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Brazos DA Turner named Texas Prosecutor of the Year

By CRAIG KAPITAN

Eagle Staff Writer

Turner

District Attorney Bill Turner soon will receive the highest accolade possible for his field, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association announced Thursday.

Turner, who has held Brazos County’s top prosecutor spot since 1983, will be presented in September with the 2004 State Bar of Texas Prosecutor of the Year Award, the association announced at the State Bar’s annual conference in San Antonio.

The prestigious prize is handed out to one attorney in Texas each year.

“ He’s a prosecutor’s prosecutor,” said Wichita Falls Criminal District Attorney Barry Macha, who sent a letter to the association in February encouraging Turner’s nomination. “On top of that, he’s just a great guy.”

Turner long has been regarded by his peers as one of the top district attorneys in the state, said Rob Kepple, who serves as executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

“ Bill has a reputation as being a district attorney who gives more thought into how to do that job and how to do it well, I think, than any other prosecutor,” Kepple said, while also describing him as “a tremendous trial lawyer.”

“ When people know that Bill Turner indicts them, they’ve got to be thinking they’re in trouble,” he said.

Among Turner’s trial experience over the years has been 12 courtroom victories involving capital murder — including the sentencing of Marcus Druery to the death chamber in December.

Any prosecutor in Texas is eligible for the Prosecutor of the Year Award, although the recipient usually is an elected official, Kepple said.

After Macha suggested Turner’s nomination to the District and County Attorneys Association in February, the idea was endorsed by the group’s nominations committee and board of directors before the Texas State Bar’s criminal justice division took a final vote.

Generally, the association receives two or three nominations each year, Kepple said, but this time around there seemed to be little dispute over who should receive the award.

“ I think it’s safe to characterize it as a groundswell of support for this,” he said. “This wasn’t a year where there was a toss-up. I just don’t think there were a lot of people who considered anybody else.”

Over the years, Kepple has seen many prosecutors reduced to tears as they received the award, he said of the top honor.

For now, Turner plans to celebrate the accolade the way he usually does in such situations — by getting an ice cream cone with his family, he said from his office Thursday afternoon.

“ Obviously, I’m tremendously excited about it,” Turner said, describing it as the highest honor of his 28-year career. “To be recognized in this manner is a real highlight to me.”

He described the award as the direct result of the “team effort” from his staff at the District Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement agencies and those who serve as jurors.

“ I appreciate it and I accept it, but I quickly recognize that any accomplishment is part of being in the middle of a very effective criminal justice system,” he said.

Turner has been with the Brazos County District Attorney’s Office since 1980, when he was hired as an assistant district attorney. He was appointed to the top spot in 1983, after the resignation of then-District Attorney Travis Bryan III.

Since then, the 51-year-old has been elected and re-elected four times to the top spot while on the Democratic ticket. This November, he will face off with an opposing candidate for the first time since 1984 — against Republican nominee and former justice of the peace Patrick Meece.

The upcoming election didn’t seem to play a part in Turner’s nomination this year, said Kepple, explaining that it’s not the first time the district attorney has been recognized.

“ He’s a leader,” Kepple said of Turner, who currently sits on the board of directors for the District and County Attorneys Association.

In 1999, he received the Chris Marshall award, which recognizes prosecutors’ dedication to training their peers. In 2002, Turner was listed in Texas Lawyer magazine as one of 135 “top-notch lawyers” across the state. Only five prosecutors were among that group.

In that issue, he was described by an anonymous attorney as “the best thing that ever happened to Bryan-College Station.”

Despite the recognitions, voters have a tendency to make up their own minds, Turner said Thursday, discounting the sway the latest award might have in an election cycle. It’s a recognition from his peers but not those he is elected to serve, he said.

But the fact that it does come from his peers is what makes the award so important to those in the criminal justice field, Macha said.

“ It comes from people who know what you do,” he said. “It says a lot. It means a lot.”

• Craig Kapitan’s e-mail address is ckapitan@theeagle.com.

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