Man convicted of killing his kids could get retrial
A judge will consider today whether the defense attorney for a man
sentenced to die for killing his children was qualified to represent him
and whether she deliberately undermined his case.
Attorney Donna Winfield, with Hector Rolando Medina, was not on a list of
attorneys qualified to represent defendants facing a death sentence.
Hector Medina fatally shot 3-year-old Javier Medina and 8-month-old Diana
Medina at their Irving home after their mother left him in March 2007.
State District Judge Andy Chatham, who presided over Mr. Medina's trial,
will listen to arguments today and recommend to the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals whether Mr. Medina should be granted a new trial.
Lead defense counsel Donna Winfield was not on a list of attorneys
qualified to represent defendants facing a death sentence as required by
law. Judge Chatham appointed her to the Medina case after he saw her name
on a death penalty list, but that document was apparently several years
old. The judge said he could not comment because the case is pending in
Ms. Winfield said she has not been on the list of eligible attorneys for a
few years because she removed herself when she became too busy to take on
death cases. She acknowledged Tuesday that she was not on the list at the
time of her appointment but maintains she was still eligible to defend Mr.
Ms. Winfield said she is certified for non-death-sentence capital murder
cases. She said that after her appointment to represent Mr. Medina, she
took the necessary classes to make her eligible to handle death cases. She
said she did not submit the information to the group that decides which
attorneys are suitable because she did not plan to handle more death
"I've been doing death penalty cases since 1995," said Ms. Winfield. "I
had to take some CLE [continuing legal education], just a procedural step.
"My qualifications are not under scrutiny."
But longtime defense attorney Doug Parks, who has worked numerous death
penalty cases, said there is no question that lawyers appointed to death
penalty cases must be on the list.
"We are having to educate those judges that the law is clear appoint from
the list," said Mr. Parks, a member of the four-person committee that
places lawyers' names on the death penalty cases list.
Mr. Parks said a defense attorney appointed to a Hunt County case had to
be removed because he was not on the list. Such an omission, he said, can
be a valid cause for appeal.
There is no specific remedy in the law if an ineligible attorney
represents a defendant facing the death penalty. On appeal, one option a
defendant could use is "ineffective assistance of counsel."
Mr. Medina's appellate attorneys are already using that claim for another
reason. They contend that Judge Chatham forced Ms. Winfield to provide
ineffective counsel by ordering her to proceed with her case even though
she told the judge that her expert witnesses were not available.
Ms. Winfield said that the judge allowed for trial delays when a juror
broke her arm and that he allowed another juror to go out of town for the
birth of his grandchild. Ms. Winfield said the postponements made it
impossible for her expert witnesses to testify until January.
"Once the judge mandated that I proceed forward without putting on any
evidence, then Hector was de facto without an attorney," Ms. Winfield
said. "He was denied effective assistance of counsel."
Judge Chatham ordered Ms. Winfield into a courthouse holding cell when she
refused to call any witnesses. She stayed there for about 3 hours.
Prosecutors said at the time that they believed Ms. Winfield's witnesses
could have made it to court for the trial's continuation in October.
Dallas County First Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore said Tuesday
that she believes Ms. Winfield acted improperly by refusing to call
"The travesty of it is, here is a lawyer who was deliberately
ineffective," Ms. Moore said. "We might end up doing this again and
traumatize the victims' family and traumatize the jury with pictures of
Ms. Winfield has been paid at least $141,500 for representing Mr. Medina.
That does not include payments to her co-counsel, an appellate attorney or
pending payments to Ms. Winfield.
Ms. Moore said Ms. Winfield shouldn't be paid from the point at which she
announced she would not present any witnesses and "threw a monkey wrench"
into the trial.
(source: Dallas Morning News)