Amid double jeopardy question in gang killing mistrial, Tarrant judge recuses herself

Four months after a state district court judge in Tarrant County declared a mistrial that had not been sought by the state or the defense, halting in a gang killing case the jury’s deliberation as it stretched longer than the time spent on evidence presentation and argument, the judge has recused herself.

On the grounds that Judge Elizabeth Beach has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts in the case and that she has been a material witness, the recusal was pursued by defense attorneys who represent the defendant, Anthony Patterson.

Beach’s decision to voluntarily cede oversight of the case to a colleague leaves the call on whether double jeopardy prohibits its retrial to the assessment of another judge. David Evans, the presiding judge of the Eighth Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, on Aug. 23 transferred the case from Criminal District Court No. 1, in which Beach presides, to Judge David Hagerman’s domain in the 297th District Court.

Beach concluded the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case in which Patterson was indicted on engaging in organized criminal activity-murder; murder; two counts of engaging in organized criminal activity-aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Patterson was one of three defendants who were indicted in the killing of Christopher Johnson, who was stabbed to death outside a Sansom Park bar in 2020.

On April 13, two hours after the jury at 7:58 a.m. began again to attempt to agree on a verdict, Beach took the bench.

“We are back on the record outside the presence of the jury,” she said, according to a transcript.

“For the record, the jury deliberated two hours on Monday, 8.5 hours on Tuesday, 8.5 hours on Wednesday, and they have deliberated, as of now, two additional hours, bringing their deliberations, at this time, to 21 hours, which exceeds the approximate 19 to 20 hours of testimony that the jury heard.

“So the Court at this time, in that the jury has been kept together for such a time as to render it altogether improbable that it can agree, the Court will declare a mistrial and the jury will be dismissed.

“That concludes the hearing. We’re off the record,” Beach said.

“The trial judge then concluded the proceedings so quickly that the court did not allow enough time for either the State or [Patterson] to make any objection on the record,” defense attorney James Martin wrote in the recusal motion.

No reasonable opportunity was afforded for Patterson’s counsel to object in the moment, Martin wrote. The jury had not indicated it was deadlocked.

In declaring a mistrial under these circumstances, Beach may have imperiled the prosecution of the homicide. The defense argues constitutional prohibitions on placing a defendant in jeopardy twice for the same offense bar Patterson’s retrial.

The state presented evidence on April 4 to April 6, before the jury was released for a three-day holiday weekend. Both sides rested and closed on April 10, and on that day the case was given to the jury, according to a defense-filed document seeking the case’s dismissal on double jeopardy grounds.

The jury sent five substantive notes to Beach that sought definitions, the testimony of multiple witnesses and video evidence. The jury was twice brought into the courtroom in order to have testimony read to it.

The state in May informed Beach that it intended to proceed in its prosecution and made a plea offer the defense rejected.

Patterson has failed to show that the court abused its discretion in discharging the jury, Tarrant County Assistant Criminal District Attorney Page Simpson wrote in the state’s response to the defense double jeopardy argument.

Simpson is prosecuting the case with Tarrant County Assistant Criminal District Attorneys Dani Wojciak and Steve Elliot. Martin represents Patterson with Robert Cowie and Mark Streiff.

It is abnormal for a judge to declare a mistrial without entertaining objection, said Cynthia Alkon, a professor of law and director of the Criminal Law, Justice, & Policy program at Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth.

Allowing, for appellate review, the state and defense an opportunity to object on the record is a central element in an adversarial system of justice, Alkon said.

“It’s a problem if a court shuts it down,” she said.

Christopher Johnson’s younger sister filed with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct a complaint that alleged Beach improperly declared the mistrial. The commission dismissed the complaint, Natalie Johnson said.

Patterson is a member of the Pagan’s outlaw motorcycle gang, the district attorney’s office alleged. Patterson and his codefendants falsely believed Christopher Johnson to be a member of Hells Angels, a rival gang, the district attorney’s office alleged.

A state district judge in Tarrant County in April declared a mistrial when she concluded a jury was unable to reach a verdict in a motorcycle gang killing case in which Christopher Johnson (pictured) was stabbed to death outside a Sansom Park bar in 2020. Anthony Patterson and two other men were indicted in connection with the killing.
A state district judge in Tarrant County in April declared a mistrial when she concluded a jury was unable to reach a verdict in a motorcycle gang killing case in which Christopher Johnson (pictured) was stabbed to death outside a Sansom Park bar in 2020. Anthony Patterson and two other men were indicted in connection with the killing.

Johnson, 29, was on Oct. 24, 2020, stabbed in a parking lot after Patterson, 27, and others forced him outside from Eight Balls Billiard and Bar in the 5800 block of Jacksboro Highway, according to the district attorney’s office. About eight people fought and Johnson was stabbed, police have said. Johnson died of a stab wound in his back.

Patterson was, with Christopher Bailey and Nathaniel McCurdy, arrested in February 2021 as they attended a Pagan’s rally in Hunt County.

A jury on Oct. 26, 2022, found McCurdy, 37, guilty on six counts in an indictment identical to Patterson’s, and Beach sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

On the day Beach declared a mistrial in the Patterson trial, the district attorney’s office filed a motion to dismiss the indictment that charged codefendant Bailey, who is 30. Bailey testified as a witness for the state at McCurdy’s trial.

For the Patterson trial, Beach ordered security measures sought by the district attorney’s office. The judge ordered law enforcement officers to require trial spectators to identify themselves by driver’s license or identification card and surrender cellphones.

During McCurdy’s trial, two attempts were made on the life of Bailey, the district attorney’s office wrote in a motion requesting the measures. Bailey was placed under guard during the McCurdy trial.

About six weeks before the Patterson trial began, Bailey was attacked by two masked people because, Bailey believed, he was cooperating with the state’s prosecution of Patterson.