This is a post-conviction application for writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to the provisions of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 11.071.
In March 2005, a jury convicted Applicant of the offense of capital murder. The jury answered the special issues submitted under Article 37.071 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and the trial court, accordingly, set punishment at death. This Court affirmed Applicant's conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Thomas v. State, No. AP-75,218 (Tex. Crim. App. October 8, 2008).
Applicant presents forty-four allegations in his application in which he challenges the validity of his conviction and resulting sentence. The trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing. The trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law and recommended that the relief sought be denied.
This Court has reviewed the record with respect to the allegations made by applicant. We adopt the trial judge's findings and conclusions. Based upon the trial court's findings and conclusions and our own review, the relief sought is denied. Applicant has also filed a motion to remand his case, or in the alternative, to stay the proceedings, to develop further evidence on applicant's mental illness. Applicant's motion is likewise denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
COCHRAN, J., filed a statement concurring in the Court's Order.
This is an extraordinarily tragic case. I concur in the denial of relief because applicant has not shown that he is being illegally restrained or that his capital murder conviction or death sentence was obtained in violation of the constitution. Applicant was well represented at trial, on appeal, and, most especially, on this writ application. In his writ application, he raises forty-four potential claims for relief. Those claims have been fully addressed by the trial judge whose lengthy Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are supported by the record. After reviewing the application, the trial record, the direct appeal, and other associated materials, I, like the Court, adopt those findings and conclusions. But two of applicant's groups of claims-claims relating to his insanity defense and incompetency to be tried-deserve greater explanation.
Applicant has a severe mental illness. He suffers from psychotic delusions and perhaps from schizophrenia.
Applicant's behavior in the months before the killings became increasingly "bizarre": He put duct tape over his mouth and refused to speak; he talked about how the dollar bill contains the meaning of life; he stated that he was experiencing deja vu and reliving events time and again; he had a religious fixation and heard the voice of God.
About twenty days before the killings, he took Coricidin and then tried to commit suicide by overdosing on other medications. He was taken to the local MHMR facility, but then walked away before he could be treated.
At around 7:00 p.m. on March 26th, just one day after stabbing himself, applicant went to his estranged wife's apartment where she and her boyfriend, Bryant Hughes, were listening to religious audiotapes.
Applicant reported that the next morning he woke up and heard a voice that he thought was God telling him that he needed to stab and kill his wife and the children using three different knives so as not to "cross contaminate" their blood and "allow the demons inside them to live." He walked over to Laura's apartment. He saw Bryant drive by and wave, so applicant believed that this was a signal that he was doing "the right thing" by killing his wife and the children.
He burst into the apartment, then stabbed and killed Laura and the two children. He used a different knife on each one of the victims, and then he carved out the children's hearts and stuffed them into his pockets. He mistakenly cut out part of Laura's lung, instead of her heart, and put that into his pocket. He then stabbed himself in the heart which, he thought, would assure the death of the demons that had inhabited his wife and the children. But he did not die, so he walked home, changed his clothes, and put the hearts into a paper bag and threw them in the trash. He walked to his father's house with the intention of calling Laura, whom he had just killed. He called Laura's parents instead and left a message on their answering machine:
Applicant then walked back to his trailer where his girlfriend, Carmen Hayes, and his cousin, Isaiah Gibbs, were waiting for him. He told them that he had just killed his wife and the two children. Ms. Hayes took him to the Sherman Police Department and he told the police what he had done. After he was hospitalized for his chest wound, he was taken to jail, and he gave a videotaped statement to the police. In that videotaped statement, applicant gives a very calm, complete, and coherent account of his activities and his reasons for them.
Five days after the killings, applicant was in his cell with his Bible. After reading a Bible verse to the effect that, "If the right eye offends thee, pluck it out," applicant gouged out his right eye.
After approximately five weeks of treatment and medication in the Vernon State Hospital, applicant was found to have regained his competency to stand trial. During his stay at Vernon, applicant was placed on Zyprexa, a strong anti-psychotic medication, and did not display "bizarre or unusual behaviors," but he did make "hyper-religious statements throughout his stay." The attending psychiatrist at Vernon updated applicant's diagnosis as being Substance-Induced Psychosis with Delusions and Hallucinations. He also diagnosed applicant as malingering (as did a psychologist).
Applicant was returned to Grayson County to stand trial. Several different psychiatrists and psychologists-both for the State and applicant-interviewed and tested applicant in anticipation for the capital murder trial. By that time, applicant was fully alert, conversant, and attentive. His memory tested well, he spoke at a level consistent with his tested I.Q. of 112, and he behaved appropriately during the interviews. He told one psychiatrist in December 2004 that he had not experienced any hallucinations since September, although he was severely depressed.
At trial, the jury rejected his insanity plea and found applicant guilty of the capital murder of thirteen-month-old Leyha. Based upon the jury's answers to the special punishment issues, the trial judge sentenced him to death.
In his first twelve claims, applicant complains of the trial court's jury instruction on the law of voluntary intoxication. He asserts that this instruction should not have been given and that his trial counsel's failure to object to this instruction showed ineffective assistance of counsel.
First, an attorney is not constitutionally ineffective if his conduct was not deficient.
This voluntary-intoxication instruction, as the trial court's findings state, "was not erroneous, misleading or a misstatement of the law." The trial court had included the instruction pursuant to article 8.04(a) and (d) of the Texas Penal Code.
The defensive theory, however, was that applicant's actions were committed as the result of insane delusions caused solely by his mental disease.
There was ample evidence to reject an insanity defense and support a jury finding that applicant knew that his conduct was wrong at the time he murdered his wife and the children.
There was also evidence that applicant did not know that his conduct was wrong at the time. This was a quintessential fact issue for the jury to decide, and it did so.
While there is no dispute that applicant was, in laymen's terms, "crazy" at the time he killed his wife and the children, the legal question is whether he knew that what he was doing was "wrong" or a "crime" at the time he acted.
Applicant's trial counsel submitted an affidavit stating that it was his understanding that the submission of an instruction on voluntary intoxication was legally proper under these circumstances. He is correct. An attorney is not constitutionally deficient when he declines to make a legally meritless objection.
Nonetheless, this is a particularly tragic case because these horrendous deaths could have been avoided. Those around applicant realized that he was mentally ill, and he was twice taken to hospitals to obtain help. In each instance, he left before he could be involuntarily committed for observation, diagnosis, or treatment. The hospitals cannot be faulted; they cannot detain someone involuntarily without legal authority, and applicant voluntarily left while they were trying to obtain that mental health warrant. Of course, there is no direct relationship between the failure to detain applicant for involuntary mental health treatment and the deaths of applicant's wife and the two children, while there is a direct relationship between his intentional conduct and their deaths. The jury was given the proper instructions, and it was entitled to reject his insanity defense and find him criminally responsible for that murderous conduct.
Applicant also claims that (1) he was not competent to stand trial
At the time of applicant's trial in March 2005, Texas law stated, "A person is incompetent to stand trial if the person does not have:
Texas law, in accord with decisions by the United States Supreme Court,
Applicant was initially found incompetent to stand trial and sent to Vernon State Hospital on June 23, 2004. While there, he was placed on Zyprexa, a medication used for the treatment of schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders. After the dosage was increased to 40 mg a day and applicant was enrolled in a psychosocial educational program to improve his trial competence, he was found to meet the six criteria for trial competency.
For the first time, applicant argues that the 40 mg dosage of Zyprexa during the trial exceeded the normal maximum therapeutic amount, and therefore he could have been overly sedated and unable to consult with his trial counsel.
When the judge explicitly asked counsel, during the trial, if he was claiming that applicant was again incompetent, counsel tried to avoid the question, but finally had to admit that he was not going to challenge applicant's present competency "because [he] had no new evidence to dispute the findings at Vernon or suggest the applicant was incompetent. Although I will work diligently for my clients, I will not lie to the court or file motions, the basis of which I know are not true." Applicant's lead counsel would usually be the single most reliable and important source of information about whether he and applicant could discuss the factual and legal aspects of the case and develop an appropriate defense. Although others who worked with counsel in developing evidence and testimony for the trial disagreed with counsel's assessment and thought that applicant was not totally responsive to them during the trial, the trial judge credited counsel's affidavit and found that applicant was competent to stand trial.
Applicant has failed to show that his counsel was constitutionally deficient for failing to raise a second claim of incompetency to be tried when both his counsel and the trial court concluded that applicant was competent to stand trial.
Although reasonable people might well differ on the questions of whether this applicant was sane at the time he committed these murders or competent at the time he was tried, those issues were appropriately addressed by the defense, the prosecution, trial judge, and the jury during the trial. The evidentiary basis for those sanity and competency issues
The MHMR staff told him to go to the emergency room, but he did not do so. An order for involuntary commitment was obtained, but it was never implemented.
Applicant responded, "Right, but I felt like it was what God wanted me to do. That's what he told me to do."
In response to whether he knew what he did was "wrong," applicant said, "It wasn't on my mind whether it was right or wrong. I don't like to talk about it because I cared about Laura. That was my friend. She was my friend. I didn't want to hurt her. What's happening?" Then applicant stated that he had stabbed himself and explained, "I wanted to die for my sins."
Applicant said, "I just want to say that I'm sorry for what I did."
The psychologist noted that applicant could provide a consistent account of the events and circumstances surrounding the charged offenses, [but] he had a very low tone of voice, a tendency to mumble, and frequently made non-responsive answers.
This sixth area was the only one of concern to the Vernon psychologist. Nonetheless, both applicant's treating psychiatrist and the testing psychologist found that applicant "has demonstrated all areas of trial competency." See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46.B.024(1).