Under a cloud of scrutiny, Midland’s District Attorney faces calls for her removal

A recent court filing alleges Midland’s D.A. Laura Nodolf committed an illegal search and misled a grand jury during a 2019 murder investigation. The lawyers behind the filing say Nodolf should be suspended and removed from office for her actions.

Midland County Court House (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

By Mitch Borden

Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf is under increased scrutiny as a pair of attorneys aim to get the long-time prosecutor dismissed for allegedly conducting an illegal search and misleading a grand jury.

A petition to remove Nodolf was recently filed by lawyers representing David Wilson, the Midland man charged with murder in the 2019 death of Midland Police Officer Nathan Heidelburg. Wilson was found innocent by a jury last year. The court filing from Wilson’s legal team alleges Nodolf either committed official misconduct or displayed incompetence in her pursuit to convict Wilson. 

According to one of Wilson’s attorneys, Frank Sellers, Nodolf abused her power in an effort to get a guilty verdict.

“What she did was basically manufactured the questions and answers she needed to be able to have probable cause to arrest him,” said Sellers. “She participated in the interrogation, searched his home without a warrant and lied to the grand jury to get the indictment.”

On March 5, 2019, Wilson’s home security system malfunctioned and notified law enforcement there was a break-in. But the security system failed to notify Wilson or anyone else in the house of the tripped alarm or that officers were on their way. When law enforcement arrived, Wilson said he believed they were home invaders and shot at them, killing officer Heidelburg. Wilson was originally charged with manslaughter, but Nodolf would later elevate that charge to manslaughter.

A statue of Nathan Heidelberg stands at the Midland Police Department’s Police Academy. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

From the beginning of the investigation into the shooting, Wilson and his attorneys allege Nodolf was making mistakes. Soon after the shooting, Wilson’s legal team say security cameras show Nodolf, along with police officers, inside Wilson’s home without a warrant. His attorneys would later confirm Nodolf was present for Wilson’s interrogation before he had been charged with a crime – directing how he should be questioned by investigators. Court documents also outline that Nodolf allegedly misled a grand jury in an effort to secure the initial criminal indictment.

Sellers says this case comes down to Nodolf ignoring proper procedure or misunderstanding the role of a district attorney.

“It’s about a prosecutor trying to be a police officer acting like a police officer, which they are not allowed to do,” he said.

According to Sellers, these actions are a “recipe” for wrongful convictions.

The petition filed to suspend Nodolf and start the process to dismiss her as D.A. is currently in front of Judge Kelly Moore. If Moore finds there are grounds to move forward with the petition, a local attorney would be appointed to pursue the case against Nodolf, and Wilson’s legal team would be removed from the case. 

So far, Nodolf and her office have not commented on the petition or Wilson’s efforts to remove her.

In the last several months, Nodolf’s office has come under fire for how they handled a controversial case against five employees at a private Christian school. The school officials had been charged with concealing the sexual assault of a student, but a grand jury decided to not indict the group of officials.

In a press release, however, the Midland Municipal Police Officers Association claimed Nodolf’s office didn’t do everything it could to present the facts of the case to the grand jury, like calling investigators in to testify. Nodolf dismissed the criticism, saying calling officers to testify in front of grand juries was not standard procedure. 

About Mitch Borden

Mitch Borden is Marfa Public Radio's Permian Basin Reporter. If you have any questions about West Texas' energy industry or the Permian Basin email him at mitch@marfapublicradio.org.
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