Kara Carreras, with her Southlake sensibilities and small-town Texas upbringing, might make an unlikely defendant of those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
But she has made that her career.
This spring, the mother of three secured a rare hung jury in a complex federal case involving the notorious Dallas traphouse the Han Gil Hotel.
She and her co-counsel, fellow Fort Worth lawyer Cody Cofer, defended Bryan Hill, a Black veteran and drug addict accused of one count of drug conspiracy.
The owner of the Han Gil Hotel, Amos Su Young Mun, rented out the dilapidated rooms to drug dealers and prostitutes. According to Carreras, the Dallas Police Department received reports of crimes on the property for years, yet the Han Gil Hotel stayed in operation.
“Then some Coppell kids get out there, and they start overdosing,” Carreras said. “They’ve got parents who will go out there and try and find them, and that’s when the Coppell Police Department went out and contacted the feds. Nobody cared about this place until these rich kids started dying.”
When Carreras and Cofer took a look at all of the defendants (more than 20 were charged in the trials), they noticed a stark difference in how the young defendants from Coppell were treated compared to how their Black client Hill was treated.
Two defendants in particular, Madison Brekke and Karim Selim, received time served in exchange for their testimony.
“They were supposedly partners with my client doing the exact same thing, [dealing], with my client, supposedly, and they get one year credit for time served, and my client’s about to potentially serve life in prison,” Carreras said.
The two lawyers fashioned that discrepancy into the crux of their defense.
In her opening remarks at the April case, Carreras told jurors, “This case is a case about buying time and making deals — that’s what this case is about. Bryan Hill is not a conspirator and was not involved in the conspiracy at the Han Gil. Bryan Hill is an addict.”
The argument worked. The jury did not come to a consensus, resulting in a “hung trial,” which is rare, especially in a federal case. A mistrial ensued.
The case was tried again in June. This time Hill faced three charges: conspiracy, possession with intent to deliver, and drug distribution. He was found guilty of the first and third charges and not guilty of possession with intent to deliver. Hill will be sentenced in January.
When Carreras spoke about Hill, a smile crossed her face. She said their relationship has been challenging but that she enjoys representing him. Hill is very smart, she said. He fought in Iraq and came back from combat burdened by PTSD. This led to drug use, which led to a series of decisions that brought him to the Han Gil Hotel.
“We all make mistakes,” she said. “Some of us make real bad terrible mistakes and bad decisions constantly, but, you know, when you look back and see their life and you see their history you go, ‘Oh, wait.’ It doesn’t make it right, what they’re doing. I’m not saying what my guilty clients do is OK, … but I see how they got where they are.”
The bilingual Fort Worth defense attorney has risen to prominence recently. Since becoming board certified in 2018 (an accomplishment held by about 7% of Texas lawyers), she takes on more federal cases. Just last year, she opened Carreras Law Group.
She began her career as a prosecutor. After graduating from Texas Wesleyan University law school, she worked as the assistant district attorney of Rockwall County.
“I wanted to put people in jail,” she said. “That’s what I thought I wanted to do with myself.”
After two years, Carreras made the switch to defense. Prosecutors spend more time in court, and she knew she would want to raise a family soon. She describes herself first and foremost as a mother.
She spends her mornings shuttling her three boys to three different schools. She spends afternoons taking them to after-school activities. She wears charms of her sons’ initials (SRL) on a gold necklace that she said she rarely takes off.
Allenna Bangs, a chief prosecutor at the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office in the intimate partner violence division, remarked on Carreras’ devotion to her family.
Bangs has worked with her throughout her career and has faced her as opposing counsel several times. “While she’s excellent in her job, and she puts the time and effort in, she also has a whole life she centers in, which is what makes her so good at what she does. That’s what makes her so relatable.”
Carreras serves between 25 and 40 clients at any given moment. About half are appointed. The others are hired, she said.
Carreras has a knack for details.
Judge Mollee Westfall of the 371st District Court said she feels “very confident” when Carreras is on a case. Westfall described her as a “careful, thorough lawyer.”
Moving forward, Carreras said she wants to continue working on high-profile federal cases. She still takes smaller cases, however.
Cassandra and Michael Johnson met Carreras this year during a difficult time in their lives. Johnson was facing drug-related charges, and he also had a laundry list of ailments eating away at his health.
Carreras negotiated his sentence down to spending weekends in jail, allowing him to stay home to be with his family and tend to his health during the week.
“Whatever she did, she’s good,” Johnson said. “I praise everything she did for us. She’s a good person. She’s kind-hearted.”
Johnson checks in with Carreras every Thursday via text to update her on how they are doing.
Many of her former clients stay in touch, she said. Seeing the way people can change their lives pushes her forward.
“I want to help people do better, make better choices,” she said. “I think there is something to be said for redemption, and I think people deserve it. Looking through life through someone else’s eyes, that motivates me to do the best job I can do.”