Fmr. Kaufman County JP Moves for New Trial, Claims Brain Damage Mitigates Death Sentence

January 28, 2015
By David Lee
KAUFMAN, Texas (CN) – The Texas justice of the peace convicted of murdering a district attorney’s wife demanded a new trial, claiming brain scans show his “brain is broken,” which should mitigate his death sentence.
Eric Williams, 47, of Kaufman, was sentenced to die on Dec. 17, 2014 for the capital murder of Cynthia McClelland, the wife of former Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McClelland.
The McClellands were gunned down in their Forney home on March 28, 2013, two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was shot to death in a Kaufman County courthouse parking lot by a masked gunman.
Prosecutors said during the jury trial in Rockwall County that Williams plotted to killed McLelland and Hasse after they prosecuted him in 2012 for stealing three county computer monitors. That conviction resulted in the loss of Williams’s job and his disbarment.
A Kaufman County judge granted Williams’ attorneys request for brain scans, to be performed on Dec. 30. The attorneys argued that visiting Dallas County Judge Mike Snipes refused to extend the two-week-long punishment phase of Williams’s trial to allow for the scans and expert testimony indicating brain damage.
Medical testing was performed on Williams on Jan. 8.
“The results of this new testing reports probable prior brain injury which is newly discovered evidence that may have produced a sentence less than death,” the Jan. 16 motion for new trial states. “The unavailability of this evidence through the actions of the trial judge prejudiced the substantial rights of Eric Lyle Williams.”
Williams’s attorneys say they learned the results of the brain scans only four days before the Jan. 16 court-imposed deadline to seek a new trial. They say Judge Snipes denied funding for the tests before Williams’s trial, but “reversed his position after the merits trial had begun.”
The motion cites the findings of Dr. William Orrison Jr., who concluded that Williams showed brain injuries with prior head trauma.
“Eric’s left frontal cortex is the seat of judgment, decision-making, etc. The damage is at the interface between gray and white matter,” the motion states. “This suggests brain damage causing Eric to have poor executive function that is supposed to regulate Eric’s unregulated emotions coming from his shrunken and damaged hippocampus. The frontal executive system of Eric’s brain has impaired communication with his more primitive limbic system, generally causing likely difficulties in regulation of behavior, emotion, and the ability to communicate feedback regarding his actions to the emotional centers of his brain further diminishing his ability to regulate his emotions and prevent his emotional system from over-riding the rational aspect of his reasoning and moral judgment.”
The motion also cites loss of connecting fibers in Williams’s corpus callosum.
“This may create schizophrenic symptoms, as a result,” the motion states. “Eric may misperceive things out in the world. A juror might find this to reduce moral blameworthiness.”
Williams’ attorneys said they would have presented a “robust” defense of their client at trial “grounded on brain damage likely flowing from chronic and uncontrolled diabetes” if Snipes had funded the brain scans sooner.
The attorneys accuse Snipes of bias against Williams, of engaging in “facial expressions, body language, choice of language, and extrajudicial and on-camera behavior” against him.
Snipes had harsh words for Williams at sentencing, comparing him to Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer.
“You made yourself out to be some kind of Charles Bronson, a vigilante,” Snipes said. “At the end of the day, you murdered a little old lady.”
Snipes retired from the bench after Williams’s trial. Visiting Lamar County District Judge Webb Biard is scheduled to hear arguments on the motion on Feb. 24.
Special prosecutor Toby Shook told the Dallas Morning News he will be ready for the hearing.
“We will retain experts of our own that can shed light on this issue,” he said Tues

From Courthouse News.

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Ex-wife Sues Fmr. Texas Billionaire Wyly, claims half of allegedly hidden stock

January 28, 2015
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Former Texas billionaire Sam Wyly hid how much stock he had in his companies during his divorce and should hand over half as he faces up to a $400 million SEC judgment, his ex-wife claims.
A philanthropist and contributor to Republican causes, Wyly, 77, of Dallas, made his fortune co-founding Sterling Software in 1981 and buying an interest in arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels in 1982. Sterling was sold for $4 billion in 2000 and Michaels Stores for $6 billion in 2006.
His ex-wife Torie Steele sued Wyly on Monday in federal bankruptcy court. She said Wyly was awarded “nearly all” of their community interest in the stock of both companies in 1991. They had been married for 13 years.
Wyly filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October after a Manhattan federal jury ordered him and the estate of his deceased brother, Charles, to pay as much as $400 million for using offshore trusts to hide stock trades .
The SEC sued the Wylys in 2010, accusing them of making $550 million from more than 700 undisclosed transactions in 40 companies operated by Isle of Man trusts that shuffled money between the Cayman Islands and Dallas.
Steele claims the SEC’s civil lawsuit shows she is a victim, as well. She says Wyly transferred to offshore trusts a “substantial majority” of the stock he received in the divorce, yet SEC filings indicate he owned “substantially more stock than was even awarded to him in the divorce” within two years after the transfer.
“The numbers do not add up. Wyly received his stock in Michael’s and Sterling as compensation,” the 11-page complaint states. “He was not awarded cash in the divorce that would have enabled him to purchase sizable amounts of shares in these companies. Thus, Wyly either failed to disclose all of his stock in Michael’s and Sterling, had others hold the stock for him, or had the companies delay issuing stock to him until after his divorce with Steele was finalized.”
Steele claims she is owed half of any undisclosed community property. She asked the bankruptcy court to determine the extent of her interest in the property. She is represented Ernest W. Leonard with Friedman Feiger in Dallas.
Wyly’s attorney, Josiah Daniel with Vinson & Elkins in Dallas, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.
This is the second time Steele has sued Wyly in bankruptcy court. She filed suit on Nov. 6, 2014 to protect her annual $500,000 alimony mandated by a July 1993 amended judgment in Los Angeles Superior Court.
After Wyly fell behind on payments, he agreed in May 2007 to guarantee the principal owed to Steele, “taking his chances with his acumen as an investor as opposed to risk incurring any further spousal support obligations,” according to the Superior Court ruling, cited in Steele’s Nov. 6 complaint to Determine Nondischargeability of Debt.
Steele’s first complaint claims that Wyly listed her debt as unsecured based on that “contract.”
Steele disagreed, claiming her debt is spousal support.
“The requirements imposed upon Wyly to provide Steele with guaranteed income of $41,666 per month is satisfied by payments from [investment firm] Maverick Stable Partners, L.P. on the last date of each month,” the first complaint stated. “No payment, however, was received by Steele on October 31, 2014, as required by the Order Amending Judgment. This failure to pay confirms that Wyly considers his obligation to Steele as a dischargeable ‘contract’ debt and not a debt for a domestic support obligation.”

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma Resumes Lethal Injections Nine Months After Clayton Lockett Botch

January 16, 2015
By David Lee
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Nine months after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett caused outrage and halted executions in Oklahoma, the state resumed lethal injections on Thursday.
Charles Warner, 47, died at 7:28 p.m., according to Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terri Watkins.
Warner was convicted in 1999 of the rape and murder of Adrianna Waller, the 11-month-old daughter of his girlfriend.
“Before I give my final statement, I’ll tell you they poked me five times,” Warner said before he was executed, according to The Associated Press. “It hurt. It feels like acid … I’m not a monster. I didn’t do everything they said I did.”
Warner showed no obvious signs of distress as the first drug was administered, but said “my body is on fire.” Witnesses said Warner twitched from his neck three minutes after the injection began, lasting for seven minutes until he stopped breathing. He died after 18 minutes.
Warner’s execution was delayed for an hour as prison officials awaited word from the U.S. Supreme Court on his application for a stay. In a 5-4 ruling, the court declined to rule on whether the sedative midazolam would make him unconscious during the execution.
Warner unsuccessfully argued that the state’s replacement three-drug execution cocktail would subject him to unconstitutional pain and suffering.
Several states have resorted to replacement execution drugs due to shortages of traditional drugs caused by anti-death penalty activists successfully asking large drug manufacturers to stop making them.
Oklahoma officials introduced an updated execution protocol in September that greatly increased the dosage of midazolam. The change was made after Gov. Mary Fallin ordered an investigation after Lockett’s execution in April.
Witnesses said Lockett writhed in apparent agony, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head after being injected with the sedative. Prison officials halted the execution at 20 minutes after running out of execution drugs.
Execution team members told state investigators that the execution chamber was a gruesome “bloody mess” due to attempts to tap a second femoral intravenous line in Lockett’s groin.
In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she was “deeply troubled” by evidence indicating the use of midazolam is not constitutional. She cited medical expert affidavits filed by Warner with the 10th Circuit and “a number of scientific studies” that said there is a “ceiling affect” with the drug, indicating electrical activity in the brain is not further diminished with larger doses.
Sotomayor noted that Lockett was able to regain consciousness after receiving enough of the drug “supposedly sufficient to knock him out.”
“Given the evidence before the district court, I struggle to see how its decision to credit the testimony of a single purported expert can be supported given the substantial body of conflicting empirical and anecdotal evidence,” Sotomayor wrote in the 8-page dissent. “I believe that we should have granted petitioners’ application for stay.”
Sotomayor said the increasing reliance on new, “scientifically untested” execution methods by states make such questions “especially important.”
“Petitioners have committed horrific crimes, and should be punished,” she wrote. “But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death. I hope that our failure to act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider these questions.”
Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the dissent.

From Courthouse News.

Lance Armstrong Granted Access to Criminal Investigation Documents in Whistleblower Case

January 13, 2015
By David Lee
(CN) – Lance Armstrong may see documents from the federal government’s criminal doping investigation in the wake of the U.S. Postal Service’s sponsorship of Armstrong’s former team, a federal judge ruled.
The United States joined Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis’ False Claims Act lawsuit in District of Columbia Federal Court in April 2013 against Armstrong, former team manager Johan Bruyneel and Armstrong’s management company Tailwind Sports .
The U.S. Postal Service sponsored the team from 1996 to 2004, paying more than $42 million sponsorship fees as Armstrong won six of his seven Tour de France titles.
Landis sued Armstrong and Bruyneel in 2010, claiming the manager knew team members were using banned drugs and that Armstrong and Tailwind Sports, among others, knowingly flouted USPS sponsorship agreements signed in 1995 and 2000 .
If successful, Landis will receive up to 30 percent of any recovery as a whistle-blower.
Armstrong was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles, for doping, and banned him from the sport for life.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency also stripped Landis of his 2006 Tour de France win, and banned him from the sport for 2 years, after he tested positive for banned substances.
The federal government joined the lawsuit after USADA released a “reasoned decision” in 2012 that accused Armstrong of running the most sophisticated doping program in sports history. Armstrong later admitted to many of the allegations in a January 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
In preparation for trial, Armstrong’s attorneys have sought access to witness interviews the federal government conducted during its criminal doping investigation from 2009 to 2012. Federal prosecutors announced at its conclusion that criminal charges would not be pursued against Armstrong.
U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper on Monday granted in part Armstrong’s motion to compel production of documents. The judge disagreed with the federal government’s argument that the documents from the criminal investigation are protected work product.
Cooper noted the court’s previous distinction between protected “opinion” work product, which reflects an attorney’s mental processes, and “fact” work product, which encompasses “relevant, non-privileged facts” and is discoverable if a substantial need and unavailability by other means is shown.
“Accordingly, courts in this district have held substantially verbatim witness statements contained in interview memoranda that have not been ‘sharply focused or weeded’ by an attorney to be fact rather than opinion work product,” the 7-page opinion states.
“The court previously ruled that Armstrong has demonstrated a substantial need for any law enforcement memoranda created during the now-closed criminal investigation that contain relevant fact work product only. The court explained that because the civil lawyers litigating this qui tam action have received a substantial advantage from having access to the fruits of the prior criminal investigation, fairness dictates that both sides have equal access to relevant witness statements developed by law enforcement in the prior criminal investigation.”
But Cooper refused to order the release of interview records during a separate civil investigation, disagreeing with Armstrong’s claim that the federal government waived any claim of opinion work product.
“(T)he memoranda before the Court at the time of the hearing consisted largely of law enforcement memoranda created during the criminal investigation as opposed to those created by the civil litigation team,” the opinion states. “The hearing also preceded the Court’s guidance regarding the application of the work-product privilege to this matter and its in camera review of the specific memoranda at issue.”
The documents show the civil attorneys “shaped the topics that were covered” and “framed the questions that were asked,” Judge Cooper wrote.
In June 2014, a D.C. federal judge refused to toss allegations that Armstrong knowingly made a false statement to conceal an obligation to pay the federal government money.
“The government’s and [Landis’] complaints are rife with allegations that Armstrong had knowledge of the doping, and that he made false statements to conceal the doping and the attendant obligation which would have resulted if the government had known of the doping,” U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins wrote in the 81-page ruling. “The court therefore denies the motion to dismiss the reverse false claims count against Armstrong.”
Wilkins did, however, dismiss conspiracy and other claims against Thom Weisel, a California-based financier who owned the USPS team.
Landis “failed to allege that Mr. Weisel ’caused’ to be made or used a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim,” Wilkins wrote. “Furthermore, there are insufficient allegations that Weisel had knowledge of the doping, and without such knowledge, he could not have had knowledge of any obligation to repay the government or have a purpose to conceal, avoid or decrease any such obligation.”

From Courthouse News.

Fmr. Texas Justice of the Peace Fights Death Sentence, Moves For New Trial

January 8, 2015
By David Lee
KAUFMAN, Texas (CN) – The Texas justice of the peace sentenced to death for murdering a district attorney’s wife seeks a new trial, claiming tests would show that brain damage from diabetes altered his judgment when he killed her.
Eric Williams, 47, of Kaufman, was sentenced to death on Dec. 17 for the capital murder of Cynthia McClelland, the wife of former Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McClelland.
The McClellands were gunned down in their Forney home on March 28, 2013, two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was shot to death in a Kaufman County courthouse parking lot by a masked gunman.
Prosecutors said during the jury trial in Rockwall County that Williams plotted to killed McLelland and Hasse after they prosecuted him in 2012 for stealing three county computer monitors. That conviction resulted in the loss of Williams’s job and his disbarment.
A Kaufman County judge granted a transport order and bench warrant for Williams on Dec. 30, according to InForney.com, an online news site covering Kaufman County and the city of Forney.
Williams argued in the filings that visiting Dallas County Judge Mike Snipes refused to continue the two-week-long punishment phase of his trial to allow brain scans to be performed and expert testimony to be gathered that would have revealed the brain damage.
Snipes had granted a change of venue from Kaufman County for Williams’ trial due to widespread publicity. Both Rockwall and Kaufman counties are directly east of Dallas County. Williams did not testify in his own defense.
“The results of the medical testing are expected to support Mr. Williams’ contention, to be made at a motion for new trial, that his mitigation case for a life sentence, rather than a death sentence, was severely prejudiced by the refusal of the trial judge to continue the trial of the punishment phase of the case to permit his counsel time to develop the argument that his judgment and decision making abilities were substantially impaired by damage to his brain, likely caused by uncontrolled Type 1 diabetes and related fainting and falling episodes,” the application states.
Williams “would have offered the results of the brain scans and related expert testimony as a part of his mitigation case, and to rebut the state’s argument that he constitutes a continuing threat to society.”
Williams’ attorneys want him taken to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston “as soon as practicable” to prepare for a motion for new trial, to be filed by the Jan. 16 deadline.
Williams’ wife, Kim, pleaded guilty to her role in the three murders and was sentenced to 40 years in state prison on Dec. 30. She was the prosecution’s star witness during Williams’ sentencing phase, testifying that he planned to kill Mike McClelland during a holiday weekend when his security detail would be gone.
She testified that Cynthia McClelland was killed as “collateral damage” because she saw the shooting and that Williams had to shoot her again because she was “still moaning.”
Williams’ attorneys claimed that the entire case was built on circumstantial evidence, with no murder weapon or eyewitnesses.

From Courthouse News.