New lead assistant DA has experience in capital murder, death penalty cases

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

LLANO — A prosecutor recently hired by the 33rd/424th Judicial District Attorney will step into a newly created position, bringing years of experience in handling capital murder and death penalty cases as well as white collar crimes those against children, officials say.

Perry Thomas, 51, was formerly the assistant criminal district attorney in Jefferson County, which includes Beaumont and Port Arthur, where he worked for the past 23 years.

District Attorney Sonny McAfee hired him in February as the first assistant district attorney, overseeing a staff of six other assistant district attorneys.

Among Thomas’ credits: being the lead prosecutor on one of the largest embezzlement cases in Jefferson County’s history involving the theft of $1.4 million from a Beaumont Pentecostal church connected to Hurricane Rita donations and the estate of a disabled individual.

“He’s got the ability to evaluate a case and develop a trial strategy,” McAfee said. “He’s good in front of a jury. He knows the facts well.”

Thomas’ goals as chief prosecutor include advancing the use of technology in courtroom presentation, utilizing the latest scientific technology and reinforcing the effectiveness of the office’s prosecution unit handling crimes against children.

He hopes to complement an experienced staff.

“They’re a fantastic group of men and women to be able to work with,” Thomas said. “There’s quite a bit of experience here as prosecutors and attorneys in general.”

Officials expect to utilize Thomas’ experience with murder cases soon and often.

The 33rd/424th — covering Blanco, Burnet, Llano and San Saba counties — has a number of capital murder and child victimization cases on the horizon as well as at least one potential death penalty trial.

“Perry has a lot of experience in trying all types of murder cases, capital murder cases and even death penalty cases,” McAfee said. “Capital murder is different than a murder case. When trying those types of cases, trial strategy, presentation and jury selection are critical.”

Upcoming cases include:

• Garrett James Ballard, 21, charged with capital murder of multiple persons for allegedly gunning down two of his friends, 26-year-old Travis Fox and 17-year-old Elijah Adam Benson, in August 2014, at Ballard’s parents’ residence in Burnet County. According to arrest documents, Ballard told investigators all three were on hallucinogenic drugs (LSD) when the two alleged victims began demonstrating “strange and disruptive behaviors,” so he retrieved a rifle from his father’s vehicle and shot them.

• Michael Len Grogg, 25, of Kingsland charged with the first-degree felony of serious injury to a child following the July 2013 death of a 19-month-old child airlifted to Dell Children’s hospital after an emergency call regarding a toddler losing consciousness and having difficulty breathing. An autopsy revealed the child showed signs of abuse and suffered from swelling of the brain. Llano County Sheriff’s Office investigators launched a probe into what they believed to be “suspicious circumstances” and arrested Grogg, the child’s stepfather.

• Juston Aaron Curbow, 35, of Horseshoe Bay faces two counts of capital murder by terror or threat and capital murder of multiple persons for his alleged role in the murder of two Spicewood residents in May 2013. Burnet County Sheriff’s Office investigators found the bodies of Thomas Wells, 30, and Dorrina Reese, 42, after firefighters responded to a fire call. Two other people are connected to the case — one of whom committed suicide in the Burnet County Jail. Another suspect in the case, a woman, is accused of trying to help cover up the deaths. If convicted, Curbow could face the death penalty.

McAfee says he will use Thomas as a “sounding board” on the upcoming Cubow trial in April; however, he expects Thomas to launch into a lead position on pending capital murder cases.

“Those are the most complex and difficult criminal cases there are to try,” Thomas said. ”I hope to be able to help the other prosecutors to put the best case forward we can.”

connie@thepicayune.com

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