There have been a number of developments with death penalty cases in the last two weeks, including a new death sentence, a jury rejection of a capital murder charge, and a reduced sentence. Here’s a recap:
- On June 7, 2011, a Fort Bend County jury sentenced Albert
James Turner to death for the 2009 murders of his wife Keitha Turner and his mother-in-law Betty Joe Frank. Turner was a former prison guard and an honorably discharged Gulf War veteran. This is the fourth new death sentence in Texas this year and the tenth such sentence out of Fort Bend County since 1976. In 2010, Texas juries sentenced eight individuals to death, the lowest number since reinstatement of the death penalty.
- On June 10, 2011, juries in the Dallas County case of Charles Payne rejected the charge of capital murder and instead found him guilty of murder in the shooting of police officer Senior Cpl. Norm Smith. Because the jury found him guilty of a lesser charge than capital murder, Payne was no longer eligible for the death penalty. According to the Dallas Morning News, “This is the 1st time since 1996 that Dallas County prosecutors seeking the death penalty have not won a capital murder conviction. In the case from that year, the jury gave the defendant a life sentence for murder.” More than 100 people have been sentenced to death in Dallas County since 1976.
Payne claimed that he did not know that Senior Cpl. Smith was a police officer when he appeared at the door of his apartment and instead thought he was an intruder. Jurors rejected his claim of self defense, however, and sentenced him to life in prison for the shooting.
- According to The Daily News of Galveston County, District Attorney Jack Roady has decided not to pursue another death sentence for Gaylon George Walbey Jr. (“Teacher’s Murderer Gets Life In Prison,” June 12, 2011). Walbey Jr had spent 16 years on death row for the 1993 murder of his former foster mother, Marionette Beyah. By all accounts, he suffers from severe mental illness and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. As an editorial in The Daily News asks, “What message could a just society hope to send by executing someone like that?” (“In this case, justice was served,” June 15, 2011)
In 2009, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state district court to conduct a new punishment hearing for Walbey after finding that his trial attorney had failed to investigate his horrific childhood and other potentially mitigating evidence. Later that year, Kurt Sistrunk, the Galveston County District Attorney at the time, announced his decision to seek another death sentence. Roady, who defeated Sistrunk for the DA position in 2010, decided to end the case against Walbey after reviewing the evidence and speaking with the victim’s family.
Walbey, who was 18 at the time of the crime, will now serve a sentence of life in prison.