EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are those held by the author and do not reflect the opinion of the HPOU or the Badge & Gun.
On a warm winter day in a quite Katy suburb outside of Houston, Texas, Belinda Temple was brutally murdered in her upstairs bedroom closet. From outward appearances, she had taken refuge in her closet with her portable phone. Belinda and her unborn child died from a single gunshot blast to the back of her head, from close range. The murder weapon was a 12-gauge shotgun using a reloaded 00 buckshot cartridge.
When you have a shotgun wound from close range, you expect blood splatter and other matter being blown back toward the perpetrator. Unless the suspect took time to clean up, the blood splatter and other matter would transfer to objects later coming in contact with the suspect. In fact, many cases are solved due to blood transfer.
Notably in cases like this, the victim’s spouse is always a person of interest until investigators can determine the spouse’s whereabouts when the murder occurred. Belinda’s spouse was David Temple a local high school and gridiron football standout player. At the time of the murder, he was a high school football coach in the Katy area. It was important for investigators to know David’s location at the time of his wife’s death. From the very beginning investigators started piecing together the victim’s movements before death and establishing a timeline. Investigators learned Belinda was seen talking on her cell phone at her school to David on the afternoon of her death. Phone records and witness statements established this brief conversation occurred at 3:32 p.m.
From interviewing witnesses investigators learned Belinda left the school after talking to David and drove to her father-in-law Ken Temple’s home to pick up some soup. Mr. Temple believed she arrived at his home around 3:45 p.m. and they talked for about 10 minutes before she left with the soup. Belinda started driving to her home at approximately 3:55 p.m. Because of the known time of the phone call from the school and Belinda’s drive time to Mr. Temple’s home, his estimates of time appeared accurate. Factoring the drive time between Mr. Temple’s home and Belinda’s house, investigators could conclude the murder happened no sooner than 4:12 p.m.
While canvassing the neighborhood for anyone who might have seen or heard the gunshot, investigators found three brothers who live directly behind the Temple home. The brothers told investigators they heard a large boom that sounded like a gunshot while watching “Dr. Doolittle” on television. They remembered the scene in the movie when they heard the suspected shot and through records it was established they heard what they believed to be a gun shot at approximately 4:30 p.m., which fit within the established timeline.
The Temple murder investigation was assigned to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). Their investigation resulted in a police report containing 1,319 pages. Many years after this investigation was completed, new evidence was discovered indicating David may have been falsely convicted. Daniel Glasscock, a high school friend of Riley Joe Sanders came forward to report a conversation he overheard shortly after Belinda’s murder. Glasscock believed from the conversation, his high school friend might have been involved in Belinda’s death. The new witness claimed his conscience was bothering him and because of his silence David Temple was in prison. This witness struggled with what to do with this information and even talked with his pastor before taking the information to David’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin.
On a day shortly after Belinda’s murder, Glasscock was at Sanders home with a group of mutual friends. Glasscock walked in while Sanders was having a conversation with Cody Ellis and Carlos Corro. From the best of Glasscock’s memory he overheard Sanders telling them, “No one was supposed to have been home, I had to shoot the dog and put it in the closet.” Glasscock was confused by this statement because he knew the Temple dog was not shot and he knew Belinda was found in the closet.
After video recording the new witness, Dick DeGuerin talked with me and John P. Denholm, an associate attorney with my firm, about what to do with the new evidence. John Denholm is an ex-HCSO lieutenant and he arranged a meeting with Chief Investigator Don McWilliams and Investigator Steven Clappart, a retired HPD Homicide detective who is currently the Chief Investigator for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO). After that meeting Steve’s supervisors assigned him to completely review the entire investigation and investigate the new evidence Mr. DeGuerin had provided.
There was no doubt this new information had to be evaluated and HCDAO made an excellent choice in choosing Steve for the assignment. Steve is an outstanding homicide investigator and his experience regarding criminal investigations places him in an elite group of Houston Homicide detectives. He has unquestioned integrity and has proven he will do the right thing, no matter how difficult it might be. The following is a quote from a fictional detective, “It has nothing to do with easy. It’s about doing what’s right because it’s right. That’s the only reason you need.” Batman created by Bob Kane.
After reviewing the entire investigation file, Steve praised the on-scene investigation and the gathering of crucial evidence by the sheriff’s deputies, but he also had serious questions and concerns about the case. Like any murder case, the investigators started out with what they knew about the scene. There was broken glass at the back door where entry could have been gained and Belinda’s body was found in the upstairs bedroom closet with her portable phone. Downstairs a television had been removed from a shelf and was on the floor still plugged in. Some of Belinda’s jewelry was missing and outward appearances indicated the possibility of a failed burglary. Furthermore, due to Belinda being found in the closet with her portable phone, it appears she was hiding. However, the Temple’s owned a very aggressive watch dog named Shaka. The dog’s aggressive tendencies seemed to throw some doubt on the burglary-by-a-stranger theory.
Even though the investigation would establish the type of weapon used, the weapon itself was never found. Also, there was no shell casing found at the scene. Absence of a shell casing at the scene might indicate the empty shell casing was never ejected or it was picked up by the shooter and removed from the scene. Ballistics showed a 12-gauge reloaded 00 buckshot shell was used to take Belinda’s life. However, no weapon or shell casing was found. Notably, even if a suspect weapon had been found, shotguns cannot usually be individually identified as the actual murder weapon. Investigators would need Belinda’s DNA on the gun or other ballistic evidence to wrap a shotgun to the murder. Although David was a person of interest, investigators were unable to establish he owned or had access to a 12-gauge shotgun. Investigators had no forensics, fingerprints or DNA that linked him to the murder of his wife. No hard evidence at all.
In most murder investigations motive is something investigators are always interested in. They want to know as much information as they can possibly learn about the victim and people associated with the victim. As mentioned earlier, the spouse is always a person of interest and this case was no different. Belinda had a three & a half year old son Evan and was seven months pregnant with a second child. Belinda was a Katy High School teacher and she was loved by her family and friends. On the outside, Belinda seemed to have the perfect life, a successful career, loving husband, a young son and had another child on the way. It was difficult for anyone to imagine someone might want to harm Belinda.
During their investigation, detectives learned David was involved in an extra-marital affair with a teacher. This affair was not only damaging, it could possibly be a motive for Belinda’s death. Another motive involved Belinda’s 16-year-old neighbor Riley Joe Sanders. Sanders hung out with a group of friends and associates who habitually skipped school, smoked marijuana and caused problems. These associates had a wild party while Sanders’ parents were out of town and the next morning Belinda found a bunch of broken beer bottles in her back yard. She talked with Sanders’ parents about the party and his frequently skipping school. Because of Belinda, Sanders’ truck was taken away. This is serious punishment for a 16-year-old. When investigators learned of this possible motive they started checking out Sanders.
Sanders was not the only person of interest with a possible motive, but investigators did develop a lot of evidence regarding Sanders. When Sanders was questioned he claimed to be in school at the time of the murder. After checking with the school, investigators learned Sanders was not in school; he had skipped the afternoon classes and was in the neighborhood with his friends, near the scene of the murder. He admitted to investigators he was driving down the street, with his friends, when he saw David leaving the house. He gave seven different statements to investigators and showed deception on three separate HCSO polygraphs.
Investigators continued their focus on Sanders and learned that four days prior to the murder he had taken his father’s 12-gauge, single-shot shotgun, without permission. Sanders gave the shotgun to Cody Ellis prior to Belinda’s murder and asked Cody to hide it for him. Cody took the shotgun home and hid it under his bed. The Sanders12-gauge shotgun, with a spent round in the chamber was recovered by HCSO, but no report was made. Investigators could not explain how it came into their possession. The spent round was from a reloaded 00 buck shot. Due to the absence of a recovery report, it is unclear how HCSO came to possess the weapon. Investigators also found that shortly after the murder, Sanders called his girlfriend crying because his neighbor had been shot. Even though police were on the scene when that call was made, it is unknown how Sanders would have known Belinda had been shot.
During the investigation of Sanders and his associates they learned of a revenge burglary committed by friends of Sanders in Fort Bend County. According to the report, the victim of that burglary was the boyfriend of the mother of Sander’s associate. Supposedly, Sander’s friends burglarized the home because of how this boyfriend was treating his friend’s mother. In that home burglary, entry was gained by breaking the glass on a back window. During the burglary, a tape player was moved from a shelf and left on the floor, still plugged into the electrical socket. Sander’s associates admitted they did the burglary and returned the victim’s property. No criminally charges were filed on the group. It was easy to see why Steve had some serious questions about the investigation he reviewed.
All of the evidence regarding Sanders and his associates is what the courts call exculpatory evidence. In a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court, the State is required to turn this type of evidence over to the defense in order that the accused receives a fair trial. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1983). Because of Brady Steve was required to provide copies of the HCSO investigation to lawyers representing David Temple. Steve followed the orders of his superiors in the HCDAO and the law as he tried to investigate this very serious case. Even though Steve did the right thing during his investigation, there were members of the HCDAO and other friends that saw Steve’s involvement in this assignment as a portrayal. Steve was criticized and ostracized by people he felt were his friends. Very few individuals read the 1,319 pages of the police investigation. Unlike Steve, they didn’t investigate the validity of Glasscock’s claim of the overheard conversation. It should be noted Glasscock passed his polygraph regarding hearing the conversation.
A major problem in the State’s theory that David murdered Belinda involves the known time line. David and his young son Evan were captured on store security video, which was stamped at 4:32 p.m. If this time is correct, it would virtually be impossible for David to have committed the murder, cleaned up after the murder, staged a make-believe burglary and gotten rid of the shotgun before appearing on the security tape with his son.
David Temple’s murder conviction has been reversed by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas. According to Justice Richardson, “…..evidence would have supported the defensive theory that Applicant did not have time to commit the murder, clean up afterwards, ditch the murder weapon, and still be on a store surveillance camera with his son at 4:32 p.m.” In a concurring opinion Justice Yeary stated, “…. had the jury heard and credited Kenneth’s original time estimate, it might more readily have concluded that Applicant could not have had time to kill Belinda, and it may therefore have given more credence to the alternative hypothesis—in some respects, better supported by the evidence—that RJS was the perpetrator.”
Attorney Stanley Schneider represented David Temple in the appellant process and praises Steve Clappart and John Denholm for doing the right thing. When the press gathered for questions John and Steve can be seen in the background behind David’s parents. At the time of the press conference, John was an associate at Musick & Musick, LLP. and Steve worked as a private investigator. Because of the treatment Steve received immediately after his investigation, he resigned his assignment with the HCDAO. However, under the new administration, Kim Ogg has asked Steve to be her Chief Investigator and John has gone to work for Kim as an assistant district attorney. I worked with both of them and can attest they both are men with the highest degree of integrity.
The Temple case has received a lot of publicity. Books have been written about the investigation and 48 Hours recently filmed a television documentary. This case is important because society and our system of justice rightfully place a lot of importance on our right to a fair trial. The conviction of an innocent person is a serious injustice and should always be prevented at any cost. “It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.” Zadig Voltaire
I will always respect Steve and John for doing the right thing when it was not easy or popular during this investigation. Hopefully you have enjoyed reading my presentation of the evidence in the Temple case as I see it.