Bandera's chief of police is cleared of perjury

San Antonio Express-News
BYLINE: Zeke MacCormack, STAFF

Bandera, TX

FREDERICKSBURG - Bandera Police Chief James Eigner was acquitted of perjury and evidence tampering charges Thursday at a trial where other law officers also had their credibility questioned.

Defense attorney Ben Sifuentes Jr. called it "the proper verdict" and described Eigner, who couldn't be reached for comment, as "very, very relieved and grateful."

The charges stemmed from the intoxication manslaughter trial in Fredericksburg last fall of Jon Heinen over a crash in Bandera County that killed Heinen's brother, Joe Heinen.

Eigner arrived at the Heinen trial a day late and testified he hadn't known he'd been subpoenaed by the defense - which became the basis of the perjury charge.

He also said evidence from Heinen's crash may have been discarded when a police storage room was cleaned in summer 2007.

Heinen was cleared, in part, due to the missing evidence that Eigner's officers had helped gather, log and store while assisting then-Department of Public Safety Trooper Michele Kosmalski.

Heinen had gone to trial only after Eigner publicly blasted as too lenient an agreement under which he was to plead guilty to a DWI charge and get probation and counseling.

State District Judge Steve Ables had approved the deal, then scrapped it a week later after Eigner spoke out.

Eigner's backers saw the subsequent perjury and evidence tampering indictments as payback for his criticisms.

"The only thing the chief is guilty of is offending the court by complaining about the plea bargain," Bandera Patrolman Jim Brantley said during the four-hour deliberations by Eigner's jury Thursday after a three-day trial before state District Judge Keith Williams.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Guy James Gray cited testimony by Bandera Patrolman Allen Kelley, who quoted Eigner as saying he didn't plan to appear at Heinen's trial because the subpoena left on his desk hadn't been properly served.

Sifuentes cast Kelley as a chief-wannabe whose account was unreliable and motives were suspect.

As to Eigner's motives for the alleged crimes, Gray said the chief was angry over the Heinen plea deal, and that the missing evidence "was an embarrassment to everybody."

Sifuentes said the state fell short of proving Eigner made false statements under oath with an intent to deceive, or that he concealed or caused to be destroyed evidence to make it unavailable.

He told jurors they couldn't rely on Kosmalski's testimony that the missing evidence was in the storage room after it was cleaned, noting other witnesses questioned her honesty.

Sifuentes said Eigner didn't initially come to Heinen's trial due to an earlier fax - entered as evidence - in which prosecutors told him he wasn't needed as a witness.

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