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Charges dismissed in Hummel assault case
by Dan Kleiner
Sep 15, 2010 | 405 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Karnes County Attorney Bob Busselman filed a motion to dismiss misdemeanor assault charges filed against Pct. 1 County Commissioner Carl Hummel, his brother, Craig, nephew, Christian, and County Animal Control Officer Karen Hale at a pretrial hearing Monday morning.

The charges stemmed from an April 1 incident in which Carl, Christian and Craig Hummel were all arrested and charged with Assault Causing Bodily Injury-Family Violence, after an altercation at Hummel Family property near Kenedy. Hale was subsequently charged with the same offense, which is a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine not to exceed $4,000.

Busselman took over prosecution of the case during a September 2 pretrial hearing, relieving assistant county attorney Herb Hancock. Hancock asked to be relieved of his duties in prosecuting the case after allegations of misconduct from defense attorneys representing Carl and Christian Hummel.

Attorney Daniel Rutherford had previously filed motions for dismissal due to prosecutorial misconduct related to the handling of a cell phone owned by Christian Hummel that all parties wanted to enter as evidence. Rutherford maintained that the cell phone would exonerate his client, while attorney Betty Yarter, who represented Craig Hummel and Karen Hale, felt video on the phone would confirm the assault charges against Carl and Christian Hummel.

Busselman said without the phone being admissible, there was little evidence to try to the case. He also said potential costs to the county made it difficult to justify prosecution without a firm belief in the available evidence.

“There has been a problem with the cell phone, and personally I don’t think it was that serious, but it would have been nice to be able to use it,” Busselman said. “These guys (Carl and Christian Hummel) are pretty serious about this case and I can see where we would have been in court for a very long time. Without the cell phone video, all we really have is the 911 recording, and it’s very difficult to determine anything from that. It would have cost the county a lot of money to try this case, and you figure after going through everything involved in trying this case you’d have at least two or three appeals if you did get a conviction. The cost would far outweigh the fines collected if we did.”

No court reporter was present at Monday’s pretrial hearing, and the bench granted two recesses during the session while also delaying more than 20 minutes to begin. Presiding judge Bert Richardson proposed the hearing be utilized for informal discussion.

Richardson proposed bringing in a special prosecutor for the case, citing it as “such a politically charged case,” and also said he was “reluctant to make any rulings on any motions that have been filed without a court reporter being present.” Regardless, after a brief recess the court reconvened and Busselman made his motion to dismiss after meeting with attorneys for Carl and Christian Hummel behind closed doors.

The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning charges cannot be re-filed. Yarter, who represented Craig Hummel and Karen Hale, was not present at the pretrial hearing, and was not required to be as it was scheduled specifically for Carl and Christian Hummel.

“We’re simply grateful that cooler heads prevailed,” Rutherford said.

The questions around whether the cell phone owned by Christian Hummel could be entered as evidence in the case stemmed from handling of the item. Both Rutherford and Yarter alleged that video on the phone taken the night of April 1 was edited. Rutherford has stated that video that was on that phone would exonerate Carl Hummel, while Yarter claims that it would indict him.

Yarter picked up the phone from the county sheriff’s department on June 23 and delivered it to a San Antonio business to have it examined by experts to determine if it had been edited. Rutherford has previously stated he feels this constitutes misconduct.

“If (assistant county attorney) Herb (Hancock) gave this phone to Mrs. Yarter instead of taking it to computer doctors in San Antonio like the judge told him to do, then all of this happens because he was guilty of misconduct,” Rutherford said. “It’s not willful, but it is misconduct. As a product of that misconduct my evidence has been tainted.”
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