Melania Tyler was 12 years old in 1992 when two masked gunmen broke down the door of her family’s Dallas-area house, fatally shot her grandmother, then shot her and her two younger brothers, who survived.
“I remember everything, down to the last detail. It sucks,” said Tyler, an Austin mother and school photographer. “It plays in my dreams on a regular basis.”
Today, Tyler will confront those memories once again with her brothers and her parents, who all now live in the Austin area, as they travel to Dallas for the trial of Clarence Bailey, who is accused of being one of those gunmen. Bailey, 40, and another man were implicated by witnesses years after the killing. Bailey was located only after he appeared two years ago on a television show about true crimes.
“This family has been through a horrific tragedy,” family lawyer Stephen Toland said. “For such a long time they thought they would never see justice.”
One of the shooters was Dedrick Jones, who was convicted in 2007 of capital murder in the case and is serving life in prison.
Dallas County prosecutors argued at that trial that Jones was trying to recover money he had given to Melania Tyler’s father, Ronnie “Bear” Tyler .
Ronnie Tyler is a former member of the Outlaw motorcycle gang and has a long history of involvement with criminals. He was once arrested — but not charged — on suspicion of trying to steal Elvis Presley’s body in his native Memphis. (Tyler said he was acting on behalf of Presley’s family members, who were upset after initially being told that his body could not be buried at Graceland.)
In the early 1990s, Tyler cooperated with federal officials in cases against Outlaw gang members and entered the federal witness protection program with his family.
In an interview Friday, Tyler said that before his mother was killed, he was hired to secure a bond for Jones’ girlfriend, who had been arrested in Houston on a drug charge. Tyler said Jones never produced all of the $22,000 he required for the bond.
According to The Dallas Morning News, prosecutors at Jones’ trial said he was upset because Tyler had taken the money and not used it to get his girlfriend out of jail.
The shooting at Tyler’s house — which occurred while Tyler, his wife and their two oldest children were out — was done in retribution for that dispute, prosecutors said.
According to the newspaper’s coverage of the 2007 trial, Melania Tyler testified that the men shot her grandmother, Elma Mae Adkins, 79 , while Adkins was packing dishes for an upcoming family move.
Then one of them shot Melania Tyler in the shoulder, knocking her into a fireplace, where she played dead.
After the men left, she found her brothers, ages 9 and 10 at the time, locked in a closet where they had been shot.
A grand jury declined to indict Jones in 1992. He was later charged when witnesses came forward reporting that he had confessed in the case. Toland, the Tyler family lawyer, said Bailey surfaced as a suspect during Jones’ trial.
In 2009, Ronnie Tyler’s children were watching the A&E show “The First 48,” which is about real murder investigations. Tyler’s family called him into the room when a witness named Clarence Bailey appeared on screen.
Tyler passed the tip to law enforcement, who later found Bailey in Memphis, Tenn. , where he had been arrested on other charges.
Tyler said he is eager for the trial to achieve “justice for my children and for my mother.”
And he hopes that a conviction would help put his children at ease.
“These kids keep every light on in the house. They’ve got extra locks. There’s an attack dog in the house,” he said. “Melania will not stay by herself at any point in time.”
Melania Tyler said she did not want to testify but relented when a Dallas County assistant district attorney came to Austin last week and agreed to help her get counseling. She said she has never spoken to a therapist about what she witnessed.
She said she felt no better after testifying at Jones’ trial and that she is skeptical that facing the man accused of being the other gunman will help.
Confronting Bailey, she fears, will only bring more clarity to those nightmares.
“Now instead of them having ski masks on,” she said, “I’ll be able to see their faces.”