Judge Intervenes in Fiery Exchange as Accused Cattle Thief Takes Stand and Tangles with Prosecutor
SAN ANGELO, TX – Dusty Thompson took the witness stand in his own defense Tuesday afternoon and quickly got into a fiery exchange with Assistant District Attorney Brent Ratekin prompting District Judge Carmen Dusek to step in and cool the heated exchange in the second day of Thompson's trial for felony theft of cattle.
A jury and two alternates consisting of five women and nine men was seated Monday and opening statements began Tuesday morning in the largest courtroom in the Tom Green County courthouse normally reserved for the most significant trial on the docket. Thompson was indicted by a Tom Green County grand jury of penning three stray cows that strayed onto his property and feeding them for several weeks, moving them to another property and breaking the law by not calling the Sheriff's department.
Watch video of Thompson at the courthouse:
The fiery bravado Thompson has displayed since his indictment appeared to be gone before the trial began Tuesday as Thompson sat beside this reporter outside the courtroom. Unlike a previous encounter, Thompson had nothing to say and eventually got up and walked down the hall on the second floor of the courthouse. Cattle rustling was serious business when the historic Tom Green County Courthouse was constructed in 1929 and is still serious business today. So serious that special investigators from the Texas Rangers work cases for the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA).
The trial began with opening statements from Assistant District Attorney Brent Ratekin and defense attorney Gonzalo Rios.
Ratekin told jurors testimony and evidence would show a roadmap of the felony offense from Oct. 3 when the cattle appeared on Thompson's property through Oct. 29 when he was arrested.
Defense attorney Rios told the jury that the facts of the case weren't in dispute but the case is about Thompson's intent.
Ratekin's first of five witnesses was Hanna Bryant who rented a house on two acres from Thompson in Oct. 2016 when the crime occurred. Bryant testified that Thompson texted her on Oct. 23 after he had moved the three cows onto property he owned next to the place she rented from him. He told her not to open the gate because he put the cows there. She testified she was uncomfortable with those cows on the property because she knew he didn't own them.
Bryant then testified that she broke her lease with Thompson and fled the property out of fear of Dusty Thompson. "Dusty frightens me. The way he treated me, intimidated me after I contacted law enforcement." She told jurors. Under cross examination Rios asked Bryant what Thompson should have done. "When you find a stray dog what do you do?" She said. "It's common sense. You call somebody."
Next on the witness stand was Glenn Tatsch who used to work for Thompson. Tatsch testified that Thompson asked him to move the cattle because he had a trailer. He testified that he moved the cattle then called Ranger Kenneth Wadsworth with the TSCRA because he thought he was, "I thought I was involved," by moving the cattle.
Then Ranger Wadsworth was called to the stand. Wadsworth testified that his investigation found that the owner of the cattle was Coty Strain from Colorado City. The Ranger interviewed Thompson. It was during this time that one of the cows was discovered to be pregnant. In response to the soon-to-be-born offspring, The Ranger relayed that Thompson said, "I get to keep the calf because it was born on my property."
Wadsworth also testified that his investigation included a search warrant for Thompson's cell phone. That information included, "don't say anything about the beef to anyone. It looks tasty."
Next on the stand was Coty Strain who actually owned the cattle.
Strain testified that he and his partners lease the 8,500 acres across the highway from Thompson's place. He admitted that Thompson could've driven down the road and gone to the residence on the lease and talked to his father who was living there at the time.
Next was Michael McClellan who was Thompson's neighbor. McClellan testified that he and Thompson had a good relationship until the cow incident.
McClellan said he advised Thompson to call the Sheriff's department and was intimidated by Thompson when he refused.
Ratekin rested his case after McClellan.
Defense attorney Rios then began his defense. His first witness was Walter Bryant.
Bryant testified that he was a 20 year veteran of the Tom Green County Sheriff's Office. Bryant testified that he was unaware of the state law that requires anyone who finds stray livestock to call the Sheriff's office. Bryant admitted under cross examination he was fired from the Sheriff's Office for violating County policy.
Then the bombshell happened. Defense attorney Rios called the defendant, Dusty Thompson to testify on his own behalf.
It seemed that Thompson was well coached by his attorney to appear subdued and cooperative. Gone was the Thompson who stalked reporters and threatened individuals in the courthouse. His answers were well rehearsed and he was eager to explain his version of events to the jury.
Thompson admitted that he was unaware of the state law that required him to report stray cattle as soon as possible. His attorney let Thompson present jurors with a narrative of the events as he saw them. Thompson called those who testified against him liars again and again.
When asked under oath by his attorney if he intended to keep the cattle, Thompson replied the rehearsed, "No sir."
Thompson testified he kept receipts from all the feed his employees purchased for the cattle because he wanted to be reimbursed and to show the owners what he'd been feeding the cows.
Defense attorney Rios then called Mrs. Thompson to the stand. Teri Thompson testified that she ran the office for her husband's businesses and had nothing to do with the cattle.
In troubling cross examination, Teri Thompson admitted she was discharged from the Tom Green County Sheriff's office.
She also testified that she didn't know the law stated anyone who finds a stray animal was supposed to call the Sheriff's office.
That ended testimony in the case Tuesday.
The defense is expected to call at least one more witness Wednesday morning.
Judge Dusek sent the jury home for the night telling them not to watch any account of the trial on the news.
Thompson's trial resumes Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. in the Tom Green County Courthouse.
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