by BRAD ROLLINS
An appellate court today reversed activist Charles O’Dell’s conviction in Hays County for violating the city of Dripping Springs’ sign ordinance during an environmental protest.
O’Dell was found guilty last year in municipal court and then in a county court-at-law of violating Dripping Spring’s prohibition against erecting free-standing signs in public right-of-ways. Visiting Judge Fred A. Moore fined him $500. The charges stemmed from a February 2007 protest of the Belterra subdivision developers’ application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a permit to discharge wastewater effluent into Bear Creek.
In an opinion issued today, Justice David Puryear found there was insufficient evidence that O’Dell installed the sign at the center of the state’s charges and rendered the verdict an acquittal. A three-judge panel of the state’s Third Court of Criminal Appeals heard oral arguments in O’Dell’s appeal on May 20.
“Although there is evidence that O’Dell did install at least one sign in the area on the day in question and had previously placed other signs in the area, the leap from that evidence to a determination that O’Dell was the person who installed the sign specifically identified in the complaint is not adequately supported by the evidence presented in this case, Puryear wrote.
He continued, “While it is not unreasonable to theorize or guess that O’Dell set up the sign, that conclusion is merely speculative in nature and cannot support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we conclude that the evidence is legally insufficient to support O’Dell’s onviction and sustain his first issue on appeal.”
The court did not rule on O’Dell’s contention that the ordinance is unconstitutional.