HOUSTON - A former Texas congressman accused of firing a gun at two teens in a car avoided going to trial Monday after working out a deal with prosecutors that would result in the charge against him being dropped at a later date.
Craig Washington of Houston agreed to settle his case through something known as pretrial diversion, which is similar to probation but does not involve him having to change his not guilty plea.
Under pretrial diversion, the case is postponed for two years and if he meets conditions set by the court, including finishing 60 hours of community service, the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon he faces is dropped.
The agreement came as jury selection in Washington's trial was to begin.
"You have to have faith in the system," Washington said. "I still believe in the system."
The two teens in the incident, Taylor Brooks and Evan McAnulty, said they were unhappy with the agreement and called it a slap on the wrist for Washington.
"The fact he is getting off without what I would see as justice is very unnerving," said McAnulty, 19.
Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Harris Country District Attorney's Office, said in a brief statement that a review of the case by administrators and senior prosecutors "determined this is the appropriate disposition."
Washington, 67, who represented Houston in Congress from 1989 to 1995, was accused of firing three bullets into a car on Jan. 1, 2008, after a confrontation outside his downtown law office with Brooks and McAnulty. He said he fired in self-defence after he feared the teens were going to run him over.
"This isn't a guy who goes around shooting people unless he feels his life is in danger," said Kent Schaffer, Washington's attorney.
Washington had faced up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 if convicted of the charge, a second-degree felony.
Brooks, 19, said three bullets struck his Camaro as he was driving away. Both teens were high school students at the time.
Washington, now a local attorney, had said he told the teens that they were illegally parking behind his office; he said as he tried talking to them, the car started backing into him.
Brooks denied he tried to run down Washington. The teens said they were parking their car to go to a nearby nightclub.
Washington, a Democrat, was a Texas state representative from 1973-1982 and served in the state Senate from 1983-1989. He won a special election to represent the 18th Congressional District.
He represented Tyrone Williams, the truck driver sentenced to life in prison for the 2003 deaths of 19 illegal immigrants during what became the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt.