Caprock Chronicle: Landmark Case on Defendant’s Right to Attorney

In this week’s Caprock Chronicle, Chuck Lanehart shares background on a landmark case involving criminal defense attorneys throughout Texas.

The story begins in East Lubbock after a brutal murder of 3 victims in 1987. Four black men were indicted for capital murder. Chuck Lanehart and Carlton McLarty were appointed by the court to represent one of the defendants, Stearnes. 

The State’s case was reliant on the testimony of the girlfriend of one of the 4 defendants. As a result, McLarty and Lanehart sought to interview the State’s witness after she was released from protective custody. While interviewing the girlfriend, police abruptly ended it. The Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney alleged McLarty and Lanehart were tampering with a witness. The trial Judge agreed and fired both criminal attorneys from representing Stearnes. 

However, the two court appointed lawyers were attempting to gather their own evidence and counteract the State’s chief witness at trial. Despite being unable to afford a criminal lawyer, Stearns received broad support from the legal community when Lanehart and McLarty were fired.

A writ was filed in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals with donations and pro bono help from the Lubbock and Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Ultimately, both McLarty and Lanehart were reinstated as Stearnes attorneys. The monumental decision found the trial court (Judge Clinton) did not have the authority to remove counsel.

In addition to being reinstated, McLarty and Lanehart were able to disqualify Judge Clinton from presiding over the case. The landmark case set precedent and has kept hundreds of defendants from losing their court appointed defense attorneys.

Read the full story to find out if Stearns and the other defendants were acquitted. 

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