Former inmate Dave Cary, 62, enjoys walking from his Lovers Lane home in University Park to Union Coffee on Dyer Street.
On his laptop, he follows the news and blogs about wrongfully convicted people and such prosecutorial misdeeds as affairs with judges and distortion of defendants’ pasts.
“The shameful thing is I’m having no trouble finding material,” Cary said.
The convictions of Dave and Stacy Cary, who were accused of bribing a Collin County judicial candidate, were overturned on appeal, but not before Dave served 19 months and 10 days in Texas prisons, often alongside dangerous gang members.
The Carys credit their love for each other and support from the community with sustaining them through a nearly seven-year ordeal that disrupted his executive career and cost them access to his twin daughters.
“We knew we did nothing wrong, and we prayed we would overcome and that justice would prevail,” Stacy Cary said.
Their troubles began after Suzanne Wooten’s 2008 Republican Primary defeat of State District Judge Charles Sandoval, who county history suggested would win easily.
Sandoval complained to then DA John Roach, and investigations eventually focused on the Carys and a Wooten campaign consultant, James Stephen Spencer.
According to news reports, prosecutors contended Spencer couldn’t have afforded campaign expenditures he made without $150,000 in payments from Stacy Cary.
Those payments were consulting fees for business advice related to Stacy Cary’s companies and Spencer’s assistance with lobbying for parental rights legislation, Dave Cary explained. “We never met [Wooten].”
But after multiple grand juries, indictments came alleging what defense counsel described as a “conspiracy to commit lawful acts” and what prosecutors called a scheme to replace the judge hearing a custody case over Dave Cary’s children.
Once seated, Wooten recused herself from the custody case, but another judge in 2010 gave Dave Cary primary custody.
Four criminal trials followed, with juries convicting Wooten and the Carys. Sandoval pleaded guilty.
“They went after us,” Stacy Cary, 57, said. “They threatened our family. They threatened our home.”
From the bench came probated sentences for three defendants, but David Cary went to jury for punishment and was sentenced in 2013 to 14 years in prison.
Cary served prison time in Palestine, Bonham, and Henderson. He credits Spanish language skills and experience as an infantry sergeant with helping him maneuver gang encounters.
“There were lots of opportunities to respond in nonproductive manners,” he said, but restraint was key. “I couldn’t do it for me, but I could do it for her.
“I would be dead now if it wasn’t for my wife.”
Between Stacy Cary’s 2012 trial and his own, Dave met regularly with Kent Roberts, a Highland Park United Methodist Church lay minister who could relate.
Roberts, acquitted in 2008 in a stock fraud case, wrote The Strength of a Free Mind, a devotional book aimed at assuring the accused they are not alone.
HPUMC worked to provide the Carys with similar assurance, he said. “This was a tremendous stress for both of them.”
The congregation supported Stacy Cary during Dave’s incarceration and representatives from Highland Park and Lovers Lane United Methodist churches visited Dave Cary in prison, Roberts said.
“They made sure I got letters every day,” as well as copies of his favorite newspapers, Cary said.
After first he worried he could get killed for reading the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and The Economist, but found prisoners actually respected it. “It made me popular, because they saw me as a source of information and education.”
After Dave Cary’s parole in 2014, the Rev. Paul Rasmussen led an HPUMC celebration.
In 2015, the Fifth Court of Appeals unanimously found trial evidence insufficient to support Dave Cary’s conviction, a ruling upheld unanimously in December 2016 by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas’ highest criminal court applied the ruling also to Stacy Cary. The Attorney General’s Office, while accepting the rulings, stood by its prosecutions.
Even after acquittal, the Carys feel the costs of their experiences.
Employment in her father’s oil business and her own business ventures allowed Stacy Cary to keep the house, but her adopted son, 14, and daughter, 15, still ask about their 17-year-old stepsisters.
“I do feel the anguish,” said Dave Cary, who hasn’t seen his daughters since 2013. “They think I’m still a guilty person in prison who’s done bad things.”
Before indictment, Dave Cary worked in corporate finance. Today, he makes better than minimum wage teaching English as a second language.
Techwildcatters.com describes how with Cary as CFO, i2 Technolgies went from a small company worth about $1 million to a publicly traded international firm worth $5 billion.
“I’m just a strong talent, and I haven’t been active in a while,” he said. “I want to work again.”
He has authored Normandy: A Father’s Odyssey, a Son’s Curiosity about the ship Stacy’s father, Roland “Nick” Stine, served on in World War II.
“It’s unfortunate an infantry sergeant had to be the one to tell it,” Dave Cary joked.
The former Sunday school teacher also has joined his church’s prison ministry, bringing lessons on “authentic manhood” to inmates whose lives he understands so much better now.
Stacy Cary added she and Dave have learned how common their ordeal was through meeting others in the community who have faced accusations and wrongful prosecution.
Samuel R. Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, notes how one in 25 defendants sentenced to death are innocent, but wrongful conviction rates for other types of cases are difficult to pinpoint.
“Of course, in a country with millions of criminal convictions a year and more than 2 million people behind bars, even 1 percent amounts to tens of thousands of tragic errors,” he wrote in 2015 for The Washington Post.
For now, Dave Cary turns his disappointment with how he and Stacy were treated by the judicial system into more blog posts about those tragic errors. “We are trying to do something positive out of all of this.”