Recent Execution in Texas Raises Legal Doubts

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According to The Texas Tribune, a Texas man, Tracy Beatty, was recently executed for the 2003 murder of his mother. This move has proven somewhat controversial in the eyes of the defense. While the defense does not dispute Beatty’s guilt in the matter, they do argue that the crime did not qualify for the death penalty.

The relevant authorities who could have intervened regarding the early November execution, including the governor, declined to do so.

If you are facing a criminal charge of any kind in the State of Texas, defending your rights from the outset is always the best path forward, and an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney has the legal skill and drive to help you do so.

The Crime

Beatty was convicted of fatally strangling his mother – ending what neighbors and others who know the pair classified as an exceptionally violent and tumultuous relationship.

In order to be put to death in the State of Texas, the prisoner must have been convicted of capital murder, which goes beyond a standard murder conviction and must include an additional element, such as one of the following aggravating factors:

  • Committing another felony, such as robbery or rape, in the course of committing the murder

  • Killing a police officer or young child

  • Killing more than one person

While Beatty provided the authorities with several versions of his 62-year-old mother’s murder, he ultimately landed on the following facts:

  • He came home drunk.

  • He and his mother began arguing.

  • He choked his mother.

  • He wasn’t aware that he’d killed her until the next day.

While the crime is terrible in and of itself, it does not contain the additional element that would elevate it to the level of a capital crime – according to the defense.

The Prosecution Weighs In

The prosecution, however, took a different perspective – arguing that he murdered his mother during what amounted to a home burglary. While Beatty lived with his mother at the time, a neighbor testified that she had told her son that very day – after an earlier fight – that he had to move out. However, this is rather weak evidence to support a charge of capital murder.

The Jury

The defense also argued – during an appeal – that one of the jurors in Beatty’s case knew his mother, which they claim amounted to unacceptable bias. However, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that this didn’t reach the level required for relief in late appeal – especially in light of the fact that the evidence could have been discovered at an earlier date.

The Psychological Evaluation

Finally, the defense argued that they had not been allowed to evaluate Beatty to the degree necessary to determine whether he had the cognitive capacity to be executed in the first place.

This year, Beatty’s attorneys sought the psychological testing required to determine if he had a claim concerning intellectual disability or mental competency.

While the tests were being conducted, the state would not allow Beatty to be unshackled, which the defense claims is not standard and can prevent the full suite of evaluations from being performed correctly.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) countered with their determination that they followed the standard protocol necessary to protect the prisoner, staff members, and visitors. After the fact, the TDCJ implemented a new protocol – without an official policy change – requiring a court order whenever a prisoner is unshackled during an expert evaluation.

Significant Red Flags

The federal defense maintains that there were “significant red flags for mental impairments,” but the defendant didn’t receive a professional psychological evaluation set up by his attorneys during the appeals process. This was in spite of the fact that Beatty had auditory and visual hallucinations that ultimately landed him in a psychiatric prison facility earlier this year.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

One of the three dissenting judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – in a 2009, 5-3 ruling that upheld Beatty’s execution – wrote, “The evidence of entry without consent in this case is thin, and the evidence of intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault even thinner. There is no doubt that he killed [his mother]; the issue is whether the burglary was proven and thus whether the offense is capital murder or murder.”

Additional Testimony

Another neighbor testified that Beatty and his mother had serious arguments nearly every day and that, while she had kicked him out before, she always relented or allowed him to move back in soon after. This same witness also testified that Beatty had once beaten his mother so badly that he’d “left her for dead.”

There was a good deal of speculation about Beatty’s motivation, which many attribute to his rage over being controlled by his mother.

Prior Convictions

Beatty had been released on parole just months before his mother’s murder, and he had a long list of prior convictions on his record, including one for assaulting a young child and one for injuring a prison guard.

Constitutional Rights

The prosecution argued that conducting appropriate evaluations regarding mental incompetency and intellectual disabilities was critical to defending Beatty’s constitutional rights, which bar executing the mentally incompetent.

For its part, the federal court of appeals deemed this strategy nothing more than a delay tactic. One federal district judge pointed out that if Beatty had a long history of mental illness, he should have been thoroughly evaluated at an earlier date.

The Death Penalty in Texas

The State of Texas can only seek punishment by death if a defendant is convicted of a capital felony. In Texas, the defendant must have been at least 18 years old at the time the capital crime was committed before the death penalty can be imposed.

When a verdict of death is rendered, the case receives an automatic appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals. If this appeal is denied, the defendant can appeal their case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – with a final hope of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


In Texas, the governor has limited power to grant clemency to prisoners facing execution. The governor only has the constitutional authority to afford a prisoner one 30-day stay of execution without first obtaining a recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Once the governor has a recommendation from the Board, they can grant any number of reprieves – for any amount of time – as long as the reprieve’s length does not exceed the Board’s recommendation.

Further, the prisoner who is facing execution can request a reprieve, which the Board must determine via majority vote – proceeding in the same way as when recommending a reprieve.

Similarly, the prisoner can request that their death sentence be commuted to a sentence with lesser punishment, such as a sentence of life without parole, through a Board vote that – if a majority agrees – can lead to a recommendation.

It is important to note that the governor of Texas is not legally required to follow the recommendations of the Board.

Four Executions Scheduled in One Week

DPIC reports that, across the United States, there are four executions scheduled for the week of November 17, 2022, alone, which calls attention to current death-sentence trends in this country and to the ongoing use of the death penalty against vulnerable populations.

The scheduled Texas execution of Stephen Barbee on November 16 comes after a preliminary injunction that would have stayed his execution on the grounds of religious freedom was overturned. Barbee also contends that his attorneys conceded his guilt in the criminal charge he was convicted of without gaining his consent.

Further, the coroner who provided forensic testimony that helped convict Barbee has been sanctioned – for engaging in a “pattern of errors and negligent practices” – with suspension from performing autopsy examinations in murder cases.

Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you are facing a criminal charge in the State of Texas, having professional legal counsel in your corner can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. A conviction can have lasting financial and social implications – in addition to seriously curtailing your rights.

This is why Brett Pritchard – a focused criminal defense attorney at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas – is fully committed to skillfully advocating for your case’s best possible resolution. For more information, please do not wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 today.