Uncivilized Texas Murders Black Man whose Lawyer Relied on Wikipedia to Present his "Defense"

From [HERETaiChin Preyor, 46, died by lethal injection at the state's death chamber in Huntsville, a prisons official said.

The execution was delayed for more than three hours to allow the US Supreme Court time to hear an appeal from Preyor's lawyer to spare his life, which the court rejected.

The execution was the 543rd in Texas since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the most of any state.

“First and foremost I’d like to say, ‘Justice has never advanced by taking a life’ by Coretta Scott King. Lastly, to my wife and to my kids, I love y’all forever and always. That’s it," Preyor was quoted as saying in his final statement by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Preyor’s guilt was never in much doubt, but according to his petition for clemency, the competence of the lawyers who had represented him should be. The Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial and effective counsel but, his new lawyers assert, Preyor has received anything but.

“He has never had capable counsel make the best argument available,” says Cate Stetson, one of Preyor’s new court-appointed lawyers who joined the case in May. 

During his first trial in 2005, Preyor’s court-appointed lawyers failed to investigate his troubled childhood, which might been a mitigating factor in persuading the jury to forgo capital punishment. Then, during the appeals process, one of the private attorneys hired by Preyor’s mother allegedly had no experience in defending death penalty clients while the other one had been disbarred 17 years before. Preyor’s new lawyers allege that both lawyers defrauded the court.

After these attorneys withdrew from the case, Preyor’s new lawyers filed a petition for clemency to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. At best, they hope Texas will commute his death sentence. But they are also hoping to persuade the state to grant a reprieve of at least 120 days during which they would be able to present a new case in federal court. They argue that given the poor representation Preyor has received from the time he entered the criminal justice system, his new counsel should be given the opportunity to sufficiently investigate his background so as to finally present his complete case to the courts.

As with so many inmates who end up on death row, 46-year-old Preyor had a tragic childhood. According to the petition, he had been sexually abused repeatedly by an unnamed family member and physically abused by his father and mother. When he was 14 and trying to escape from his mother who was chasing him with a knife, according to the documents in the clemency petition, he jumped out of a window and broke both ankles and one hand. 

Drug and alcohol abuse began when he was a teenager, and as an adult he cycled between intoxication and using cocaine to sober up. When he was in such a state, he attempted to burglarize the home of the woman from whom he regularly bought drugs, and then he killed her. Chronic abuse of alcohol and cocaine can result in the impaired judgment and violent behavior that, according to his lawyers, may have played a role in his crime. 

Yet, during his first trial, his court-appointed counsel failed to present this information to the jury. Mitigating evidence can sometimes persuade a jury not to choose capital punishment, but in his case, the jury was told “he came from a functional family,” says Stetson.

After he was convicted and sentenced in 2005, Preyor was appointed new counsel for post-conviction proceedings at the state level. But Margaret Mendez, Preyor’s mother, was dissatisfied with his representation and sought private lawyers for the remaining portion of his appeals through the state and federal courts.

In 2007, Mendez’s niece, Melanie White and her husband, found Philip Jefferson, a lawyer based in Los Angeles who had represented White’s husband in a murder trial in the 1980s. He told Mendez that he had worked with Johnnie Cochran and that the famous lead attorney who had represented O.J. Simpson had even given him some cases he was too busy to handle. Jefferson believed Preyor was innocent, he said, but since he was retired he would need another lawyer to assist with the case. His choice was Brandy Estelle, another LA-based lawyer, and their fee was $20,000 to represent Preyor through the appeals process.

There were some problems they did not disclose: Jefferson had been disbarred in 1990 for repeatedly failing to sufficiently represent his clients. And Estelle had no experience representing death row clients. According to the clemency petition, the one name that appears on the court filings is Estelle’s, so she appears to be Preyor’s only lawyer.  

“Jefferson and Estelle committed fraud on the court,” Stetson says plainly.

For the next five years, from 2008 to 2013, according to court documents,  Mendez shelled out thousands of dollars to the attorneys on top of the original $20,000, which she said included preparation for hearings at the state court and for visits to Preyor in prison.