Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Longest-serving criminal court judge retiring from bench

WACO, TX – 19th District Judge Ralph Strother will hang up his robes Thursday and put the lid on a 22-year career that had him overseeing some of the highest profile criminal cases in Texas.

State law required Strother’s retirement after he reached his 75th birthday. He is 77.

Former Texas Gov. George W. Bush appointed Strother to the bench in January 1999 to replace retiring Judge Bill Logue.

Like Logue, Texas statutes required Strother to retire but unlike Logue, Strother was allowed to finish out his term after he turned 75 because of a change in the law.

Thomas West, who defeated Waco attorney Kristi DeCluitt in a runoff, will succeeded Strother Jan. 1.

For all those years he spent on the bench, he said Wednesday he “had the best seat in the house” as he presided over some of the highest-profile cases ever tried in McLennan County, including the last case he tried, the televised Matt Baker murder case.

As Strother leaves the bench, his past also includes working as a Defense Intelligence Agency operative during Vietnam, serving as a Waco police legal adviser, served as a felony prosecutor in two counties, as interim chancellor for the Texas State Technical College system and was president of the Waco school board.

Strother presided over some of the more high-profile cases in the county’s history, including spouse killers Darlene Gentry and Baker, Baylor fraternity president Jacob Anderson, capital murder defendants Ricky Cummings, Albert Love and Carnell Petetan, Waco day care owner Marian Fraser and Rowena Ledbetter, called by many the “black widow.”

Strother and 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson also presided over the cases of 177 bikers arrested after the 2015 shootout at Twin Peaks in Waco that left nine dead.

Only one case actually went to trial and it ended in a hung jury and mistrial that played out in Johnson’s court.

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