Judge Kocurek’s accused shooter gets second chance to dispute evidence

Feb 09, 2018
Chimene Hamilton Onyeri left, during a bond hearing on a murder charge in Judge Jan Krocker’s 184th state District Court in 2016 in Houston. Onyeri now faces trial in the November 2015 shooting of Judge Julie Kocurek in Austin. ( James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle )

The man charged with the attempted murder of Travis County state District Judge Julie Kocurek will get a second chance to suppress key evidence after his defense team located a previously unavailable witness.

Attorneys for Chimene Onyeri argued last week in federal court that a cellphone showing Onyeri was in Austin around the time of Kocurek’s November 2015 shooting was seized during an unlawful traffic stop. According to testimony from a former Austin police detective, evidence scraped from the phone is “highly incriminating” and contains text messages between Onyeri and two co-defendants who have already pleaded guilty.

U.S. Judge Lee Yeakel said last week that he plans to rule on the defense motion to suppress the evidence soon so that the losing side will have time to regroup ahead of a March 26 trial.

READ: Investigator’s error led to dismissal of threat on Judge Kocurek’s life

But before Yeakel issued his ruling, Onyeri’s attorneys asked to present an additional witness — the driver of the vehicle, Reginald Matthews, who was previously unavailable to testify, according to an email they sent to the judge Thursday evening.

“Turns out that hood folks don’t return calls or cards from ‘investigators,’” defense lawyer Victor Arana wrote.

Yeakel wants to hear from Matthews, and he ordered that the hearing reconvene on Wednesday.

Authorities say Matthews was driving a Dodge Charger carrying Onyeri and two other men on the night of Onyeri’s arrest. The car made an abrupt left turn after spotting authorities camped outside of Onyeri’s home in Houston, according to testimony from agents who worked on the investigation.

A Houston police officer said he initiated the traffic stop after Matthews made an illegal turn into a far lane. Onyeri’s lawyers suggested the officer had lied about the illegal turn to justify the stop.

READ: Three men indicted in plot to kill Judge Kocurek

Onyeri was arrested on an outstanding warrant from Louisiana. His phone, which investigators say was smashed into pieces, was taken into evidence through a search warrant.

Investigators say Onyeri was motivated to kill Kocurek through a belief that the judge would revoke his probation on a 2012 larceny charge and send him back to jail, thus thwarting a criminal fraud operation he had headed.

A 17-count indictment accuses Onyeri, 30, of attempted murder, racketeering, mail fraud, identity theft and wire fraud. His trial could take up to six weeks, Yeakel said.

Co-defendants Marcellus Burgin and Rasul Scott pleaded guilty. The specifics of the deals they agreed to are being kept under court-ordered seal.

Kocurek has returned to the bench in the 390th District Court, but not before losing her left index finger as a result of the attack outside of her Tarrytown home.

Onyeri twice has been charged in Houston with murder, but in both cases the charges were dropped.