Texas Court Tosses out Conviction that Led to Death Sentence
According to the Texas Tribune, Clinton Young was convicted of a Midland County murder in 2001 – a murder for which he continues to insist he was framed. Recently, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that he was denied the right to a fair trial and the right to an impartial judge, and the story is something of a doozy. When the death penalty is involved, there is no room for a margin of error, and this case is a testament to this fact.
The Conviction Is Tossed Out
In September of this year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out the capital murder conviction of Mr. Young after it came to light that one of the prosecutors in his case was also employed by the judge in his case (hinting at both a conflict of interests and prosecutorial misconduct). Mr. Young is currently 38 years old, and he had been on death row since 2003 (when he was about 20 years old). While Mr. Young’s other appeals were pending, a new district attorney on the scene discovered the conflict of interests involved in this startling case (the prosecutor who also worked for the presiding judge and who went so far as drafting the court’s order to deny an earlier appeal of the convicted man). Since this discovery, the prosecutor in question has retired and, since then, has relinquished his legal license (in an effort to avoid disciplinary action).
The State’s Highest Criminal Court Weighs In
The highest criminal court in Texas, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, ruled as follows on the Young case: Judicial and prosecutorial misconduct – in the form of an undisclosed employment relationship between the trial judge and the prosecutor appearing before him – tainted [Young’s] entire proceeding from the outset. As a result, little confidence can be placed in the fairness of the proceedings or the outcome of the applicant’s trial. And with that, the highest criminal court in Texas said a mouthful.
The court ordered Mr. Young removed from his death row cell and required that he take up residence in the Midland County jail while the prosecution determines its next move – deciding whether it will proceed with another trial or will drop the murder charges altogether. The DA involved has recused herself from the case in an effort to erase even the appearance of a conflict of interests. The DA to whom the case was reassigned in 2019 has not yet commented publicly on the matter.
The DA, who has since recused herself, stumbled upon the striking legal conflict of interests (and prosecutorial misconduct) during a 2019 budget process. Her discovery included all the following:
The retired prosecutor who convicted Mr. Young had worked as a prosecutor for the county for more than ten years.
During this tenure, he moonlighted for district judges (including the judge in Young’s case).
In his role as a prosecutor, he opposed defense motions like those put forth by Mr. Young’s defense.
While he was opposing defense motions, on the one hand, he was also drafting the recommendations of judges who were hearing the cases (for them to sign off on).
It is difficult to imagine how this blatant miscarriage of justice passed without comment, concern, or notice, but it managed to do so.
Young was convicted at the age of 18 for a 2001 drug-related crime spree with another 20-year-old man that involved stealing two cars on opposite ends of the state and that also involved fatally shooting the owners of both cars. Young was convicted of the murder in Midland County only after his codefendant testified against him in a plea deal in which he was sentenced to only 30 years in prison for aggravated kidnapping. Young maintains that he was sleeping off a methamphetamine-induced high when the man he was accused of killing was shot and that his co-defendant framed him for the murder.
The Conflict of Interests (and Worse)
The prosecutor (who also worked for the judge in Young’s case) worked as a legal advisor to the prosecution team that convicted Young of the capital murder offense, and he also wrote the majority of the prosecutorial team’s legal motions (according to findings that were culled from a 2020 evidentiary hearing). Later, this prosecutor helped the prosecution team contest Young’s appeals of conviction – while on the judge’s payroll for legal work related to Young’s case. It is undeniably a lot for anyone with interest in fairness to the process, and it has not gone unnoticed that impartiality in this instance flew out the window and never looked back.
Texas’ Relationship with the Death Penalty
Texas has a very friendly relationship with the death penalty, has executed more people than any other state – by far – since 1976, and shows very few signs of slowing down anytime soon (other than when circumstances intervene). According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the death penalty, or capital punishment, is the legal process of sentencing those convicted of the most serious offenses (capital crimes) to death and of carrying out this death sentence. Consider the following facts about the death penalty and the State of Texas (as shared by the Death Penalty Information Center):
Texas was the first state in the United States to use lethal injection for state-sanctioned execution in 1982.
Since 1976, Texas has carried out more executions per year than any other state (by a considerable margin).
Since 1982, 280 death sentences and 127 executions were the work of just one Texas county, Harris County.
Unlike in many other states, the Texas governor does not have the power to impose a moratorium on executions – only a constitutional amendment that requires approval by the voters can accomplish this change.
Texas – unlike many other states – has what is known as the Law of Parties, and this means that an offender can face the death penalty if he or she is present when the capital crime goes down. The Law of Parties makes him or her criminally responsible for the other party’s conduct.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court shot the practice down in 2005, the State of Texas executed 13 juveniles. Since the Supreme Court decision, 29 juveniles who had been awaiting execution in Texas left death row for sentences of life in prison.
Although banned by the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas has not yet enacted a statutory provision that prohibits the death penalty for those who are mentally incapacitated.
It was not until 2005 that Texas first allowed a sentence of life without parole for capital cases. Before this, juries only had the option of sentencing those convicted of capital offenses to the death penalty or to life in prison – but with the provision of potential parole after serving a minimum of 40 years.
It is worth noting that, of the more than 250 counties in the State of Texas, more than 130 have never put an offender on death row (since 1976).
Crimes that Are Punishable by Death in Texas
In the State of Texas, murder or homicide only reaches the level of a capital offense if at least one of the following factors applies:
The victim was a police officer, a firefighter, or a person who was lawfully acting in an official capacity.
The murder took place when the accused was in the process of committing or attempting to commit burglary, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction, or an act of terrorism.
The murder was for hire (this applies to both the person who was hired and the person who hired him or her).
The murder happened during an attempted or actual prison break.
The murder victim was killed in his or her capacity as an employee of a penal institution.
The accused committed the murder in question while in prison for a prior murder conviction – or while serving a prison term of either life in prison or of 99 years for aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated kidnapping.
The defendant’s actions caused multiple people to be killed.
The victim was under the age of 10.
The murder was committed in retaliation for a judge or justice’s ruling.
The Death Penalty and Murder Rates
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), the murder rates for those states that do not impose the death penalty have remained consistently lower than the rates for those that do, and since 1990, this discrepancy has done nothing but grow larger.
Famous Death Penalty Cases in Texas
Texas’ rich history with the death penalty includes many famous – and infamous – cases.
First Woman Executed in Texas in More than a Century
Karla Faye Tucker was executed in Texas in 1998 for a 1984 conviction, making her the first woman to be executed in Texas since 1863 and the first woman to be executed in the United States since 1984.
An Accidental Fire?
Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of arson in Texas in 1991 and was executed in 2004 for allegedly causing the fire in his home that killed his three young daughters. The scientific theories used to convict him of arson have since been debunked, and experts in the field now believe the deadly fire may have been accidental after all.
He Is an Innocent Man
In October of 2010, Anthony Graves was released from a Texas prison after spending 16 years behind bars. Graves was convicted of a capital murder charge on the word of Robert Carter, who identified Graves as his accomplice in the murderous crime. Two weeks before Carter was executed and again – right before his execution – he recanted, saying that he had lied about Graves’ involvement in the murder. In 2006, Graves’ conviction was overturned as a result of prosecutorial misconduct, and the newly assigned special prosecutor dropped the charges against him, saying We found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder . . . He is an innocent man.
The Thin Blue Line
Randal Dale Adams was convicted – on the word of a witness who was never cross-examined due to his disappearance post-testimony – of killing a Texas police officer. Adams’ conviction was ultimately overturned, and prosecutors did not pursue a new trial due to convincing evidence of his innocence. This is the case that launched the movie The Thin Blue Line.
The Clemency Process
In Texas, the governor can only grant clemency if the Board of Pardons and Paroles is forthcoming with a favorable recommendation for clemency. It is important to note, however, that even if the Board of Pardons and Paroles does make the recommendation, the governor is not required to act on that recommendation. In light of the fact that the governor appoints the Board of Pardons and Paroles, this is confusing at best and amounts to something of a dichotomy (no matter how you look at it). Finally, the governor does have the legal capacity to grant a one-time-only reprieve of 30 days.
You Need the Professional Legal Guidance of an Experienced Killeen Criminal Lawyer in Your Corner
You do not have to be facing a capital charge to recognize the immense gravity of your situation. And if you are facing a capital charge, Texas is – unfortunately – all too comfortable with the death penalty. Regardless of the criminal charge you are facing, you need professional legal counsel on your side, and Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is here to help. Mr. Pritchard dedicates his practice to skillfully defending the legal rights of clients like you – in earnest pursuit of beneficial case resolutions. Our dedicated legal team takes great pride in its impressive track record of guiding cases like yours toward optimal outcomes, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today for more information about how we can help you.