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DA Kaspar Takes on Murder Case Before Retirement

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – Sixteen years after first taking office as Houston County District Attorney (DA), Donna Gordon Kaspar will be retiring at the end of the year. She has a capital murder trial set for the end of the month and a million other things to get through before then. While the job is not quite for everyone, Kaspar’s leaving is bittersweet, as she knows she will miss parts of the job and the people she has worked with. 

After graduating from Crockett High, Kaspar went off to get her degree in business management. Wanting to follow in her father Donald Gordon’s footsteps, (he was also district attorney at one time) Kaspar went on to get her law degree from Baylor. 

She was living in Lufkin, working in Nacodoches when the county attorney at that time, John Bobbitt, asked Kaspar to come back to the county to run for district attorney. Kaspar had always thought about returning to Crockett and agreed. A little over a month after she returned, Bobbitt passed away, which led to Kaspar getting his job instead. 

“That always struck me as so strange, because he was the one who wanted me to run for another office and I ended up with his position instead,” Kaspar remembered. 

Serving as county attorney for a little over 13 years, Kaspar finally ran for and won the position she moved back to the area to get in the beginning – Houston County DA – in 2009.

It didn’t take long for Kaspar to realize the new job comes with its own highs and lows, professionally, personally and emotionally. 

“The first murder case I ever did here was interesting because I the family was thinking we we weren’t moving quick enough and they were getting on to me a little bit. By the time we were done, they were all mad at me and I had been really close with that family,” Kaspar remembered. “The victim’s mother passed away a couple of years ago, but until her death she’d call me up every so often and call me her extra daughter and it was great.”

A DA not only tries cases in front of courts and juries – their judgment is a deciding factor in which cases get picked up, in the first place. Is there enough evidence for a conviction? What is the opinion of the grand jury? This is, understandably, one of the hardest parts of the job for Kaspar. Move too slow and you are accused of being soft on crime. Move too fast and they will say you are, “out to get” the defendant. It has always been a tight-rope walk for any DA.

“That’s the power we wield, I suppose, and a lot of people get mad about what you don’t end up going forward on. Of course, part of it is the grand jury – they look at it and they say, No, we don’t think there’s enough to go forward.’ But some of it’s my decision,” Kaspar explained.  Sometimes I look at it and say, ‘I don’t need a grand jury to tell me I really don’t have enough to go forward on that.’ It’s stressful, because there’s a lot of people wanting things to move forward and I have to be objective and look at the evidence and see if I can actually make a case. Sometimes you can’t.”

In a tight-knight place like Houston County, a DA will know or even be friends with families involved in prosecution. This has led to losing some friends, over the years, too. 

“You make some enemies, I guess. I can’t look at a case and think, ‘I’m not going to prosecute them because I’ve known them for a long time or they’re my friend or whatever.’ When I go forward, I look at the case and I decide there are facts here and they’re saying that person committed a crime. Then, I’ve got to move forward and sometimes it makes people mad,” Kaspar said. 

After so many years seeing the worst in humanity – the worst crimes, evidence, crime scene pictures and victim’s statements – Kaspar said it’s sad, but a DA gets used to it. In this position, it’s part of doing the job in a professional manner. Getting too used it takes a toll, as a professional and as a person. 

“I think you get callous to it. I think that’s part of the reason people should not be prosecutors for really long periods of time. I had a friend who did nothing but child sexual assault cases express it once like this: she thought you’ve done it too long when you look at an indecency with a child case and say, ‘I’ve seen way worse than that. That’s not a big deal.’ Yeah, you’ve been in it too long when you realize you’re thinking like that,” Kaspar explained. 

Kaspar said this also factored in to her decision to retire at the end of her term this year. She and her husband are not getting any younger, and they still want to enjoy their time and travel a little, far from courtrooms and unpleasant cases a DA deals with. 

“I’ve been looking at acrylic-pour painting. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that. It’s kind of abstract painting, which I think is super cool. I’d like to try it out,” Kaspar said. “I bought a kayak down at the lake so I’m hoping to do a bunch of kayaking.”

Kaspar is already working on a capital murder case, set to begin within the next month or so. The case involves the 2020 murder of 79-year-old Faye Lynn Paul. David Denson was suspected in her disappearance and was eventually accused of her murder, after he fled the area and was arrested in Colorado. 

While Kaspar could not reveal much about the case, she said she was confident in her evidence and the complex nature of the case led state prosecutors to come in and assist. She said the trial should last a couple of weeks. 

Current Houston County Attorney Daphne Session is running unopposed to replace Kaspar, who said she and Daphne have not really had time to sit down and talk about the DA job. Like herself, Kaspar said Session serving so many years as county attorney will prepare for most of what the job entails. The big difference are the cases themselves, which will be fewer, but much more intense. 

Asked what she thought – or at least, hoped – her legacy would be after so many years as DA, Kaspar took a minute to think about that one. She hadn’t given it much thought. 

“I would like for people to look back and think of me as somebody who took the job seriously and was good at it,” Kaspar said. “And hopefully, was fair.”

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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