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Client Awarded $2.8 Million in Personal Injury Case.
“The jury’s $2,824,792 total award includes compensation for past and future loss of care, past and future loss of companionship, past and future mental anguish, medical expenses, and funeral and burial expenses. . . .”
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Hire A Former Prosecutor
hen you are accused of a crime, your life and your future are in potential jeopardy. Finding the right attorney is essential for avoiding devastating consequences, and it is imperative that you hire someone who has the experience, insight, and knowledge into how the legal system works. By hiring a former prosecutor, you are hiring someone who has the experience and the insight to appropriately and aggressively defend you in your case.
Having served as a Chief Felony Prosecutor for the McLennan County District Attorney, J.R. Vicha has unique insight into how to approach your case. Being defended by a former prosecutor is beneficial in that he is familiar with both the prosecution and defense views of the case. J.R. knows how the other side thinks, allowing him to likely be one step ahead in your defense.
Born in Waco, TX, J.R. Vicha is a graduate of Axtell High School. In 2000, he graduated from Sam Houston State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice, graduating with a class rank of first out of 757. Following college, he worked as a McLennan County Probation Officer from 2001-2002. In 2004, he graduated from Baylor Law School. While at Baylor Law, he was invited to join the Baylor Law Review, an honor extended only to those who are in the top 15% of their law school class. He served the Baylor Law Review as an Executive Editor. Following graduation from law school, he worked as a staff attorney at the Brazos River Authority from 2004-2006. While at the BRA, he practiced law in many areas including, water rights, real estate, oil and gas, municipal and contract law. In 2006, he was hired by then District Attorney John Segrest and immediately began handling both misdemeanor and felony cases. When District Attorney Abel Reyna took office in 2011, J.R. was promoted to Chief Felony Prosecutor in Waco’s 19th District Court, where he served until his departure from the district attorney’s office in 2014.
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From the Waco Tribune Herald
Posted: Dec. 21, 2017
By TOMMY WITHERSPOON
A McLennan County jury awarded $2.8 million Thursday to the family of a retired Waco oral surgeon who was killed last year when an employee of a local auto dealership backed over him in a parking lot with an SUV.
Jurors in 414th State District Court deliberated about three-and-a-half hours before returning the verdict in favor of Kayron Lance, widow of Dr. Jerry Don Lance, and their adult children, Shelly Lance and Jason Lance.
The verdict found Bird-Kultgen Ford and employee Ernesto Ramirez at fault for the 77-year-old Lance’s death after Ramirez, traveling backward from 16 mph to 21 mph for about 100 yards, struck Lance while he was looking at new cars in front of the dealership in April 2017.
“Nothing will ever bring Don Lance back to his family, but the jury held Bird-Kultgen Ford and their employee accountable and the Lance family couldn’t be more thankful,” the family’s attorney, John Mabry Jr. said. “The Lances are wonderful people, and it was an honor and privilege to represent them.”
Ramirez acknowledged during his trial testimony that he was traveling too fast in reverse. However, he said he and other employees have been opening the gates to the dealership in a similar fashion for at least six years without incident. He said the backup camera in the 2017 Ford Expedition was useless to him because the early-morning sun obscured its image.
Lance family attorneys, Mabry, John Lewis and J.R. Vicha, asked jurors to award the family $11 million, while Andrew McKinney IV, who represented Bird-Kultgen and Ramirez, suggested a verdict of $1.5 million would be reasonable if they found the dealership at fault. McKinney declined comment after the verdict.
In closing statements Thursday, McKinney offered several defensive strategies for the jury to consider, including calling the incident an “unavoidable accident” that was not caused by anyone’s negligence.
He also said Lance should share in blame because he should have expected cars would be driving by at an auto dealership and he should have kept a better watch.
“If you have been doing something the same way for six years without an incident, can you reasonably foresee that on the sixth year, day 1 that something will go horribly wrong?” McKinney asked the jury. “Is that really foreseeable? … The reality of the situation is that 18 mph is not all that fast. It’s school zone speed.”
Mabry reminded the jury of the testimonies of Waco police Detective John Clark, who investigated the accident, and former Bird-Kultgen employee Emil Tatsch, who was riding in the passenger seat when Ramirez backed over Lance.
Clark found Ramirez solely at fault and said he was “backing without safety,” going too fast and failing to keep a proper watch.
The jury’s $2,824,792 total award includes compensation for past and future loss of care, maintenance and support from Lance, past and future loss of companionship, past and future mental anguish, medical expenses, and funeral and burial expenses.
The jury found Bird-Kultgen 55 percent responsible for the incident, Ramirez 35 percent responsible and Lance 10 percent responsible. Because the jury found Lance 10 percent responsible, the compensation paid to the family will be reduced by $282,479. The jury award is also broken down into specific categories for Lance’s wife and his children, with his wife receiving the majority.
Lance and his wife were married 46 years. He practiced oral surgery for 40 years in Waco and later worked as a consultant for a dental insurance company, making $250,000 the year before he was killed.
If he worked four more years at that rate, he would have made $1 million, Mabry said.
Lance dropped his car off at Bird-Kultgen, 1700 W. Loop 340, for service at about 7:30 a.m. and was looking at new cars on the lot while waiting for his wife to pick him up.
Investigators said Lance was dragged more than 20 feet by the Expedition. His body crumpled the rear lift gate and crimped the metal. His glasses ended up inside the back of the SUV after the back windshield broke.
Lance suffered head injuries, internal bleeding, multiple facial fractures, eight broken ribs, a fractured pelvis and a broken hand. He died 11 days later at a local hospital, and Mabry told the jury the family was asking for $1 million for each day Lance suffered before his death.
Included in the verdict is $1,050,000 for Don Lance’s pain and mental anguish.
From the Waco Tribune Herald
Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014
By TOMMY WITHERSPOON
J.R. Vicha has wanted to be connected in some way to law enforcement since he was a toddler watching his father, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha, put his uniform on every day.
For the past eight years, he has been prosecuting murderers, drug dealers and robbers, garnering 15 life sentences in the more than 100 misdemeanor and felony jury trials in which he was prosecutor.
But now, Vicha says, it’s time for a new chapter in his career.
The 35-year-old, who is serving as McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna’s chief felony prosecutor in 19th State District Court, gave Reyna his two-week notice this week and intends to see what trials are like sitting in the defense attorney’s chair. Vicha will leave the DA’s office April 25 to set up a private law practice, joining the office of Waco attorneys John Mabry and John Lewis.
“I’ve enjoyed serving the citizens of this county for the last eight years as a prosecutor, but it was just time for a change to help me become more well-rounded,” said Vicha, an Axtell native.
Vicha becomes the second experienced felony prosecutor to leave Reyna’s office in the past two months. Michelle Voirin, who helped establish Reyna’s Crimes Against Children unit, moved back to Collin County to be closer to family and to take a better-paying and less-stressful job in the Plano City Attorney’s Office.
Reyna said he is pleased for Vicha and said his office profited because Vicha and Voirin both passed along their expertise to younger prosecutors who benefited from that experience and now will step into their shoes.
“It’s a criminal justice system, (and) what he is doing is still part of the system. I did it. I just went the other way,” said Reyna, who was a criminal defense attorney before he became district attorney. “Even if he is on the other side, he has a vested interest in making sure his client is fully and adequately represented. I think he will make a good defense attorney.”
Billie Wayne Coble, despondent about his impending divorce from J.R. Vicha’s aunt, murdered Vicha’s father and grandparents, Robert and Zelda Vicha, at their Axtell homes in 1989.
Coble tied up Vicha, who was 11 at the time, and his cousins and told the girls to say goodbye to their mother, Karen Vicha Coble. He then kidnapped his estranged wife and fled police before they were injured in a wreck after a high-speed chase with police in Bosque County.
Coble was given the death penalty, and Vicha has sketchy memories of attending part of his trial. Coble has had several stays of execution and his appeal is pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
After prosecuting for eight years, Vicha said it will be an adjustment representing people like Coble charged with crimes.
“I have always tried to do the right thing for the right reason and I believe I can still do that from the other side,” Vicha said. “Even though I am going to be a defense lawyer, I believe I can still do the right thing for the right reason.”
Sgt. Dennis Baier, a 30-year veteran of the Waco Police Department who worked with Vicha’s father before presenting cases to Vicha for prosecution, said he is sorry that Vicha is leaving the DA’s office.
“He is a man of integrity and I have all the confidence in the world that he will make whatever work environment he goes to a better place,” Baier said. “He is an idealistic person and is always striving to do right. I don’t want to say that is a rare bird in this business, but you don’t always find somebody like J.R. who can balance both ethical and legal issues and hold his head up.”
Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court said he thinks Vicha will do well in private practice because of all the characteristics that made him an effective felony prosecutor.
“With J.R. Vicha’s resignation as a felony prosecutor, McLennan County has lost the services of an intelligent and talented public servant who always tempered his decisions with fairness and common sense,” Johnson said.
Judge Ralph Strother of Waco’s 19th State District Court prosecuted Coble when Strother worked in the district attorney’s office. He worked with Vicha, a former juvenile probation officer, when Strother presided over juvenile cases, and again when Vicha was in law school and was an intern in Strother’s court.
“While I hate to lose him as the chief felony prosecutor in my court, I know that he will bring to the defense bar the same sense of dedication and professionalism he has always exhibited,” the judge said. “I look forward to a continued professional relationship and wish him well.”
From the Waco Tribune Herald
Posted: Dec. 8, 2014
By TOMMY WITHERSPOON
A prosecutor once said that Billie Wayne Coble has a heart full of scorpions.
Now, a new television series is calling him “Most Evil.”
Coble, 66, a Texas death row inmate from McLennan County, will be featured at 9 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 14) on a new Investigation Discovery channel television series called “Most Evil.”
The new series premiered Sunday night with an episode named “Manipulators.” Coble, who killed his estranged wife’s brother and parents in Axtell in 1989, is featured in an episode called “Control Killers.”
“Each episode of ‘Most Evil’ looks at three cases meticulously dissected by Dr. Kris Mohandie to get to the heart of the terrifying question: What drives someone to murder?” a release from Investigation Discovery says.
Mohandie, a forensic psychologist who has worked with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, interviewed Coble on death row for the program.
The program will delve into the reasons people kill and will rate Coble on an “official scale of criminal behavior,” ranging from 1 to 22, to create a “hierarchy of evil,” the network release says.
Besides Coble, Waco attorney and former McLennan County District Attorney’s Office prosecutor J.R. Vicha will be featured in the episode.
Vicha, 36, was 11 when Coble, distraught at his impending divorce from Vicha’s aunt Karen, killed Vicha’s father, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha, and Vicha’s grandparents, Robert and Zelda Vicha, at their Axtell homes.
Coble tied up J.R. Vicha and his cousins and told the girls to say goodbye to their mother. He then kidnapped Karen, who was his estranged wife, and fled before they were injured in a wreck after a high-speed chase with police in Bosque County.
Coble twice was given the death penalty, the last time in 2008. He has had several stays of execution and his latest application for writ of habeas corpus is pending with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
J.R. Vicha, who became a prosecutor because of his father’s law enforcement influence, said he initially declined to be interviewed for the “Most Evil” show, thinking, “What’s the point?”
He said he changed his mind after show producers told him that they were talking to Coble.
“Coble didn’t testify at either of his trials, so who knows what he was going to get on there and say,” Vicha said. “I didn’t really want to do it, but I thought I had better agree to go on to rebut whatever lies he was going to tell.”
Vicha said he has vivid memories of the incident in which his father and grandparents were shot and killed. He says he didn’t know they had been killed while Coble was restraining him and his cousins and said he remembers thinking that nothing that bad was happening.
“It never crossed my mind one time that anything like that was going on,” he said. “I didn’t know people were capable of that.”
From the Waco Tribune Herald
Posted: Dec. 14, 2016
By TOMMY WITHERSPOON
A McLennan County grand jury cleared a Waco police narcotics investigator and his supervisor of criminal wrongdoing Wednesday.
Prosecutors presented the results of investigations involving Waco Drug Enforcement Unit Cmdr. Clare Crook, a 37-year department veteran, and investigator David Starr, a 26-year department veteran, to a grand jury, which took no action on either officer.
Interim Waco Police Chief Frank Gentsch said both officers would be returned to active duty immediately.
Likewise, a Waco Police Department internal investigation to determine if Starr lied about the use of confidential informants at the behest of Crook concluded with no major disciplinary action against either officer.
Starr’s attorney, J.R. Vicha, said he and his client are pleased that Starr was cleared.
“He is a man who has spent his entire adult life fighting crime in this city, protecting this city,” Vicha said. “I hope he can get back to work and get back to doing what he loves doing, which is getting crime off the streets.”
Rod Goble, who represents Crook, also said they were happy with the results.
“Clare and I are both very glad the grand jury made a complete, thorough investigation and totally cleared her of any criminal misconduct,” Goble said. “We are pleased she is going back to work. It has been a long 10 months.”
Crook and Starr have been on administrative leave with pay since February after the department and McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna initiated investigations of Starr’s cases.
While Reyna’s office conducted a review of Starr’s cases pending in his office, former Police Chief Brent Stroman asked Texas Rangers to investigate whether Starr lied about the use of confidential informants to obtain arrest and search warrants.
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said in November that the internal investigation was finished and that Crook and Starr would remain on administrative leave with pay depending on what, if anything, Reyna’s office did with the results of the Rangers’ investigation.
Reyna did not return a phone call to his office Wednesday.
Assistant City Attorney Judith Benton said no information is available under Civil Service and Texas Government Code regulations in response to an open records request from the Tribune-Herald seeking the results of the city’s internal investigation.
If one or both officers had been fired or suspended, information could have been made public, Benton said.
Less-severe actions, such as a private reprimand, are personnel matters and not considered public information, she said.
Goble said Crook was cleared by the internal police review and received no form of disciplinary action at all. Vicha was unsure if Starr received any form of reprimand.
While the dual investigations were proceeding, prosecutors in Reyna’s office either dismissed outright or were forced to offer defendant-friendly plea bargains in about 20 cases investigated by Starr, courthouse sources said.
Waco attorney Edward Vallejo said his client, a Mexican national, benefited from the situation after he was caught with 500 grams of cocaine. Reyna’s office dismissed the charges.
Another case involving Starr that was dismissed by prosecutors involved almost 5 pounds of methamphetamine, sources said.
Reyna sent a letter to defense attorneys in February after Starr was placed on administrative leave. Reyna said inconsistencies in reports and affidavits from Starr in two cases led to the investigation.
“The report and sworn affidavit reference an ‘interdiction’ operation conducted by the Waco PD Drug Enforcement Unit,” Reyna’s letter said. “After discussion with the detective, it was revealed that there was not an interdiction operation, and the arrest of the defendants was made pursuant to information received from a confidential informant. Detective Starr indicated to prosecutors that he was apprehensive about wording the report and affidavit this way but was ordered to do so.”
From the Waco Tribune Herald
Posted: Dec. 21, 2017
By TOMMY WITHERSPOON
A judge appointed to hear a court of inquiry to determine if McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna or Waco police Detective Manuel Chavez lied during a hearing last year in the Twin Peaks shootout cases dismissed the proceedings Thursday.
David Peeples, of San Antonio, judge of the Fourth Administrative Region, informed the parties Thursday that he has dismissed the court of inquiry. 203rd State District Judge Teresa Hawthorne found in October that there was probable cause to believe an offense was committed and to request a regional administrative judge convene a court of inquiry.
“I have decided to dismiss the Chavez/Reyna court of inquiry,” Peeples wrote to the parties. “My decision rests on two separate and independent bases. First, I conclude that the evidence of perjury is insufficient and does not justify continuing the court of inquiry. Second, I continue to have serious prudential concerns about procedure, as was suggested in my earlier emails and in our discussions on Tuesday.”
The parties in the case met last week with Peeples to discuss how to proceed.
Peeples said he will issue an order next month that “elaborates on my reasoning.”
Hawthorne ruled there was probable cause for the court of inquiry based on an affidavit from Dallas attorney Clint Broden, who represents bikers Matthew Clendennen and George Bergman.
The court of inquiry would have focused on an Aug. 8, 2016, hearing in which Reyna testified to what Broden calls “extensive discussions” he had with Chavez before Chavez signed the identical, “fill-in-the-name” Twin Peaks arrest warrant affidavits for 177 motorcyclists after the May 17, 2015, shootout at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco.
Chavez testified he never spoke to Reyna that night.
Reyna did not return phone messages left on his cellphone or at his office Thursday.
“I am very happy for Detective Chavez that this unnecessary matter is over,” Chavez’s attorney, J.R. Vicha, said. “Now he can get back to doing his job of serving the citizens of the city of Waco as a special crimes detective. I am pleased with this result and appreciate the court’s careful consideration of the facts.”
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas hired Vicha, a Waco attorney and former prosecutor in Reyna’s office, to represent Chavez in the court of inquiry.
Broden said he is disappointed in the judge’s ruling. He said Peeples expressed concern that the court of inquiry was initiated by a Dallas County district judge for something that happened in McLennan County while the Code of Criminal Procedure allows “any district judge of this state” to initiate a court of inquiry.
“Despite the plain reading of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Judge Peeples appears to believe that the court of inquiry could only have been initiated by a McLennan County district judge,” Broden said. “I believe I fulfilled my ethical responsibility by bringing this scientifically impossible contradiction in testimony to an impartial judge to determine if a court of inquiry should be initiated.
“I am disappointed that this process was not completed as contemplated by the Code of Criminal Procedure. Having fulfilled my ethical responsibility, I consider my role in this matter to be concluded.”
Broden and other attorneys have attempted to have Reyna disqualified based on the conflicting testimony at the hearing involving the cases of Clendennen and Nelson and for other reasons.
“In my almost 30 years of law practice, I have never had to even consider requesting a court of inquiry,” Broden said in October. “Nevertheless, perjury strikes at the core of our system of justice and, therefore, apparent contradictory statements under oath by public officials must be investigated.”
Broden has said he anticipates other courts of inquiry to be convened to review other aspects of how Reyna’s office handled the Twin Peaks cases, including information outlined in a recent motion to disqualify Reyna’s office from prosecuting the cases because prosecutors released videos from a biker’s cellphone through the discovery process that show him and his wife in a consensual sexual encounter.
From The Temple Daily Telegram
May 23, 2017
BY DEBORAH MCKEON
WACO — A Temple man previously charged with capital murder received a 40-year prison sentence Tuesday morning after he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.
Garrett Marshall Gage, 19, will remain in the McLennan County Jail until he is relocated to a facility where he will serve his time. Gage will receive credit for more than two years of time he served, his attorney, J.R. Vicha, said.
Gage was 17 when he and Keith William McClure, 19, were driven on Feb. 3, 2015, from Temple to a Waco apartment in the 1900 block of South 16th Street. The driver, Cierra McKenzie Barber, 20, pointed out the apartment the two teenagers were supposed to rob for drugs and money.
McClure died from wounds he received after one of the robbery victims in the apartment picked up a rifle and fired at him and Gage. McClure collapsed in the complex’s parking lot and later died at a hospital.
Gage was grazed in the leg by a bullet, but was captured several blocks away.
Gage was originally charged in connection with the death of Braeden Freeman, 20, of Waco.
It was initially believed that McClure shot and killed Freeman during the robbery, but forensic evidence determined that Freeman was shot by another man in the apartment.
Gage appeared before visiting State District Judge George Allen in the McLennan County 54th District Court Tuesday morning. Accompanied by Vicha, Gage pleaded guilty to the lesser charge and waived his right to a jury trial and to an appeal.
Allen granted the agreed-upon plea deal of 40 years reached by Vicha and the McLennan County District Attorney’s Chief Prosecutor Michael Jarrett.
Gage was removed from the courtroom so that Barber could be brought before the judge for her sentencing.
A plea bargain of 30 years was accepted by Barber and approved by Allen.
Barry Freeman, Braeden Freeman’s father, talked about the many things his son would never experience and told Gage and Barber that their parents would probably die while they were in prison.
“I wish we could all go back,” Freeman said with tears in his eyes. “May God forgive you. May you have guilt in your hearts.”
Nikkey Freeman cried as she read aloud her son’s obituary and a poem she’d written for him. She told Gage and Barber that a lifetime of being locked in prison couldn’t pay for the life they’d taken.
She recalled that the last time she kissed her son was when he was in a casket, and she said that she had wanted to crawl into the casket with him.
“You can still see and interact with your parents, even though it’s through glass,” she said. “Because of you, two young lives ended.”
Braeden’s sister, Savannah Freeman, identified herself to Gage and Barber as “the sister of the man you murdered that night.” She talked about all of the changes in her life because of her brother’s death.
Savannah told Gage and Barber to cherish the time they have with their families.
“I pray that you try to better yourself and find peace because now you’re a daily fixture in my life,” she said. “I would gladly give you back your freedom for one more second with my brother.”
As Gage and Barber were taken out of the courtroom after the proceedings, Gage’s father said aloud to his son, “I love you, Garrett.”
Garrett briefly looked back at his family before being ushered out by deputies.
After the sentencing, the two fathers — Barry Freeman and Tommy Gage — hugged and cried in a hallway of the courthouse.
Tommy Gage made no excuses for what his son did.
“This wasn’t justice,” Tommy Gage said. “It was a tragedy all the way around. We’ve all lost.”
“It was a horrible situation for everyone involved,” Vicha said after the hearing.
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Having served as a Chief Felony Prosecutor for the McLennan County District Attorney, J.R. Vicha has unique insight into how to approach your case. A Waco criminal defense attorney with 1000’s of criminal cases handled – trials, revocations, plea bargains and dismissals. Trial experience in: Capital Murder, Murder, Aggravated Robbery, Drugs: Possession and Delivery, Aggravated Assault, Assault Family Violence, Theft, DWI, Traffic Tickets, Aggravated Sexual Assault, Forgery, Weapons Offenses, Burglary, DWI / Driving While intoxicated