Judge says defense attorney in Medina death penalty case was qualified
A Dallas County judge quickly ruled Wednesday that the lead defense
attorney in the Hector Medina death penalty trial was qualified for the
job, even though her name was not on a list of attorneys approved to
handle capital punishment cases.
Donna Winfield was on the list a few years ago, has experience and
attended continuing education classes to prepare for the trial. As a
result, state District Judge Andy Chatham said, she was qualified and
capable of doing the job. Dallas County prosecutors agreed.
But a question remains as to whether Ms. Winfield purposely threw in the
towel during the punishment phase of Mr. Medina's trial. He was sentenced
to death in October for fatally shooting his two children outside his
Irving home in March 2007 after their mother left him.
At punishment, Ms. Winfield said that her key witness, a
neuropsychologist, was working on a military trial in North Carolina and
could not be here until January. She asked Judge Chatham for a three-month
delay, a request he promptly denied.
So the defiant attorney called no witnesses, refused to proceed with the
capital murder trial and was thrown in jail for a few hours by the judge
for contempt of court.
"I wasn't going to put on a disjointed defense of Mr. Medina," Ms.
Winfield said Wednesday at a hearing in Judge Chatham's courtroom to
request a new trial. "That wasn't fair to him or to the jury."
Kim Schaefer, an appellate attorney for Dallas County, questioned Ms.
Winfield during Wednesday's hearing about her strategy and pointed out
that other witnesses were available and in court, including another
medical expert, character witnesses and jail officials who could speak to
Mr. Medina's threat as a continuing danger to society.
Ms. Winfield, who testified for more than three hours Wednesday, stressed
that she believed her defense case was strong and that Mr. Medina was a
prime candidate for life in prison with no opportunity for parole, the
only other punishment option the jury had. But she said her entire case
hung on that one expert witness who would not be available until January.
Mr. Medina's appellate attorney, John Tatum, said in court documents that
Ms. Winfield was forced to be an ineffective counsel after her request for
a delay was denied.
Judge Chatham will continue to hear testimony today and make a
recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as to whether he
thinks a new trial should be granted.
Longtime defense attorney Doug Parks is working with the defense appellate
team on this case and told the court Wednesday that lost in the
back-and-forth between prosecutors and defense attorneys is Mr. Medina.
"He is entitled to a fair punishment hearing," Mr. Parks said. "Regardless
of fault or finger-pointing, he has not had that, through no fault of his
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Watkins should be honored
Who could be a more deserving Texan of the Year than our humanely
conflicted Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins?
Like many Texans, Watkins doesn't believe executing people in the 21st
century should be Texas' claim to fame. Yet, having sworn to uphold the
law, Mr. Watkins argued for death in a case where the crime was heinous
and the defendant's guilt not in doubt.
To exemplify the ambivalence of many Texas about executions while
faithfully fulfilling his oath, Mr. Watkins deserves to be Texan of the
Year. Ken Duble, Dallas
(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)