DALLAS – DALLAS (AP) — Two men accused of grooming children as young as 5 to perform in sex shows at a small-town swinger's club in Texas will get new trials after a state appeals court Thursday found errors in their original proceedings.
The convictions of Patrick "Booger Red" Kelly, 43, and Jamie Pittman, 38, were overturned by the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. A jury convicted Kelly in 2008 of engaging in organized criminal activity. Pittman was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Both were sentenced to life in prison.
Authorities allege Kelly helped set up a "kindergarten" where young children learned to dance provocatively at the so-called Mineola Swinger's Club. To help them perform, prosecutors said the children were given Vicodin-like drugs the adults passed off as "silly pills."
Kelly has maintained his innocence. The three-judge appeals panel agreed Thursday with his contention that he was not allowed to present a complete defense. The court also said the record in Kelly's case was "rife with error."
"As far as I'm concerned Patrick Kelly ought to walk out of prison right now a free man and the State of Texas and Smith County, in my opinion, is liable for his false and wrongful conviction," Kelly's attorney, Thad Davidson, said Thursday.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham noted the appellate court reversed and remanded the cases, calling for new trials rather than acquittals.
"For me it's real simple, they found the evidence was sufficient to show the defendants committed the crimes so I'm going to bring them back and retry them," Bingham said.
The panel wrote that Kelly deserves a new trial because of "numerous evidentiary errors by the trial court and improper closing argument by the State." Bingham acknowledged the finding that his lead prosecutor on the case, Joe Murphy, asked some questions he shouldn't have and said those questions won't be asked again.
"Let the defendants get a fair trial but also let's make sure that these children who have been put through things so horrific also get a fair trial," Bingham said.
Pittman had been found guilty of facilitating two young siblings having sex with each other in 2004. The appeals court said that in his case, "prejudicial evidence" of other alleged sexual offenses were wrongly allowed at trial.
Pittman's attorney, Jim Huggler, said he was pleased with the appellate court opinion and was notifying his client.
"We'll just see how this plays out," Huggler said.
The appellate panel also looked at the case of Shauntel Mayo, 31, who was Pittman's girlfriend at the time. Mayo was convicted of engaging in organized criminal activity and two counts of sexual performance of a child in 2008. She received a life sentence for the organized criminal activity and 20 years for each of the other two counts.
The panel affirmed the lower court's judgment with a slight modification: one of her three sentences should not have run consecutively. They wrote that it was an error but "it was not harmful."
Associated Press Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.