Why did DA drop felony charge against ex-Texas coach Beard?
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas basketball coach Chris Beard was arrested and charged with choking his fiancee and fired less than a month later when the university said he was “unfit” to continue leading the Longhorns program.
Now the third-degree felony charge is dismissed, and so is the threat of up to 10 years in prison. Travis County District Attorney José Garza announced Wednesday that based on the case evidence and the fiancee’s wishes not to prosecute, he likely could not get a conviction.
Even when initial police reports documented other evidence such as bite marks and an abrasion on her face, prosecutors had little chance of winning a conviction without a cooperative witness, domestic violence experts say.
Beard issued his first public statement on the matter Thursday, saying he was pleased the charge was dismissed. He also said he was “sorry and deeply remorseful” to his family, friends, players, staff and Texas fans.
WHY WAS BEARD ARRESTED?
Beard’s fiancée, Randi Trew, called 911 on Dec. 12 after the two had a physical altercation at his house. According to the arrest affidavit, Trew told police that Beard hit her, bit her and threw her around. She also said he choked her from behind to the point she could not breathe for up to five seconds.
Beard was arrested on a charge of felony strangulation/suffocation-family violence and spent more than 12 hours in the Travis County jail before he was released. The university suspended Beard without pay later that day. He was fired on Jan. 5.
WHAT EVIDENCE CHANGED AFTER THE ARREST?
Trew issued a one-paragraph statement on Dec. 23 stating Beard did not strangle her. Trew also said she did not believe Beard intended to harm her that night and that she never wanted him to be arrested and prosecuted.
Trew’s statement did not address why she called 911 and other evidence cited by police, such as the bite marks and bruising. But critically, it specifically refuted the key element of the strangulation/suffocation charge and undercut the prosecution’s case.
“When a survivor is speaking publicly saying it didn’t happen, that makes it tough” for a felony prosecutor to proceed, said Jeana Lungwitz, clinical law professor at the University of Texas and founder and director of the school’s Domestic Violence Clinic. “What made it a felony (charge) was the strangulation.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who are victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence, but Trew went public with her account of the confrontation.
“When a survivor calls law enforcement, they just want whatever is happening to stop,” Lungwitz said. “They often don’t want bad things to happen to their partners. They don’t want them to lose their job. They don’t want them to go to jail. They are scared and just want them to stop in that moment.”
COULD BEARD RETURN TO TEXAS?
There appears to be no chance of that. Beard still had five years left on a guaranteed contract but was left with nothing when Texas fired him “for cause.” His contract had a clause that allowed him to be fired if he was charged with a felony or committed other behavior unbecoming of his position or that reflected poorly on the university.
Texas officials left no doubt about how the administration viewed the matter. Vice President for Legal Affairs Jim David wrote Beard’s attorney, telling him the coach engaged in “unacceptable behavior that makes him unfit to serve as head coach at our university.”
Whether prosecutors dropped the charge or not would not determine whether Beard engaged in conduct unbecoming of the school, Davis wrote in the Jan. 5 letter. Texas officials declined to comment Thursday.
Beard could try to sue the school, but it’s unclear if he will. His attorney, Perry Minton, has said he doesn’t believe Beard violated any portion of his contract.
“I am pleased with the announcement that the charges against me have been dismissed. While I always had faith and confidence in the truth and this outcome, it has been extremely challenging to wait patiently and not publicly respond,” Beard said in his statement.
“I’m sorry and deeply remorseful to my family, friends, all my players and staff both most recent and past, and everyone at my alma mater The University of Texas, including the fans and supporters who were affected by this situation,” Beard said.
Texas has been led by interim coach Rodney Terry since Beard was suspended.
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