|The accused: Theodore Streater will defend himself in court against what he describes as systemic corruption in the Bexar County legal system. Photo by Dave Maass.|
In 2001, after nearly five years in jail in California, after proclaiming his innocence through hunger strikes and appeals to the media, after firing defense lawyers one after another until an out-of-county lawyer came to his aid, Streater proved that police had “lost” evidence that could potentially clear him as a robbery suspect. Streater walked away with a $205,000 settlement from California’s Fairfield police department.
Streater used the money to buy a home in a new Centex development in northwest San Antonio in July 2004. Nine months later, he was charged again with a crime he denies committing: This time, it’s a home invasion in which he allegedly molested a little girl and forced her mother to perform oral sex on him at gun-point. From Bexar County Jail, he’s again launched hunger strikes and burned through lawyers who he says won’t go on the offensive against county officials for fear it would jeopardize their court-appointed case loads. His trial begins Friday in District Court 187, where he will represent himself. Again, Streater’s relying on the media to plead his case.
In California, a Fairfield Daily Republic reporter poked holes in the district attorney’s claim that the victims had identified Streater in a photo lineup — the 80-year-old robbery victim said in an interview, “Black people look similar to me. I didn’t even see him,” and said his developmentally disabled daughter hadn’t identified Streater, either. The police report confirmed she had picked another suspect in the photo lineup.
In San Antonio, just weeks after his arrest, Streater appealed to KENS-5’s investigative team. It didn’t take long for reporter Joe Conger to uncover fraud and fabrication in the search-warrant affidavit filed by the sheriff’s lead detective, Harold Stech.
“The warrant claims police in California identified Streater as a suspect in at least three sexual assaults in 2004, but information obtained by the I-team proves otherwise,” Conger said in his report. “When we called police in San Diego, one detective denied ever making the statements to Bexar County deputies that are listed in the affidavit. The other says she had no recollection of talking to anyone. One of the rapes listed has already been solved. As for the rapes in Santa Clara, we found the detective listed in the warrant, Detective Escobar, didn’t even exist.”
But the Bexar County sheriff’s office asserted other evidence linked Streater to the crime and a soon-to-be-completed DNA analysis would definitively prove Streater’s guilt.
“See, `cops` make a rush to judgment, then when they get caught, instead of admitting they made a mistake, they want to make the case stick; they want to start planting evidence,” Streater said in a jailhouse interview with the Current. “You know the cops in Fairfield damn near make me want to pay them money back, because compared to `Bexar County deputies`, those guys were Boy Scouts.”
The Bexar County Crime Lab’s subsequent report indeed showed that Streater’s DNA matched saliva found in an anal swab from the underage victim. Streater would have been tried on that evidence had his case not found its way into the court of Visiting Judge Pat Priest, a veteran renowned for his fairness. (The lifelong Democrat made headlines last year after dropping a conspiracy-to-violate-election-law indictment against former U.S. House Majority leader Tom DeLay). Priest responded to Streater’s complaints that his attorney Cornelius Cox was also representing Montre Kelley, who Streater accused as early as January 2006 of being the actual perpetrator, according to jail records. Priest assigned Streater a new attorney, Stephanie Boyd, who was then president of the San Antonio Black Lawyers Association.
Thirteen months after the original DNA report, Streater’s independent expert tore apart the Crime Lab’s DNA methodology. Dr. M. Al. Salih, founder of San Antonio’s DNA Reference Labora-tory and a regular expert witness for both the prosecution and defense in criminal cases, reported that “with the logic the prosecution used to perform their calculations, you could match anyone in the courtroom to this mixture.” If they’d calculated properly, their results would have excluded Streater as a DNA match, Salih said. Three months later, the County released another DNA analysis, based on cellular material found on a cigarette butt at the scene; this time the DNA didn’t match Streater’s.
But before Boyd could present this in court, Streater fired the attorney in January because, he claims, she didn’t challenge a fingerprint allegedly linking him to the crime scene. Streater says the print, like the search-warrant affidavit, was falsified.
“At first she’s all gangbuster: ‘Yeah we’re going to get ’em on this, we’re going to get ’em on that.’ She’s ready to go and I’m starting to feel good about it. Judge Priest said he was going to make sure my trial got held in his courtroom,” Streater said. “Then, all of a sudden the trial gets snatched out of his courtroom and it’s in front of Judge Raymond Angelini. Stephanie Boyd got a whole new attitude.”
Boyd would not comment on the case.
Streater can’t conclusively prove his fingerprint claim, but the record points to possible human error by the Bexar County Crime Lab. The first batch of fingerprints submitted by a crime-scene technician failed to turn up a match with Streater. Four days after Detective Stech executed the illegal search of Streater’s home, Stech submitted a new examination request for fingerprints found at the victim’s home. On the second go-round, one print matched Streater: a thumbprint from a King of the Hill DVD.
Streater claims the fingerprint analysis was flawed. The report obtained by the Current shows that 51 fingerprint cards were submitted to the crime lab, but 52 cards were actually examined. Streater speculates the extra card contained his thumbprint and was slipped in after being lifted from CDs seized in the illegal search. The lab found four prints at the scene that did not belong to Streater or the victims in the case.
Sheriff’s deputies also recovered a knife Streater pawned that they allege was stolen from the victims’ residence, although it isn’t listed with the stolen ATM cards and jewelry on the initial police report. Streater’s explanation: he found the knife and pawned it to purchase tire-repair spray when he got a flat on the highway.
Streater has credibility problems. His past is littered with convictions for petty crimes, and if released, he faces extradition to Alaska to face robbery charges.
“My history is what it is. There’s no downplaying it,” Streater wrote in a letter to the Current. “But there’s a huge gap between stealing and raping women and children.”
Streater says the sheriff’s office should be investigating Kelley, who was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 2000, for this crime. Shortly after Streater was arrested, Kelley was charged with a string of home invasions and rapes under similar circumstances during the same time period on the northeast side of San Antonio. In addition to sharing a defense attorney, Streater and Kelley were also placed in the same cell for a few days in 2005. Soon after, District Attorney Susan Reed’s office received a letter addressed from Kelley, in which Kelley claims that Streater confessed the crime to him. Kelley said he was willing to testify in exchange for a bail reduction.
“I know everything that happened out there off Potranco in his crime. He told me about an ironing board with a wallet on it, a fan on in the room, a cable box upstairs under a suitcase ... He told me things that wasn’t on T.V. that he could only know if he was there,” Kelley wrote.
Kelley is on the prosecution’s witness list. Streater says Kelley could only know those details if Kelley was the true assailant.
“There is not an ice cube’s chance in the Mojave Desert at high noon that, after all I went through, I said `to Kelley`, ‘Hi — let me tell you all about some rapes I did. Allow me to describe them in detail.’ It didn’t happen.”
Streater’s chances of acquittal are about as good as that ice cube now that he’s representing himself in court.
Scott Medlock, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project who investigated Streater’s claims that guards assaulted him while he was in jail, is the closest thing Streater has to representation. Unfortunately, Medlock’s organization doesn’t assist in criminal trials.
“For a while I was trying to find him another criminal lawyer, but he’s pretty much made himself radioactive with the criminal-defense bar through firing his attorneys,” Medlock said. “I think part of his problem is he’s trying to do the same thing he did `in Fairfield`. That might’ve flown in California, but I don’t think that flies as well in San Antonio.”
In other words, Streater may be his own worst enemy. But that’s also what defense attorneys in Fairfield said.
“It’s probably too late to affect the outcome of my situation,” Streater wrote in his latest letter to the Current. “I’ll have to fight my way from under a false conviction in an appellate court system that allowed Ruben Cantu to be wrongfully executed. It’s not going to be easy. But maybe my efforts will help put an end to this systematic corruption.”
Assistant District Attorney Susan Skinner, who is prosecuting the case, told the Current she would be adding writer Dave Maass to their witness list. If Maass is issued a subpoena, he may be excluded from hearing testimony in the trial.
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