Animal Cruelty Defendant May Walk Free

New information in a Smith County animal cruelty case may allow the defendant to walk free.

The information came about in some anonymous faxes to the judge and defense attorney. Julia McMurrey was in court yesterday, but the judge reset her trial for next month because of the new information.

McMurrey founded PAWS Around the Planet, where the SPCA of Texas seized close to 200 sick and malnourished dogs two years ago. She's already been convicted on one count of animal cruelty, but is charged with two more counts.

Right now, the McMurrey case hinges on more than a dozen pieces of paper. The anonymous faxes include documents detailing the criminal record of the state's key witness, Dave Garcia.

He's the VP of Operations at the SPCA of Texas in Dallas and the one who seized the dogs from McMurrey in 2003. Garcia has been convicted on multiple felony and misdemeanor DWI's in several states, and has a warrant for his arrest in Arizona.

All of this comes as a surprise to District Attorney Matt Bingham, who never received the faxes. The judge gave them to him.

It has Bingham reconsidering his case against McMurrey and whether he should use Garcia as a witness.

"The fact that he has a felony DWI, in and of itself, does not cause me to automatically disbelieve him," Bingham said. "The prosecutor did ask him. And the fact that, if this is him, he did not mention this, concerns me."

McMurrey's attorney, Joel Baker, says the DA's office should have checked Garcia's criminal background.

"If I had been made aware of that before that trial, we may have used that information to impeach his credibility," Baker said.

But Bingham says the defense would not be able to impeach Garcia as a witness.

"A DWI is not a crime of moral turpitude," Bingham said. "The law says you can have a DWI and still be an honest person."

Bingham says, if he decides to continue with the trial, he hopes the jury will not be tainted by this new information.

However, Baker says he may try to reverse McMurrey's conviction.

If Bingham decides to proceed with the case, the trial is set for August 17.

We contacted the SPCA of Texas. The president says he also received the information about Garcia from the United Game Fowl Breeders Association. The SPCA says it was already aware of Garcia's criminal background and says that does not change his credibility as an animal welfare investigator.

Julie Tam, reporting.