District Attorney Micheal Murray recalled the first meeting he had with Vince Ariaz’s attorneys to begin plea bargain negations.
Shortly after the then-Brownwood police sergeant was arrested, Murray and First Assistant District Attorney Sam Moss met with Ariaz’s Fort Worth attorneys, Jim Lane and David Richards, in the grand jury room. Ariaz was accused of having sexual contact with two teenage female members of the Police Explorers post he advised, and he was charged with sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child.
It was a strange, awkward and uncomfortable meeting with little accomplished, Murray recalled.
“It was more of a staring contest,” he said. “ … If I remember right, what they were pitching at first was deferred adjudication. Obviously we weren’t having any of that.
“Little staring, little finger-tapping … it was non-productive.”
Murray was adamant that any plea bargain would have Ariaz pleading to the maximum sentence possible — 20 years — based on the two second-degree felony charges Ariaz faced.
“We dug in our heels. They dug in their heels,” Murray said. “We said ‘we’ll see you at trial.’ … From the very beginning our position was solid. He was going to plead to the max.
“ … The only question I had in my mind was, how many sentences did I want? I said ‘look, guys, it’s going to have twenties in it.’”
Ariaz’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.
The two sides continued negotiating, and Ariaz’s lawyers faced a plea bargain deadline at the end of May. Ariaz, who faced two indictments alleging 30 counts of inappropriate activity, was to stand trial next month.
On Tuesday, Murray and Lane announced in 35th District Court that a plea bargain had been reached. Ariaz pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault of a child and no contest to one count of indecency. Visiting Judge Don Lane followed the plea bargain and sentenced Ariaz, 54, to concurrent terms on the three counts.
Murray said he thinks there was “a spectacular outcome — a good outcome” but he is surprised at criticism suggesting he should have tried the case rather than offering a deal.
He said he was confident that a trial would have resulted in convictions on multiple counts and 20-year sentences. The issue — and it would have been up to a judge to decide — would have been “stacked or concurrent,” Murray said.
“There is never any guarantee any sentence will be stacked,” he said.
Murray said reaching the plea bargain and avoiding a trial spared the two teenage victims the trauma and embarrassment of testifying, saved taxpayer money and produced the peace of mind from “knowing it’s a done deal.”
“It’s a 20-year sentence, and whether you get 50 20-year sentences or one 20-year sentence, it’s still the maximum,” Murray said.
“You think of, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Any time you can get someone to roll over on a maximum sentence, that’s a good thing.”
Before Ariaz was arrested on July 17, 2007, investigators told Murray they were looking into rumors that Ariaz was having an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old female Explorer.
“I was certainly aghast and shocked at the thought of an officer being involved in an inappropriate sexual relationship,” Murray said.
Investigators and prosecutors met to discuss strategy and the types of evidence they wanted to try to develop — evidence that would prove or disprove sexual contact, Murray said.
Surveillance conducted on Ariaz’s activities showed that he was allowing the Explorer to drive a police car, Murray said.
The night of July 16 started out as another night of surveillance, with law enforcement officials staged at various locations including the Brownwood Coliseum Annex, where Ariaz was believed to sometimes go.
Investigators determined that if they saw any type of sexual activity between Ariaz and the Explorer, they would intervene and not allow it to continue for the sake of developing more evidence.
The morning of July 17, Murray learned from investigators that they had arrested Ariaz at the Coliseum Annex after catching him involved in sexual contact with the Explorer. Murray went to the annex and saw a quiet, subdued Ariaz being placed, in handcuffs, into a police vehicle.
Murray turned evidence over to Ariaz’s lawyers. The state, he said, “had the upper hand and we weren't going to give an inch.
“I don’t know what the final point was with (Ariaz’s lawyers).”
He said evidence included DNA evidence and video surveillance. Still photos had been made from the video, Murray said. He to give details of the photos but said they showed “different things” and “very damning evidence.”
As the plea bargain deadline approached, Murray said, Ariaz’s lawyers “called and said they would take the deal.”