death penalty news—–TEXAS

July 10


Escaped prisoners plead innocent to capital murder

2 convicts whose escape from a work detail last year led to the death of a
corrections officer pleaded innocent Thursday to capital murder charges.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Jerry Martin, 38, and John Ray
Falk, 41, Walker County Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Stroud said.

Both inmates, chained at the waist and ankles and escorted by numerous
officers, appeared separately during brief hearings Thursday. Prosecutors
said they planned to try the pair together. Defense lawyers asked the
trial be moved outside Huntsville.

The Walker County Courthouse is just a couple miles east of where
corrections officer Susan Canfield, 59, died in September after the
inmates broke away from the detail outside the Wynne Unit prison in
Huntsville. They stole a truck and rammed into her while she was on

The prisoners dumped the pickup about a mile away, then confronted a woman
in a bank drive-through and took her car. Huntsville police then shot out
a tire in that car and the inmates ran away.

Falk was apprehended within an hour. Martin was caught hiding in a tree
about 3 1/2 hours later. The next day, Martin unsuccessfully tried to hang
himself in his cell.

Martin had been locked up since 1997 with a 50-year term for attempted
murder. Falk was serving life for murder in 1986.

Canfield, from New Waverly, had been a corrections officer for 7 years.
Her horse was shot in the gunfire and was euthanized.

According to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice report of the escape,
Martin jumped into a Huntsville city truck and rammed it into Canfield.
The horse threw the officer and she struck the truck's windshield before
crashing to the ground, causing her fatal head injuries.

The report also said events were set in motion when a supervisory officer
allowed Martin to improperly approach him after the prisoner asked that
the officer hold his broken watch. Falk created a noise that distracted
the officer and Martin got close enough to rush the guard and get his gun.

Martin threw the pistol to Falk, who aimed it at the officer as the two
inmates then climbed over a barbed wire fence where Canfield was on her
horse in a parking lot. Falk began firing at her and she and other
officers returned fire. Falk then stuck his gun in Canfield's side and
grabbed her rifle as Martin, who had jumped into the truck, rammed

The agency investigation found the staffing level of 9 officers, including
a sergeant, was proper for the 76-prisoner work detail.

The supervising officer was cited during a disciplinary hearing and
recommended for dismissal and subsequently resigned.

(source: Associated Press)


Both sides rest in sentencing phase of cop killer's murder trial

The prosecution and defense both rested this morning in the sentencing
phase of the capital murder trial for Wesley Lynn Ruiz, who was convicted
last month of killing Dallas Police Senior Cpl. Mark Nix.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday morning followed by the jury's
deliberation. Jurors have 2 sentencing options: life with no parole or the
death penalty.

Mr. Ruiz did not testify during the four days of sentencing testimony this
week. But he did take the witness stand during the guilt and innocence
phase of the trial last month and testified that he shot Cpl. Nix because
he feared for his life.

Mr. Ruiz said he thought that police were shooting at the car in which he
was hiding. The jury did not believe his self-defense claim.

In a letter he mailed while in jail, Mr. Ruiz wrote about his time in
jail. But he marked over some of his words. Prosecutors called a forensic
document examiner, who testified Thursday about what he believed the
scratched-out words read.

Kenneth Crawford, who works in the criminal lab for Texas Department of
Public Safety, read his findings aloud in court.

"I've been feeling so helpless, which I really am," Mr. Crawford said as
he read his interpretation. "[Expletive], girl. These [expletive] guards
think they so hard on the real.Just keep all this [expletive] inside me.
One day I'm going to lose my [expletive] cool."

Mr. Ruiz's mother and grandparents testified Wednesday and asked the jury
to be merciful.

"I never in my worst nightmares thought I'd have to stand up for his
character," said Mr. Ruiz's grandmother, Sue Anne Ziegenhain. "That fatal
day, he honestly believed his life was in danger."

"I'm terribly sorry that Officer Mark Nix is not here," Mrs. Ziegenhain
said, crying from the witness stand. "But Wes is part of me, just like
Mark Nix was part of you."

(source: The Dallas Morning News)