death penalty news—-TEXAS

Sept. 21


New issue emerges in murder case—-Lawyers, hoping it will stay their
client's execution, say the information would have swayed jury against a
crucial witness

Elsy "Daisy" Prado was the sole survivor of a nighttime assault that
claimed the lives of her brother, boyfriend and 3-year-old son in north
Houston. Wounded and scared, the native of Colombia had trouble in the
following days recalling the shooter from the 3 men responsible for the

Prado would identify Christopher Coleman, a 27-year-old Army veteran, as
the gunman, and her testimony provided the key evidence that led a jury to
convict him of capital murder and sentence him to die. That she had
originally told authorities the 4 were simply lost on the night they were
attacked in December 1995, when in fact they were parties to a drug deal
gone wrong, did not sufficiently undermine her claim that Coleman had been
the one to riddle their Toyota Paseo with bullets.

It seemed like a routine conviction until two years ago, when Coleman's
lawyers began to raise questions about Prado's testimony. For the 1st
time, she admitted to an investigator that she knew one of the attackers.
She had testified at Coleman's trial that they were strangers.

Now, just days away from Coleman's execution, his attorneys have obtained
a sworn statement from co-defendant Enrique Mosquera insisting that Prado
not only knew him the two came from the same town in Colombia but was
involved in the drug transaction on the night of the attack. Coleman's
lawyers hope the disclosure will persuade an appeals courts to stay his
execution and examine the effect the relationship of Mosquera and Prado
could have had on the trial's outcome.

"Her testimony came in unimpeached because his lawyers did not have the
information to impeach it," said Pat McCann, Coleman's appellate lawyer.
"I don't think anyone can sit there and say they know the truth. Who the
shooter was is a huge question, and for that reason, this has to be looked

Theory involved a debt

Police theorized that Mosquera had arranged the attack because he owed
money to Prado's brother, Hurtado Preinar Prado, and had hired Coleman and
Derrick Graham as muscle. The two groups met on a dark residential street
in the Acres Homes neighborhood at 2 a.m. on Dec. 14, 1995. Hurtado Prado,
Jose Maria Garcia and Daisy Prado's son, Danny Giraldo, were killed after
they all refused to get out of the car. Coleman was arrested two weeks
later at a motel in Lawrenceburg, Tenn.

He did not agree to an interview request from the Houston Chronicle.

Though Coleman may still have been guilty under the law of parties, in
which all participants of a crime may be held equally liable, it is
possible he would have escaped the death penalty, which is typically
reserved for the trigger man. Mosquera and Graham are serving life

Loyalty or fear

Both of Coleman's original trial attorneys have submitted sworn statements
saying Prado's admission would have significantly altered the way they
approached the trial. If Prado had reason to avoid fingering Mosquera,
either out of loyalty or fear for her family's safety in Colombia, that
possibility could have led jurors to distrust her testimony, they argue.

"The fact that these 2 people knew each other has tremendous importance in
this case," lead attorney Dick Wheelan said in his statement. "It would
give Ms. Prado a reason to lie. It would also indicate that she was much
more deeply involved in the drug trade than she admitted. It calls into
question her truthfulness in general. Had I known there was a prior
connection it would have changed my investigation on both guilt-innocence
and punishment, as well as significantly altering my strategy and tactics
for the trial."

Wheelan, who died of cancer last year, said Prado's failure to disclose
their relationship "changed the complexion of the entire event."

Prosecutor's stand

Former prosecutor Luci Davidson, who tried Coleman, said the evidence
available to authorities left them with no doubt about the shooter. She
said a statement from Graham described where the trio stood around the
car. He placed Coleman on the passenger side, which is where the shooter

Both police and prosecutors found Graham credible.

"Participating in this was something completely out of character for him,
as I recall," Davidson said. "It was even a fluke that he was there that

Coleman also was seen after the event by a friend who later testified that
he made self-incriminating statements and had a large amount of cash, she
said. Davidson acknowledged that it was reasonable to think the possible
relationship between Mosquera and Prado could have affected defense
strategy, but she believes all the evidence pointed to Coleman as the

Wheelan tried to convince jurors that Daisy Prado was lying when she
identified Coleman, but he did not have a strong basis to support the
assertion or evidence of who else might have pulled the trigger.

Coleman had no previous criminal history. He was a member of the Army
Reserve and had received an honorable discharge.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Hit man in Houston slayings of 3 set to die

Gunfire from a semi-automatic weapon struck 4 people on a dead-end street
in Houston and left 3 of them, including a 3-year-old boy, dead in what
was meant to look like a robbery.

Authorities later determined the heist was botched and staged, arranged by
a Colombian man hoping to eliminate a cocaine supplier he owed $80,000.
When the hit man he hired opened fire, the drug supplier and everyone else
in the car were shot. Only the child's mother survived.

The gunman, Christopher Coleman, was set to die Tuesday evening for the
triple slaying nearly 14 years ago.

Coleman, 37, of Houston, would be the 18th convicted killer executed this
year in Texas, the nation's busiest death penalty state, and the first of
two set to die this week.

Attorneys for Coleman went to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to block the
execution, contending that the survivor, who also was from Colombia and
testified against Coleman at his 1997 trial, lied about her involvement or
that investigators improperly withheld information that she was acquainted
with one of the other men convicted in the case.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals rejected that argument.

"It's pretty disturbing because I don't think anybody's ever gotten the
actual truth in this case," said Coleman's lawyer, Patrick McCann. "This
actually is very frustrating because no one seems to want to hear this."

Coleman was arrested at a motel in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., a week after the
December 1995 shootings. He told police he was at the crime scene but
denied being the gunman.

Coleman was one of three men convicted in the deaths of Jose Mario
Garcia-Castro, 33; Hurtado Heinar Prado, 34; and Danny Giraldo, 3. The
child's mother, Elsie Prado, who was Garcia-Castro's girlfriend and
Hurtado Heinar Prado's sister, recovered from gunshot wounds to her arm
and breast.

They had showed up on the dead-end street thinking Enrique Andrade
Mosquera was going to pay his drug debt to Hurtado Heinar Prado.

Mosquera told authorities he owed Prado for 4 kilos of cocaine, didn't
want to pay and hired Coleman and another man, Derrick Graham, to stage a
robbery and make it look like Mosquera was a victim.

Testimony showed that Mosquera, Coleman and Graham approached the car
driven by Garcia-Castro and Coleman opened fire.

Mosquera and Graham were tried seperately and are serving life sentences.
Testimony at Mosquera's trial showed that he paid Coleman $12,000 and
Graham $10,000 to carry out his scheme.

Coleman's appeals centered on Elsie Prado's relationship with Mosquera.
Unknown to his trial attorneys, the 2 grew up in the same neighborhood in
Cali, Colombia, and knew each other, Coleman's appeals lawyers found. They
questioned the credibility of her testimony implicating Coleman, arguing
that her relatives still in Colombia could be vulnerable if she named
Mosquera as the triggerman.

"If they knew each other this well, there was a good chance she was an
accomplice to this drug deal that supposedly went bad," McCann said.

At his trial, Coleman's lawyers argued he was not the gunman.

The New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court ruled last week that Harris County
jurors could have convicted Coleman of capital murder even without Elsie
Prado's testimony and there was no proof prosecutors improperly withheld

"Even if she knew Mosquero and didn't want to identify him because she was
either friends or was afraid of him, it still doesn't rebut her
identification and the evidence showing that Coleman was the shooter,"
said Roe Wilson, a Harris County assistant district attorney.

Coleman, who had a previous assault conviction that got him 60 days in
jail in Harris County, refused to speak with reporters in the weeks
preceding his scheduled execution.

On Thursday, Kenneth Mosley, 51, was set to die for fatally shooting a
police officer, Michael Moore, during a bank robbery in the Dallas suburb
of Garland in 1997.

On the Net: Texas Department of Criminal Justice execution schedule:

(source: Associated Press)