Court allows appeal by TX death row 32-year inmate
One of Texas' longest-serving death row inmates, who says the inadequate
legal help he received and his own mental impairment make him ineligible
for execution, can appeal his sentence, a federal court has ruled.
Anthony Leroy Pierce was condemned for the August 1977 robbery-slaying of
40-year-old Fred Johnson, the manager of a Houston fried chicken
restaurant. Pierce, now 50, has been on death row nearly 32 years. Only 3
other prisoners have been there longer.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday dismissed several of
Pierce's claims, but agreed to take oral arguments on his claims that
challenged the credibility of a psychologist whom prosecutors called as an
expert at Pierce's trial. The court also agreed to consider claims his
trial lawyer was deficient for failing to investigate and present evidence
that Pierce was mentally impaired, had been abused as a child and suffered
from an impoverished upbringing.
The New Orleans-based court said it would hear arguments on whether that
mitigating evidence was improperly withheld from jurors who decided Pierce
should be put to death.
Besides his capital murder conviction, Pierce has been convicted of
manslaughter for fatally stabbing a fellow death row inmate in 1979.
Arguments before the court are set for February.
"I'm interpreting this as a very good deal for him," Paul Mansur, one of
Pierce's lawyers in recent years, said Tuesday.
According to court files, this latest appeal was initiated by Pierce in
May 2007 in a four-page handwritten letter and motion to the federal
district court in Houston. In the letter, Pierce asked that he be allowed
to argue "a verbal motion regarding seriously neglected claims."
Pierce accused the court of "a conspired effort … being made by various
members of this judiciary thereby raising serious doubts as to sincerity
regarding my welfare in this case." He said that left him "no choice but
to seek my own representation."
"He's complained a whole lot about different aspects of the case," Mansur
Pierce has been tried 3 times for the Aug. 4, 1977 robbery that netted him
about $80 and left Johnson dead of a gunshot wound.
An employee at the fast-food restaurant testified she recognized Pierce as
the gunman. A 12-year-old boy walking by the restaurant testified Pierce
was the gunman he saw inside the place and then running away.
A Texas Department of Criminal Justice summary of his case indicates that
after the shooting, Pierce went to a bar and stabbed a man and that he was
arrested in front of his apartment a few hours later while bragging about
the attacks to friends.
The conviction from Pierce's first trial was thrown out by the Texas Court
of Criminal Appeals because of a jury selection problem. A similar jury
problem got his second trial result tossed on appeal. He was tried a third
time in 1986.
Prison records show the victim in the August 1979 death row killing was
Edward King, 37, who had been condemned for the slaying of a Dallas police
officer. Pierce was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for stabbing
King once in the chest.
(source: Associated Press)