As Houston criminal defense lawyers, we believe that a valid appeals process strengthens our criminal justice system. This week, two convicted men who were on death row, had their death penalty sentences thrown out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
On Wednesday, the court held that a jury that convicted Roy Gene Smith in 1990, did not hear evidence about his growing up in a crime-infested neighborhood in Houston. 51-year-old Smith had been convicted for shooting a 70-year-old woman. He only stole about four dollars from her. On Wednesday, the court held that Smith must be sentenced again.
The other man on death row to have his sentence thrown out, was 44-year-old David Lewis. Lewis was convicted of shooting a 76-year-old woman, as he burglarized her house. He will now receive a new trial.
While that was good news for the two men, at least three other men whose appeals were being considered by Texas' highest court were not so lucky. Those three men had their appeals turned down.
The men included 31-year-old Yokaman Hearn. His appeal was based on his claim that he could not be executed because the laws prevented execution of a mentally impaired person. In 2004, Hearn had come to within an hour of execution, but the execution was stayed so his mental impairment claims could be further examined. However, the Court of Criminal Appeals has turned down his appeal.
The second man to lose his appeal was Randall Wayne Mays. He had been convicted in the death of a sheriff's deputy in 2007. His criminal defense lawyers focused on improper jury instructions given by the judge during his trial, but the appeal was turned down.
Kosoul Chanthakoummane was convicted of the murder of a 40-year-old in 2006, and was handed down the death penalty. His lawyers appealed on a number of grounds, including that the jurors had seen him shackled during his trial, and had been shown a picture of him looking like he was about to bite a small dog, which could have negatively impacted their perception of him. Chanthakoummane's appeal however, was turned down too.