WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — A jury of six men and six women reached a verdict in the trial of an officer from the Wichita Falls Police Department accused of theft.
On Wednesday, January 25, 2023, in the 30th District Courtroom of the Wichita County Courthouse, Ralph Ryan Piper was found not guilty of theft over $20,000 but under $100,000 for his alleged role in a scheme that resulted in nearly $70,000 being stolen from AT&T.
The jury deliberated for about two hours on Wednesday afternoon following closing arguments from the State and Piper’s defense team.
Piper is now acquitted of the charges against him. His family and friends were shedding tears of joy after Judge Jeff McKnight read the verdict, but the only emotion Piper felt was relief.
“It’s been six years, it’s been a long time coming,” Piper said. “I really, I thank God for my faith and for keeping me going, just having faith in that. I appreciate the court, Judge McKnight’s court, and the jury of my peers. They came, they did what we’re all supposed to do. They looked at the evidence and they agreed that I did not do the crime that I was accused of, and I’m just really thankful for that.”
The trial got underway at about 10 a.m. on Wednesday, January 25, after Tuesday evening’s inclement weather, caused icy road conditions and the Wichita County Courthouse was closed until 10 a.m.
The State, represented by Special Prosecutor Ted Steinke, called a witness who serves as an investigator for employee fraud with AT&T, and after a brief testimony, the State rested its case.
The defense team for Piper made up of David Guinn and Reagan Wynn, then made a motion for the jury to return a verdict of not guilty based on a lack of corroborating evidence. 30th District Court Judge Jeff McKnight made note of the motion, but it was denied, after which time the defense team for Piper presented their case.
The defense team called nine individuals to the stand to serve as character witnesses on behalf of Piper, including three WFPD officers and a Justice of the Peace from Wichita County.
First on the stand for the defense was Piper’s accountant, who testified under oath that he’d had Piper as a client since 2014. He said he also worked with Piper’s company, DSTSS, or Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff, and handled their accounting. He testified that Piper “is not sophisticated” when it comes to business and that he had modest assets.
Piper’s CPA testified that DSTSS was experiencing about $50,000 in losses during 2015, and that Piper came to him about a large deposit into DSTSS’s bank account that he claims he didn’t know what it was from.
The defense then called the former manager of Champs Sports, located in Sikes Senter Mall in Wichita Falls, who hired Piper to be his assistant manager prior to Piper’s time with the WFPD.
The defense also called to the stand two of Piper’s fellow or former church members, who all testified Piper was of good character and honest, a sentiment shared among all nine witnesses who testified on behalf of the defense.
Piper’s former partner from the WFPD Motorcycle Unit, who is now a Lieutenant with the WFPD, testified that he’d known Piper since 2001, and said of Piper that he has “known him personally and professionally,” and that he had a “high opinion of his character.”
Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Place 2 Judge Robert Woodruff was the last to testify on behalf of the defense, also stating he thought well of Piper’s character. Following Woodruff’s testimony, the defense rested their case, and both the State and the Defense closed, and the court went into recess at 11:30 a.m.
When proceedings resumed at around 2 p.m., Judge McKnight read the jury their charge and both the defense and the State presented closing arguments after Piper elected not to take the stand.
Steinke, representing the State, recalled the facts of the case and pointed to a series of “dubious and suspicious transactions” between Piper and his alleged accomplice, George Michael Wade, as evidence of his guilt.
The defense then argued that Piper wasn’t party to a theft scheme, but rather that he got played by Wade and was unaware of what Wade was up to.
Guinn urged the jury to “remember how you felt when you listened to George Wade,” recalling his testimony that he gave on Tuesday and alleging he is a habitual liar.
Wynn continued expanding upon Wade’s untrustworthiness, asking the jury if they’d trust their life savings to Wade. They allege the only evidence connecting Piper to Wade’s scheme was Wade’s testimony, which they argued couldn’t be trusted.
The defense concluded by urging the jury that justice can still be accomplished with a “not guilty” verdict, and said “It’s hard to find someone not guilty, but in this case, it’s the right thing to do.”
They told the jury that if they uphold the presumption of innocence and fulfilled their juror’s oath, “this is an easy case.”
Steinke concluded closing statements on behalf of the State of Texas by reminding the jury that Wade is on probation after pleading guilty in the same scheme and that lying under oath is perjury, which could carry with it the consequence of a revoked probation.
Steinke did admit to the jury that he wasn’t pleased with Wade’s testimony but said due to his plea deal, he had every reason to be truthful.
Steinke, whose background is trying white-collar crimes in Dallas County, claimed in closing that Piper’s financial issues were the motive for his alleged crimes, citing his lack of assets and DSTSS’s losses from 2015 lead him to concoct the scheme with Wade.