TEXAS: Court grants new punishment hearing for death row inmate
Convicted killer Jose Angel Moreno, who won a reprieve just hours before his scheduled execution last May, has now been granted a chance to get off death row.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday ordered a new punishment phase of his trial, allowing Moreno to present evidence of a troubled childhood and other mitigating issues that might have influenced a jury to give him a life sentence.
The appeals court also ordered further consideration of a similar appeal from death row inmate Ricky Eugene Kerr, who, like Moreno, claimed he was unfairly denied the chance to present evidence that might have spared his life.
The Moreno ruling was the latest reversal for a court that initially upheld his conviction and death sentence throughout several appeals, then stayed the execution, then agreed that U.S. Supreme Court rulings should give him another chance.
“One thing this case has taught me, strange things can happen,” said Moreno’s attorney, Scott Sullivan. “It’s a thoughtful decision. They took the time to recognize a wrong and correct it.”
The ruling does not overturn Moreno’s conviction in the 1986 abduction and slaying of 18-year-old John Cruz, a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Evidence showed Cruz was handcuffed and blindfolded and then shot in the head. Moreno then made ransom calls demanding $30,000 from Cruz’s family.
A Supreme Court decision last year found that jury instructions about mitigating evidence in three other Texas cases were improper. Those cases were tried about the same time as Moreno’s and the jury instructions were similar. Those instructions have since been changed.
The Texas court voted 5-3 last year to reconsider his case, stopping a lethal injection by just a few hours.
Wednesday’s ruling could open the door for Moreno to avoid execution, Sullivan said.
“Anytime you can go back to a jury, it opens up a lot of things,” Sullivan said.
According to court records, Moreno was born with a deformed left ear, which required many surgeries to correct and prompted taunting by other children. His adoptive mother died when he was 15 and he was shuffled to other family members and in and out of different schools before he dropped out after the 8th grade.
Investigators also determined Moreno had a history of drug and alcohol use and tried at least 9 times to abduct Cruz. He finally succeeded the night of Jan. 21, 1986, by luring Cruz from his car by blocking the road to Cruz’s home with large rocks. When Cruz got out to move them, Moreno ran up and pulled a gun on him.
Prosecutors said Moreno saw Cruz’s family as a cash source after he learned they’d won a multimillion-dollar settlement of a lawsuit against a tire manufacturer stemming from the death of a relative in a traffic wreck.
Evidence showed while Moreno was awaiting trial, weapons were found in his jail cell, he tried to escape and he was adept at using paper clips to free himself and other inmates from handcuffs.
Kerr was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of his landlady and her 42-year-old son in San Antonio after the moved to evict him.
(source: Associated Press)