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Defense rests in capital murder trial: Inmate convicted in death of guard awaits sentencing

Defense rests in capital murder trial: Inmate convicted in death of guard awaits sentencing

November 14th, 2017 by Lynn LaRowe in Texarkana News

NEW BOSTON, Texas—A former correctional officer whose face still bears scars from a 2009 razor blade attack testified Monday in inmate Billy Joel Tracy's capital murder trial.

Tracy, 39, was convicted in Bowie County last month in the death of 47-year-old Correctional Officer Timothy Davison. Tracy beat Davison to death July 15, 2015, after escaping his handcuffs and grabbing the officer's metal tray slot bar.

Billy Joel Tracy, center and wearing glasses, is shown in the first day of his capital murder trial on Monday. Tracy is accused of beating a Telford prison guard to death in 2015. Tracy was an inmate in the New Boston, Texas, prison at the time. The trial is expected to resume Wednesday.

Billy Joel Tracy, center and wearing glasses, is...

Photo by Evan Lewis /Texarkana Gazette.

Brianlee Lomas is among a number of Tracy's prior victims who have testified during the sentencing phase of the trial. Tracy faces death by lethal injection or life without the possibility of parole.

Lomas and a fellow officer were tasked with escorting Tracy back to his cell from a one-man shower stall in administrative segregation on the morning of Jan. 11, 2009, at the Robertson Unit in Abilene, Texas. Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp, Lomas testified that he had cuffed Tracy's hand through an opening in the cell door and waited for an officer in the picket, a control room where doors can be locked and unlocked, to open the shower door.

Lomas said when the door opened, Tracy's hands were in front of him. Lomas said he and Tracy struggled and a fellow officer administered pepper spray, which brought the physical confrontation to a halt. Lomas said he didn't realize he'd been slashed with a homemade weapon fashioned with four blades from disposable razors until he felt blood running down his face.

"I thought he was hitting me with the handcuffs," Lomas said.

A photo of Lomas taken after the assault shows at least three long, deep gashes on the right side of Lomas' face. One of the gashes is barely inches away from Lomas' jugular. Lomas was stitched up by a plastic surgeon, but the scars remain visible.

"He was very calm, cool and collected," testified Reede Minter, a Regional Director for Texas Department of Criminal Justice Office of Inspector General. "He said it was in retaliation for Capt. Lofton taking his mail."

Minter testified that as a handwritten statement by Tracy, penned in 2009, was shown to the jury, under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards.

In the statement, Tracy promises to continue assaulting officers at Robertson as long as Lofton remains employed there.

Lofton, who is now a warden at a different TDCJ unit, testified that Tracy told him, "I couldn't get to you, so I got to someone you'd care about."

Lofton said Tracy's mail became a concern because staff believed he was conning people on the outside to send him money.

"There was a guy who had cancer and his dad had given him some money to pay for his cancer treatment and Tracy had gotten him to give him some of that money," Lofton said.

Correctional Officer Francis Odom, who has worked as the administration segregation property officer for many years at the Robertson Unit, testified about some of the items she found hidden in Tracy's belongings while he was an inmate there from 2005 to 2009. Odom said she once found two metal pieces sharpened to points in a sweetener box taken from Tracy's cell.

Odom said the box had been opened and a pocket where the metal could be hidden was fashioned inside. The box was glued shut to make it appear unopened. A tube of toothpaste taken from Tracy's cell had been slit open and rolled after more than 100 postage stamps wrapped in plastic were stashed inside, Odom said.

"Inside the prison stamps are like money," Odom said. "The most they're allowed to buy each month is 30, and the most they're allowed to have in their cells at one time is 60."

Odom said she "always found contraband" when she searched Tracy's belongings. The prohibited items included razor blades, tape, glue, sandpaper, needles and thread. All of the items can be used to create weapons or to conceal them, Odom said. Needles and thread can be used to sew pockets into jail-issued clothing to conceal weapons and contraband.

Correctional Officer Jason Kelley testified that he found 56 razor blades Tracy had hidden inside a greeting card at the Robertson Unit. The cardboard had been split, the blades inserted and the card glued back together, Kelley testified.

Correctional Officer Don Metcalf testified Tracy was a "problem inmate" while at Robertson. Metcalf said staff initiated a practice of searching Tracy's cell every two to four hours because he was so adept at acquiring and concealing dangerous items.

Under cross examination by Mount Pleasant defense attorney Mac Cobb, Metcalf testified that offenders often acquire contraband from other offenders and that staff could be involved in moving contraband around a prison.

Robertson Unit Correctional Officer Bradley Burge testified he found a sharpened metal rod in the spine of a three-ring binder in Tracy's cell. Burge said he believes the rod was once a piece of a mop.

Warden Jimmy Smith testified that Tracy is "very intelligent."

"He had the ability to follow rules, be social, and then it's like a hydrogen bomb," Smith said. "If he thinks he's being wronged by TDC, there is going to be retaliation."

Before the jury was brought into the courtroom Monday morning, 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart allowed Tracy to speak. In a written statement Tracy read aloud to the court, he again complained about his lawyers, Cobb and Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana. Tracy said he disagrees with his lawyer's trial strategy, which he said is to focus on testimony from defense experts who have yet to take the stand.

"These witnesses are lying to help the state execute me," Tracy said.

Following Tracy's statement, Lockhart said he believes Tracy's protests are, "Yet another attempt to lay the groundwork for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel."

Testimony is expected to continue this morning at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston.

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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