Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

November 2, 2012

Two face off for District Attorney

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

CHEROKEE COUNTY — Incumbent stands on experience, desire for justice

Elmer Beckworth, Cherokee County's district attorney since 2001, expects his job experience and overall desire for justice to help him win re-election against his challenger in the Nov. 6 general election.

The 58-year-old Rusk resident, incidentally, comes highly recommended by law enforcement colleagues.

"He is one of the best prosecutors I have ever seen in East Texas," said Rusk Police Chief Joe Evans, a former investigator in Beckworth's office. "I've worked with a lot of DAs over the years and I can tell you he is one of the better and more knowledgeable ones – one of the very few I would go back to work for."

Beckworth said he understands the challenge of running against contender Rachel Patton, whom he once considered one of his more impressive prosecutors. Patton worked in Beckworth's office from 2006 to 2011, as his first assistant district attorney for the last one-and-a-half of those years.

During interviews at the time, Beckworth praised Patton highly, saying she earned the first assistant title with the skill she demonstrated as a prosecutor – particularly in trying child abuse cases.

But the veteran DA said Thursday he is the superior candidate to Patton because he has superior experience – 30 years since first becoming a Cherokee County prosecutor.

"I gave her the same praise I gave others who have done a good job in my office," Beckworth said. "What sets us apart is my record and my experience. I have tried a number of capital murder cases. Beunka Adams was executed in April. Richard Cobb is still on death row. There have also been a number of murder cases, and cases involving intoxication manslaughter, felony thefts and burglaries. She has had little experience in a  number of those cases and in some hasn't had any experience at all."

Beckworth said he enjoys trying all aspects of district attorney cases, including working with the legislature and the prosecutorial process in general. He helped pass Jessica's Law, toughening statutes against child molesters.

"Our No. 1 duty is to seek justice and I am very proud of what I have accomplished," he said.

The DA said he is very aware of the precariousness of running as a Democrat against Patton, a Republican, in a highly-Republican state such as Texas. But he recalled a time when the political pendulum swung the other way.

"I am not a political expert," Beckworth said. "I am a district attorney, so being Democrat is irrelevant to the job I do."

The University of Texas and UT law school graduate (1976 and 1978), is married to Janice Beckworth and has two teenage children: Erin, 15, and Margaret, 17.

He was recently named Texas Prosecutor of the Year by the Texas & Southwest Cattle Raiser Association, an honor that recognized him as a general trail blazer in terms of prosecution of rural cases.

The TSCRA award was specific to some major cattle theft cases Beckworth worked.  

"An individual had to go to Kuwait and left his cattle with a friend – or someone he thought was a friend," the DA said. "When he returned he realized his cattle were gone and the 'friend' had been showing him cattle that belonged to others. The 'friend' ended up getting 32 years in prison."

The district attorney's former boss has nothing but praise for him. Charles Holcomb was Cherokee DA himself for 12 years before going on to be a judge on the Tyler Court of Appeals for six years and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for the last 10 years.

Holcomb especially remembered Beckworth being excellent at handling appeals.

"Elmer worked for me as a prosecutor for almost all of those 12 years," Holcomb said. "I'm proud of him. He did a great job then and he's doing a great job now as DA."


Challenger described as ‘well-qualified, vigorous’

Rachel Patton is running for district attorney against longtime incumbent and former boss Elmer Beckworth. Her platform: aggressive, efficient and successful prosecution.

In terms of experience, the 36-year-old Republican is facing a bit of an uphill battle, pitting her eight years in the business against Democrat Beckworth's 30. But she believes she can be successful.

She certainly has made a splash with her Republican contemporaries. She won many hearts and minds earlier this month  when appearing before the Cherokee County Republican Club, according to Josie Schoolcraft, one of the vice presidents for the group.

"She is such a well-qualified, vigorous prosecutor," Schoolcraft said. "If you're guilty, she doesn't care who you are. She doesn't care who you are related to or what lawyer you have hired. She is passionately, squarely for the victim. And that's the kind of district attorney I want on the job. Don't you?"

The candidate's "Rachel Patton For District Attorney" Facebook page bills her as an aggressive, effective and experienced felony prosecutor.

Her mission, as listed on that page, is to make the DA's office as dedicated to community safety as possible through vigorous, successful prosecution.

She pledges increased interaction between law enforcement and the DA's office should she be elected, plus improved efficiency to reduce the time for cases to be resolved.

"I will be fair and evaluate cases based on the facts and evidence without regard for loyalties, status, or political concerns," Patton said in a statement.

"One of the first priorities would be to clear up the case backlog, then establish a policy and procedures to prevent the buildup from occurring again," she said.  

Patton currently works in private practice. But she worked as an assistant district attorney for five-and-a-half years in Beckworth's office starting in January 2006, Beckworth appointed her first assistant district attorney for the last year and a half she worked in the office.

Schoolcraft said it was very professional of Patton to resign from Beckworth's employ when she did, so as to avoid any conflicts of interest on anyone's part when she started her campaign for DA.

"She's such a wonderful candidate," Schoolcraft said.

While in Beckworth's employ, Patton was a bit of a child advocate, having been extremely successful prosecuting child molestation and harassment cases.

Even Beckworth has given Patton high marks for her work in that regard.

Years ago, he said Patton had always specialized in child defense and had a natural aptitude for that type of work.

"There were some kids she could talk to when law enforcement counselors couldn’t,” Beckworth said previously.

She has successfully prosecuted cases at all levels in both trial and appellate courts – especially child abuse cases.

Patton was born in the state of Georgia and also went to school there. She attended the Mercer University School of Law in August 1999 and graduated in 2002.

Starting her career in Anderson County, Patton was one of four assistants to the district attorney in July 2003.

She traveled Nacogdoches County, where she spent only five months as a prosecutor before coming to Cherokee County in January 2006.

She is married to Kevin Rogers.

They have two children, Aurora, 7, and Evan, 4 and live just outside Jacksonville.