The Trial Ends

March 25, 2003

Whew! I'm finally home after spending the most amazing seven weeks in an Austin courtroom, listening to the evidence against Celeste Beard Johnson. On March 20, the defense rested, and the jury was handed the case after hearing from more than 100 witnesses. Many were mental health professionals who had treated either Celeste or Tracey Tarlton.

Throughout the defense's portion of the trial, they painted Tarlton as suicidal, homicidal, psychopathic, delusional, and obsessed with Celeste. Dick DeGuerin claimed that the women had only a friendship, not the romantic relationship Tarlton claimed. He said Tarlton killed Steven Beard for her own purpose: to get him out of the way so she could have Celete for herself.

Prosecutors Allison Wetzel and Gary Cobb fought hard to shore up Tarlton's testimony, including her claims that the two women had a love affair, and, most important for a conviction, that Celeste asked Tarlton to kill Beard, then planned and faciliated the shooting.

In the end, the jury decided with the prosecution: handing out two life sentences, one for Capitol Murder, the other for Injury to the Elderly, a third-class felony. The bottomline: Beard will serve 40 years in jail before becoming eligible for parole. Dick DeGuerin, meanwhile, has vowed he'll not give up, and says that he plans an appeal.

In many ways, the end of the trial is the beginning of my work. Now, on to the interviewing and the writing. This is a fascinating story, with more twists and turns than the branches of the ancient live oaks that line Austin's streets. A more twisted tale I can't imagine. If I wrote "She Wanted It All" as fiction, no one would believe it.

It'll be a busy but rewarding spring and summer. I hope you enjoy the results....