Saturday, July 22, 2017

And It's Wikipedia by a Noose

They plan to kill TaiChin Preyor Thursday.

It's not all that surprising.  We're talking Texas, after all.  And while executions are fewer these days than just a few years ago, well . . . .  We're talking Texas, after all.

Sometime after 4 in the morning on February 26, 2004, Preyor broke into the apartment of his, er, friend, Jami Takett, a drug dealer.  He went into her bedroom where he stabbed Jason Garza who got away and had neighbors call for help.

Then, according to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals* he "stabbed Tackett numerous times and slashed her throat, severing her trachea, jugular vein, and carotid artery."

It was brutal.  But capital murders, all murders in fact, are.  There are no nice murders.  In any event: Texas, death sentence, death row.  Execution date set.  Execution date withdrawn.  And now, as I said, they're planning to kill him on Thursday.

Texas kills enough folks (Preyor would be number 543; no other state's total is close; though he'd be only the 6th in the Lone Star State this year) in enough iffy circumstances even for supporters of state killin' that I don't tend to spend any time focusing on the individual cases.  But this one is --

OK, look.  So his trial lawyers didn't notice, didn't investigate, didn't care, didn't do something to let his jury know about the horrific physical and sexual abuse inflicted on him as a kid by his own family.  Want an example?  Happy to oblige.

When he was 14, Preyor was admitted to the hospital and treated for two broken ankles and a broken hand. Seems he'd injured himself jumping from the fourth floor of his apartment building to escape his mother, who was chasing him with a knife.

Prosecutors, of course, described that family as "wonderful" and filled with "outstanding people."  Well, yeah, you wonder at them.  And they were outstanding in their awfulness.  But that's not what the prosecutors meant or the jury understood. Sigh.  

Capital trial lawyers who don't investigate their clients' backgrounds and don't present the jury with the all-too-common details that would curl their toes in horror are, sadly, if not quite the norm anymore, far too common.

But it's what happened later that moves Preyor's story from just another instance of what-the-hell-are-we-doing-killing-these-people to 
We're fucking doing what?  You're shitting me!
See, his mom might have abused the hell out of him, might have tried to kill him, even.  But that was -- how can I put this delicately? Got it. --  That was her job.  Wasn't the state's business to kill him.

And so, unhappy (and rightly so) with the representation her son had received, she decided to try hiring a lawyer.  Her first thought was Johnnie Cochran.  After all, he got OJ off.  Turned out he was dead.  Then there was some local guy who said he'd need 150 grand which was waaay more than she could raise.  But soon she heard about one Phillip Jefferson who'd allegedly won a murder case one time.    

She met with Jefferson.  He was, she said, "very well presented and groomed."  And he "talked about how impressive he was to juries."  Oh, and he'd take the case for $20,000.

Bingo!

Just one snag.   He said he was "retired," and while he'd come out of retirement if there was a hearing, in the meantime he'd work with Brandy Estelle - a Los Angeles attorney he knew.  She'd put her name on the papers, but he'd be the power behind the titular throne.  Oh, and don't mention my name to anyone, please.

And so. . . . 

Of course, it turns out that Jefferson's "retirement" was involuntary.  He'd been disbarred.  Brandy?  Hey, she was a real estate lawyer.  But what the hell.  If you can vet a contract for the sale of a home, surely you can fight a death sentence in Texas.  After all, you've got a computer.

Brandy had a computer all right.  And she used it to do absolutely first rate legal research.  After all, capital law is hard.  You want to do the best.  

You could go to seminars, work with the top folks (who are, by the way, remarkably willing to help in these cases).  You could do hours and hours and hours of research on one of the main legal databases, Lexis or Westlaw, read the cases, learn the field.  Or you could skip all that and go to the best of all sources to understand how to work the intricacies of Texas capital post-trial procedure while investigating the hell out of the case.

You could, that is, go to fucking Wikipedia.  Where you'd print out the article "Capital Punishment in Texas."

And, of course, you could bill the federal courts for the same work you were paid for by Preyor's mother.**

Even in capital cases, even in Texas, this is extraordinary.

"A pardon is an act of grace," wrote John Marshall in United States v. Wilson (1833).  And grace, as I've said here many times, is about the giver, not the receiver.  It's not about what's deserved but about what sort of people we are.

TaiChin Preyor is on death row.  Right now he doesn't need all the grace of a pardon.  A stay would do it. Or a reprieve.

Even though he's in Texas you'd think that might be within reach.  

At least, you could hope so.


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*  It's not altogether clear that the CCA summary of the crime and what Preyor did is accurate. Much, according to some later filings, is at best murky.  But that court's version is, for the moment at least, the "legal truth."

**  The information about Phillip Jefferson and Brandy Estelle is taken from various documents, including a supplemental clemency petition filed by Preyor's new attorneys on his behalf.

2 comments:

  1. Truly amazing. I am, as you may remember, generally in favor of the death penalty. I'm opposed to the lengthy procedure and the uncertainty of the legal system, especially in Texas where they seem just too enthusiastic about executing criminals. So in this case, and I suspect in most cases, the murderers life story has a lot to do with the crime. It isn't something someone casually undertakes one morning over their cornflakes.

    Being represented by a real estate lawyer while a person is on trial for murder one is, well, a bit unusual. Even for Texas.

    The crime took place in 2004, and it's now 2017. That's, let's see... public school, y'know? 13 years, which is too long to wait around for a final verdict. That 13 year wait is cruel and unusual punishment.

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