Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stays first scheduled execution of 2019

Update as of 1:30 PM:  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has stopped the state’s first scheduled execution of the year, pointing to changes in bite mark science and laws regarding intellectual disability and the death penalty, per the Texas Tribune.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in Moore v. Texas found the state of Texas must use current medical standards for determining whether a person is intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution. In 2018, the CCA granted two stays and issued orders in six other cases with claims related to intellectual disability in light of Moore, remanding them to the trial courts for further action.

Attorney Statement re: TCCA’s Stay of Execution for Blaine Milam
“We are grateful that the Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Mr. Milam’s execution today so he may prove that his conviction is invalid. The State obtained its conviction based on now discredited bite mark junk science. The State does not possess any meaningful evidence that Mr. Milam played any role in causing the death. For that reason, the State was forced to rely on Texas’s law of parties when it prosecuted him, which allows a jury to convict a person based on the conduct of another. Even under the law of parties, the State’s evidence that Mr. Milam “aided” in the offense rested on junk science. The stay also gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that Mr. Milam is a person with intellectual disability who should be exempt from execution.”
 
– Jennae Swiergula, Attorney for Blaine Milam and Post-Conviction Director, Texas Defender Service
– January 14, 2019
The Stay Order from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/y6vowy3x
The Concurring Opinion can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/y9g8378e

***

Original post
In the first scheduled execution of 2019, the State of Texas is set to put Blaine Milam, 29, to death on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.  He was convicted of killing 13-month-old Amora Carson in 2008 at his trailer in Rusk County. According to police, Milam and his girlfriend, Jessica Carson, were trying to perform an exorcism on the child. Due to extensive news coverage of the crime in Rusk County, his trial was moved 140 miles south to Montgomery County, where he was convicted in 2010. Jessica Carson, the baby’s mother, was sentenced to life in prison. Both Milam and Carson were 18 years old at the time of the crime.

Milam lost a federal appeal in May 2018. His attorneys argued that Milam had deficient legal representation during his trial and that the judge improperly instructed the jury.  Recent legal filings focus on the discredited bite mark evidence used to convict Milam, as well as prosecutors’ reliance on Texas’ law of parties, which holds everyone involved in a crime equally responsible for its outcome.  Read more about the case in the Austin Chronicle.

There are currently five other executions scheduled to take place in Texas through May.  The State is set to put Robert Jennings to death on January 30.

In 2018, the State of Texas executed 13 people and accounted for more than half of the 25 executions in the United States.