Investigators say they collected plenty of evidence that Billy Earl Dacus raped and murdered Yvonne Gibson on Sept. 22, 1982. But a jury will never hear that evidence and will never deliberate his lawful guilt or innocence. Dacus
Earlier this month, the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth threw out an indictment on the charges against Dacus because of mistakes made 27 years ago. And despite new evidence found by cold-case detectives with Denton County and Lewisville, the case has been finally dismissed.
"This was a violation of the law by the state," said Dacus' attorney, Victor Amador. "They should be careful. You cannot unring the bell on a misapplied law. We should be mindful that this could occur again."
Authorities said Gibson, 56, walked into the parking lot at her place of work in Lewisville after work that day more than 28 years ago. A friend saw her driving away and was surprised that she stared straight ahead and didn't wave. Police believe her killer was already in the car. She was supposed to pick up a friend and go to church that night. She didn't. When she didn't come home, her husband called police.
That same afternoon, some little boys were playing near some woods in the area that is now Oakmont Country Club. They found a blood trail, and one ran home to get his dad. The man followed the trail to a mattress that was covering a woman's body. She had been raped and shot in the head.
Dacus was a suspect in a number of bank robberies. A relative brought police a gun that belonged to Dacus. Testing showed that shots fired during a bank robbery and the shot fired into Gibson's head came from that gun. When federal agents arrested him, he was in a stolen car.
By the time he was indicted on the capital murder and car theft charges, Dacus was in the Leavenworth, Kan., penitentiary on federal bank robbery charges. He was brought back to Texas to face the local charges, and there lay the problem.
The Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act is a federal law that affects cases when one state brings charges against a person who is incarcerated in a federal prison or a prison in another state. The law mandates that if the state brings that person out of the other prison to face its own charges, it must try the case within 120 days. If that doesn't happen, the charges must be dismissed.
In Dacus' case, after he was indicted and brought to the Denton County Jail, then-District Attorney Jerry Cobb said there was not enough evidence to try him on the murder charge, Amador said. Dacus entered a plea bargain to serve a 30-year sentence for the car theft, and the murder charge was dismissed. The court at that time should have specified that the dismissal was with prejudice, according to the appeals court document.
"There was no plea bargain document that said the murder was part of the plea bargain," Amador said. "But who would plead to 30 years for stealing a car?"
And so Dacus was transported back to Leavenworth without being tried for murder. And that meant that he never could be tried for Gibson's death, the lawyer said, because of the federal law.
Nothing more happened in the case until 2008, when Denton County and Lewisville police detectives decided to pursue the Gibson murder as a cold case. They obtained a search warrant for Dacus' DNA. Modern technology revealed that his DNA matched semen found inside the victim. There is no statute of limitations on murder. He was indicted.
By that time, he was in a halfway house awaiting full parole. He was then taken back to Denton County Jail. Amador was appointed by the court to represent him. The law seemed clear to him, he said, and he saw no reason to go through a trial when he believed Dacus ultimately would be released. The local judge did not agree.
So Amador appealed that ruling. On April 4, the appeals court issued an opinion agreeing with Amador.
The opinion was issued "with prejudice," which means the case cannot ever be resurrected.
Dacus, now 66, was released from the Denton County Jail on April 8. Amador met him at a convenience store, bought him a meal and gave him $20 to help get to Oklahoma.
The investigators who worked the cold case are heartsick. Dacus spent a quarter of a century in prison for bank robbery, they say, but never paid for Gibson's rape and murder.
Amador says that when the state takes criminal action against a man, the state has a duty to obey the law in that action. He does not consider the release to be based on a technicality.
"I was appointed to represent this man, and I had a mission to represent him to the best of my ability," Amador said. "The DNA assumptions were never proven because they never went before a judge."
He wants the case taken note of, he said.
"When he is in federal prison and he is called back to face charges, the clock will start ticking as soon as he lands in Denton County. They have 120 days. Someone in the district attorney's office should be appointed to keep watch over that," he said. "It can happen again under the plain and strict language of the IADA. I cannot look at it as a technicality. It is the law. The state created a mess.
"It's sad," Amador said. "When it is a murder, no one wins."
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.