Experienced prosecutor fired amid backlog of criminal cases in McLennan County

DA’s office reportedly lost confidence in Susan Shafer’s ability to try serious cases
LEFT TO RIGHT: District Attorney Barry Johnson, former prosecutor Susan Shafer, and newly-hired...
LEFT TO RIGHT: District Attorney Barry Johnson, former prosecutor Susan Shafer, and newly-hired first assistant district attorney, Aubrey Robertson.(KWTX PHOTOS)
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 4:09 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Despite a burgeoning backlog of criminal cases and an office short on prosecutors, McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson fired an experienced prosecutor last week who returned to the office just three months ago.

As it turned out, Johnson did not actually fire Susan Shafer because Johnson, a lame duck serving out his last few months in office, was attending an advanced criminal law seminar in Dallas last week.

He left firing Shafer up to his newly hired first assistant district attorney, Aubrey Robertson, the Democratic nominee for district attorney who Johnson would have opposed if he hadn’t lost the Republican primary to Josh Tetens in March. Robertson was sworn into his new job last Thursday. Firing Shafer Friday morning was among his first official acts.

Shafer, 60, who has tried at least three capital murder cases and four murder cases, said Robertson told her that the office had lost confidence in her ability to try serious cases.

There are at least 56 defendants charged with capital murder or murder languishing in the McLennan County Jail while waiting for their day in court. Johnson’s office has either dismissed or reduced the charges against the last four murder defendants and a jury acquitted the only capital murder case that has gone to trial since the courts opened back up after the pandemic shutdown.

While speaking in general terms, Robertson said Monday that Shafer didn’t “fit the mold” of the type of prosecutor they are looking for.

“So with respect to any policy decision, we are looking to build a team of prosecutors that we have confidence that can handle very serious cases,” Robertson said. “But additionally, its equally important that our prosecutors communicate effectively with law enforcement and the families of victims. And if there is a prosecutor in this office that does not fit that mold, they will not be working for this office very long.”

When asked about Shafer’s legal experience, especially in light of the number of young prosecutors Johnson’s office currently employs, Robertson asked “but has she tried any of those this century? She has not tried any serious cases this century.”

Shafer sat second chair to former First Assistant District Attorney Crawford Long during the December 2010 murder trial of Matt Baker, the former Baptist preacher dubbed the “murdering minister.”

Baker was sentenced to 65 years in prison in the death of his wife, Kari. Baker was convicted of staging her death by trying to make it appear that his wife, despondent over the death of their child, took her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills.

Shafer worked as a prosecutor under former McLennan County District Attorney John Segrest from January 1997 to December 2010. She was associate general counsel for Texas State Technical College from 2011 to 2019 and was in private practice after that. She started work in the DA’s office again on April 18.

“My recent experience differed substantially from the many years of professional and competent litigation – and collegial camaraderie – fostered by John Segrest, Crawford Long, Mike Freeman and Beth Toben,” Shafer said. “What exists there now is a disappointing shame.”

Freeman is a former prosecutor who became a McLennan County Court-at-Law judge, while Toben, a longtime prosecutor, is an assistant district attorney in Limestone County.

Robertson said the DA’s office currently has vacancies for a court chief prosecutor, two felony prosecutors, one misdemeanor prosecutor, a victim services employee and two clerks.

“There is no doubt we are short on prosecutors,” Robertson said.

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