Cowart Pleads Guilty To Mom's Killing, Escapes Death Penalty
James "Jimmy" William Cowart Jr. escaped the death penalty Monday when he
pleaded guilty to killing his mother more than 2 years ago.
Cowart, 47, faced death by lethal injection, but instead received life in
prison without parole after entering into a plea deal with attorneys.
Cowart pleaded guilty to capital murder, admitting that he stabbed and
beat to death his mother, Martha Miller, and stole money from the
64-year-old manager of the Airways Motel, where they both worked.
Attorneys worked for nearly three weeks to select a jury, which reported
to 241st District Judge Jack Skeen Jr.'s court Monday, but were released
from duty after Cowart pleaded guilty and the judge accepted the plea
agreement and sentenced the defendant.
Brandy Brown, Ms. Miller's granddaughter and Cowart's niece, said her life
and the lives of her family members were changed forever on Feb. 3, 2007,
when they learned Ms. Miller was dead. During victim impact statements,
Ms. Brown told the defendant she hoped he realized the impact the tragedy
has had on them.
"She was the most beloved person in my life," Ms. Brown said, crying. She
said the death of Ms. Miller, whom the family called "Big Momma," was the
most devastating thing that ever happened to her but her faith in God gave
her the ability to forgive.
"I forgive you, Jimmy, for what you have done. "May God have mercy on
you," she said.
Before the hearing, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham filed a
motion to withdraw his notice of intent to seek the death penalty, which
cited Cowart's infectious diseases for the reasoning behind the decision.
During a hearing on Thursday, Bingham brought to the court's attention
that Cowart was diagnosed years ago with chronic Hepatitis C and
tuberculosis (TB), but the defendant failed to report the highly
contagious diseases to authorities at the jail. Cowart was tested Friday
to see if his TB was active, but the results aren't expected back for a
few weeks, Bingham said.
Cowart's answers to the judge's questions were muffled Monday by a green-
and white-striped face mask he wore, along with his red jail jumpsuit and
Bingham said the sentence of life without parole will ensure that Cowart
will die in prison, although he still believed the death penalty was
warranted for the crime. Bingham said he didn't feel there was any way to
ensure that the citizens, including jurors and witnesses, wouldn't be
exposed to Cowart's illnesses. Although wearing the mask is a good
precaution, Bingham said it doesn't prevent the transmission of TB to
Defense attorney F.R. "Buck" Files Jr. said he felt Bingham showed great
judgment in his concern for the welfare of everyone who would have been in
the courtroom for the three- to five-week trial.
He said the judge not only had concerns for himself, but everyone else in
Because of Cowart's illnesses, which also include heart issues and
diabetes, Files said his life expectancy is probably less than the time it
would have taken for the appeals process if he would have been sentenced
When asked by Judge Skeen, Bingham said whatever the medical tests results
were — regardless of whether Cowart's TB is active — wouldn't change his
decision about the plea agreement so there didn't need to be any delay in
Files said Cowart has been confined in a mental institution in the past,
has been seen by psychologists and is on about a dozen medications. But,
he said, Cowart was competent to stand trial and there were no issues of
insanity or mental retardation.
Cowart waived his right to appeal the guilty plea and sentence.
Skeen said he would take judicial notice of the 7,400 pages of evidence in
Smith County deputies were called out to the motel, located near the
airport on Texas Highway 64 West, about 7 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2007, and
discovered Ms. Miller's body inside her bloodied apartment, where she
lived at the motel.
Deputies reported that they found blood-stained discarded clothing on the
highway about 300 yards from the motel and the clothing was identified by
Cowart's son as the last thing the defendant was seen wearing. The son
also reported that his father had borrowed his pickup and had been missing
since the day before and didn't report to work at the motel that morning.
A few hours later, deputies found the pickup and Cowart at the Relax Inn
on Gentry Parkway. After knocking down the door of his motel room, they
found Cowart wielding a knife and wearing bloody jeans, officials
previously said. He was arrested and interviewed by detectives.
During a hearing on Thursday, Smith County Sheriff Sgt. Tobby Hughes,
Detective Sgt. Randy Meadows and Deputy Dale Hukill testified about
responding to the gruesome murder scene and finding Ms. Miller's body,
then tracking down Cowart, who was holed up in the motel room.
Bingham and First Assistant District Attorney April Sikes prosecuted the
case while defense attorneys Files and Lance Larison represented the
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)