right. Oh, and so we didn’t have a process. Our office, nobody in Texas had a process for watching out for jailhouse informants. So this guy had gotten away with it. And he’d been in jail. And you know, we expressed all that and he got exonerated and removed from jail from the penitentiary that was great. The biggest thing to come out of that, though, while it was huge for him, was that we were able to start a policy in our office that dealt with jailhouse informants. So you can’t do that. You can’t use somebody multiple times without anybody knowing it. And and actually, that also became the basis of legislation the next time.
Yeah. Oh, yeah. So that’s actually quite interesting, um, can’t believe they don’t have a movie or something on that on that very thing of the jailhouse informant like that? Because you would think that not only would people inside of their cue that, does that happen when the defense then makes or the I guess, the prosecution? Do you find that they in the criminal courts, they find one thing and really grab on to and they’re putting all their weight in it, and then as a judge, or, as, you know, another attorney going up against them? You You’re like, this thing? This isn’t what you should have put all your weight in, like, is there a certain part of that in each case where somebody is like, this is going to be not just the closing arguments. So
interestingly, this case was not prosecutorial misconduct. And it wasn’t defense misconduct, right. It was literally evidence that the prosecutor had no way of knowing because it happened in other courts and other cases. And when the prosecutor looked at that case, he had reason to believe that this person was guilty. There was evidence. And so this other piece of an informant saying well, he told me these facts about the case which were true, you’d have to know it. So it you know, I don’t I don’t Know that it was tunnel vision. You know, we’re just putting focus on that. But it certainly showed us that, that we have pieces of evidence that we’ve got to be especially careful of. And jailhouse informants is one of them
that come out of that conviction, Conviction Integrity Unit. Yes. That’s great.
That is great. Because every time that happens, it’s obviously not all the time. But those are magnificent stories. Yeah. And the person I mean, we all seen movies and stories to that effect. So that’s a great job you did on that
citizen prosecutor Academy.
Oh, everybody needs to take that. I think I would be good at that. You know, we don’t get to go be across. But
we’re getting used to being guilty before.
You can give your opinion about poker rooms. I’m kidding.
Obviously, no, I asked about poker just a minute ago. Oh, that on the down low.
We have rounded ups, some of the some of the students in your mentorship program. Put them on display for you here.
We had to blur out some of their information. A lot of
don’t worry about our slideshow. It’s having some technical difficulties. We’ll correct all that in the editing room. One of our effects our film guys, he’s on here probably somewhere. Where is he? Now he made him in that you make the list this time. So these cats so these are some bad dudes in Tarrant County. Does this list flow through your office to your hands? Do you see this as is purely policed generated? How do you are you any any connected to this deal right here? No Most Wanted. But obviously, all those people are of interest to you at some level. Hopefully you get to meet them someday. I’m assuming you’re
only of interest to me when the police arrest them and follow case. So it’s it’s a whole lot like the TV show lawn order. And one of the things that I’ve started doing this year is talk to people about the difference between policing and prosecution and judges, right? Because it’s kind of a mess. But no, those are of great interest to law enforcement. And they’re not of any interest to me until somebody files a case because I have enough to do we review about 50,000 criminal cases in Tarrant County every year Good grief every year. Um, and, and so no, I don’t until somebody arrest them and files a case and then I care a whole lot.
Does it lead up to you because you’re not reviewing all 50,000? So you’ve got a management team below you. What, which ones rise up to your
so the only cases that I personally review are the death penalty cases. Because if in our office if we’re going to seek a death sentence, and it’s my decision how nobody else ought to how
many of those 50,000 on average for two that I review, are that a death become death? Oh, that’s 15?
No, I’m thinking like, monthly. It’s probably like seven a month.
Yeah. So on average 80 something 100 Something maybe like a year, all right of those 50,000
Unless there’s a problem that hear about those cases. But you know, the ones that typically I look at or the and and we rarely seek a death sentence.
Rarely would it be safe to say you’re pro death penalty.
It’s the law, the law
shows any answer, like four times on anything we want to get kind of, Hey, where’s judge Wilson? It’s the law.
Let me say this one, it’s not the law, then then I’m fine with that.
I’m just asking the question
that I have I actually, you know, so the part that’s discretionary with a DA is these things, these crimes are potential death sentences. And case law has told us that the death penalty is only available in certain circumstances. And so we should review those, there are a whole lot more facts that are eligible for a death penalty than we ever, because we make that choice. Right? And it it is, it is a lot rarer than you think. Because you know, somebody could do something heinous. And if they’ve never done a crime before, then then they’re probably not going to be a risk in the future. Right. And that’s one of the questions the jurors have to ask on death sentences. Is there a probability this person will be a dangerous society in the future?
You know, what’s really crazy about all this talk, you talk about taking the human aspect out of a lot of this decision, right? You’re not really you can’t really be biased. There’s a lot of statistical information this should happen like this, this kind of thing. You would think that there would be an algorithm or something like this and not for other things right like that are so emotionally driven, right? Because it seems like the courts and especially making these decisions are all driven by okay, you know, numbers and very quantitative data, if you will. And then that makes the best decision. Like the things you’ve said is like, the more human I take out of this. It’s like and make these decisions, the better. But then we have so many people representing this. It’s just kind of,
yeah, I’ve obviously not done a good job. If, if what I’ve said today makes you think that I think we ought to take the human, so it’s just no below me. So judges, judges are just supposed to follow the law, period. That’s it. I’m a prosecutor, I get to care about people, I get to advocate for people. And in the law, it says that prosecutors are to seek justice not to convict. It’s interesting that judges are not supposed to seek justice judges follow the law. Prosecutors seek justice alone in the criminal justice system. They’re the ones that are charged with making sure that justice occurs, there’s a lot of humanity involved in that. Defense attorneys are required to zealously represent their client, that’s their obligation under their code of ethics. Right. Their job is not to seek justice. Right? Because that could be bad for their client. Yeah, yeah. So so a lot of what we do is very involved in the humanity. And when I talk about the death penalty, there’s there’s laws, and then at some point, we talk to the victims families, you know, because some family members want this person to be executed in some don’t believe in the death penalty at all. And some people want this person to be executed, but we can’t get there under the law. You know, those are hard conversation. Yeah, yeah.
When I was in college, Sharon, I was an intern with the DHS office, right around with a criminal investigator named Ray Campbell. Lee, fantastic human being
he is a fantastic human.
I remember asking him this question, because I was a young kid with not much intelligence trying to learn a little bit. And he he asked him, Mr. Campbell, does the criminal justice system deter crime that the age old question, does punishment and crime in a jail deter crime? He said, JW without a doubt, there are good people in this world and there are bad people’s world, no matter what I do, or you do there always be that case. Do you feel as if the criminal justice system is a deterrent? Do you have any thoughts on that? And it’s kind of an open ended question. But people don’t seem to be afraid of going to jail when they’re in the act of committing a crime. They just it’s just, it just happens, right? Is anything going to change that? Is there any way to change that? So
that’s interesting, right? Because there are different goals of punishment that are actually in the penal code. So rehabilitation is supposed to be a goal of punishment. If we if we have a criminal justice system, and somebody gets arrested for possession marijuana, zero to two, let’s rehabilitate that person. So that’s the part that the prosecutors do, right? What is justice? Do we rehabilitate? Do we punish for punishment sake? That’s kind of what the death penalty is? Do we do something that we hope will deter someone else? You know, is it going to deter someone like? So the typical when Ray was a was an investigator in our office 70s 80s? I don’t know when you arrived with maybe 90s. He was one of our great investigators. But you know, at that time, the typical capital murder case, was going to a 711 robbing the place and shooting the clerk, right. That’s robbery in the course of murder. That’s an aggravated murder, that is capital murder eligible. If the person had done it before, than a robbery before done something else before then the jury might consider sentencing that person who definitely. So does that person who’s going out and doing that kind of crime? Do they stop and think, Gosh, I shouldn’t do this? Because I don’t think that that’s true. I agree with him. I don’t think that a person in the heat of committing a crime, except maybe family violence, honestly, from the studies can stop themselves.
Do you think that’s because the family violence offenders are more educated? No,
no, because they’re not some of them? Are some of them are more self controlled?
Well, you know what I mean, like they would read up on the law, what they could get away with or not, you know, that would lend itself to that.
So no, so just the regular heat of the moment crime, you know, I don’t know that anybody can stop themselves and say who I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t shoot this clerk because I might get a death sentence. That would just why don’t think the death sentence is a deterrent.
I read that 97% ish of people do good in the city and 3% of people in the world that do all the bad that we spent all the money and all in people like you have to spend time and effort putting away. It seems like a very it’s not a small amount of people, but it’s a small percentage of people. They’re doing all these terrible things that require laws to be passed. It’s just a it’s a problem that may not have a solution. I just it’s one likes to think that there is a way to stop people from doing these things. Do you have any thoughts on the future of the criminal justice system is are we You’re heading in the right track. If we’re getting into be bigger as a city, as you said earlier, we are
we are. And is that here’s the here’s the question that I have, you know, is it the criminal justice system that changes people’s behavior? And I would suggest not. I honestly, okay, so when I was a judge, I had the felony alcohol intervention program, right. So everybody that we took in there were fairly drunks, they might have seven or eight people, seven or eight prior DWI convictions. And instead of sitting in the pan, they went in my program, which was worse than being in the past, because we were like, you know, calling them I called them, I called everybody in my program at Christmas to make sure they weren’t drinking, I called them on New Years, personally, to make sure they weren’t drinking. Because, you know, you can tell. So, does that, does that make a difference? You know, we can force people to change their behavior for a little while. But one of the things that I thought was very important for them was a and why a because it actually has foundational that there’s something bigger than you that can change your behavior.
Great answer. Wow. Well, we are research crack team have said that backwards. Our crack team of researchers alley butchered that up, our research team has uncovered at one of your tenants, we want to know if you could tell us a little about this gentleman who seems to be living in one of your one of your establishments.
Net great. So you know, I didn’t even know who he was because he’s actually not one of ours. He’s one of the feds, the feds have him. So he’s in Fort Worth, Texas, but he’s at the Federal Correctional Institute. And one of the law firms downtown apparently is his lawyer and they’ve got a big sign on the side of their building. This is what is it? Hashtag free, Joe? Yeah,
no. Exotic so and maybe even advertising the school program at the football games? The same thing? Yeah, for
sure. either. But are you the same day in day out? Or do you have a side of you that? Is there a home side of Sharon and a work side of Sharon?
Are you actually can help so hopefully we do hope so. Yes. I like to cook
watching the TV shows any, any movies? Any? Anything like that? Well, in order
to even know Joe exotic until they stuck it on the side of the building? Yeah. No. No, read. bluey. Watch a bluey. Okay.
Is that a cartoon or something? For Kids? Kids? cartoons?
Yeah. Any hobbies? Um,
what’s Texas? Go out to West Texas ever? There’s?
No, because my family you know, at some point in life, they’re all gone. Yeah. So, um, I have a very, very long suffering husband. He’s very wonderful. We’ve been married 25 years. And, you know, and no, I mean, some days I leave the office and, and I don’t have another word to say for the rest of the day. Because something you know, I mean, bad stuff happens. I spend my life with bad stuff.
Or, or weird, you know, stuff going on with elected officials. I mean, you know, and sometimes I just go home and sit there. And John is like, so did you have a bad day? I’m like, I don’t want to talk about it. And he’s fine. He is fine. His ease, his feelings aren’t hurt. You know, I mean, how I lucked into this man is shocking. Because, you know, he didn’t make me feel bad because I’m not being
you know, he’s brought us great humanity before and you actually defended humanity in your profession. What can humanity bring to this world, you know, and to make your job? Not have so many days like that, where you see bad stuff. I just went subsurface on Yeah, I just, I wouldn’t.
You know, it’s interesting, because we were talking about this with some people yesterday. You know, the relationships matter, and, and our community is so large that I think we’ve lost some of those relationships. You know, before. Before I became the DA when I was a judge. I was a cook at a homeless shelter here. Regular and
Beautiful feet. Nice. Yep. And, you know, it’s a whole different group of people. And I also took my people that were my felony alcohol program, because it was an amazing thing because they remember these were the seven eight. Beyonds and almost every time somebody met somebody they knew that hadn’t gotten sober that was living on the streets. But I think those connections are enormous. And it’s really something that we’ve kind of internally started talking about is how do we, because you’re never so we have this thing called speakers on the road, we started when I got there, I want everybody going out in the community talking, doing whatever they can. Because How’s anybody can trust us? If they don’t know us? You’re never going to trust us if you don’t know us. So we spend as a, as an office as much time as we possibly can and trying to get out in the public. And just make those relationships. Yeah.
Yeah, that’s a great answer. It’s good to know that people in your line of work, and we know some police officers, and some people that do that, that sort of thing. They can turn off the bad and go be a happy person at home and have families and kids and stuff like that. It’s actually something we often wondered about people in your line of work, how they can separate the two because it’s, it certainly can always be easy, but I appreciate you trying to answer that question. So,
okay, here’s the other side of that. When I got here, when I came here for a job, right, can I get the DHS office, I can still tell you the first homicide scene I went to I can describe it to you in detail. I can tell you the first dead body I saw, I can tell you the first photos that I saw when I was a baby prosecutor and I was going to watch a grand jury presentation. I mean, you know, some of that stuff. You can’t undo. You’ve got it forever. You know, I mean, I’ve got stuff on warrants for the police when I was a judge. I mean, there’s their stuff. And so, you know, you have to at some point, if you’re going to keep doing this for your whole life, able to compartmentalize that, surely,
I’d be like, I would love to be a fly on the wall when you say a prayer at night. Because I would imagine there’s a lot. You just gave us two sides of a coin. You know, that’s got to be it’s just it would be very interesting. I don’t I don’t know how you. You put some of this stuff to rest, you know, because there’s a part you have to be really tough and strong for your job about. But there’s another part like he said and defended that you have to be really compassionate about two.
So the crazy ones are the ones in the car on the way to work in the morning.
Yeah, right. Right. Those out loud. Oh, yeah. No, I have the windshield then.
You get good terms with Chief Noakes? Yes. Like him. I do like him. Good. We need to see you being mayor Parker. Yes. She’s doing a good job.
As far as I can tell. I mean, I know what I read in the paper. So that’s one of my 41 cities. Yeah.
Wow. Well, we appreciate you being here. Sharon. It’s been an honor to hear your story. Before we go. We always ask our guests a simple question. Marital in children aside all familial affairs aside, what’s the best day of your whole life?
Probably haven’t lived it yet.
That’s pretty good. That’s and we’ve not heard that one. Never heard that. Is that because it’s right happening right now? No, it’s
because you know, I’ve had a great life. So what else is there to come? There’s great stuff to come. Hope. Yep.
I had some hope right there. We
love it. That’s a winning answer. Jerry Wilson, Taryn Kennedy, I think Thank you.