NEW BOSTON, Texas—The defense rested its case Monday in the punishment phase of trial for Billy Joel Tracy, a Texas prison inmate facing a possible death sentence for the fatal beating of a correctional officer at the Barry Telford Unit in New Boston.
This morning the jury of nine men and three women is expected to hear from medical and psychological experts who will testify as rebuttal witnesses for the state. Tracy was found guilty by the jury last month of capital murder in the July 15, 2015, death of Correctional Officer Timothy Davison.
The final defense witness to take the stand Monday afternoon was psychologist Jolie Brams Ph.D., who testified under questioning from Mount Pleasant, Texas, defense attorney Mac Cobb. Brams testified that she reviewed Tracy's school records, available medical and psychological records, prison records, and interviewed Tracy's mother and Tracy.
Brams said Tracy's parents met while both were patients in a psychiatric facility and that Tracy's paternal grandparents met under similar circumstances. Brams described Tracy's mother as narcissistic and unavailable and his father as an extremely violent substance abuser.
Brams testified Tracy's parents were ill equipped to be parents and as a result, Tracy and his older sister were unable to form the bonds and attachments necessary for a healthy mind. Brams said the chaos and stress of Tracy's childhood is compounded by the "broken brain" other defense experts testified is evident on brain scans which show Tracy has a cyst in an area responsible for regulating emotion and inhibition.
Brams said that at age 6, Tracy tested in the top percentile of students but that several years later he showed a marked decrease in performance. Brams said Tracy's mother committed him to a now defunct psychiatric institute when he was 12 and that while there Tracy was over-medicated and was not given any help transitioning home upon release. Brams said Tracy desperately needed intervention which he never received as a child.
Tracy was sentenced to prison time when he was 17 for retaliation after being kicked out of the house by his mother at 16. Brams said the 18-month prison stay Tracy did as a youthful offender likely made him more aggressive and mistrusting and that today, young offenders in Texas prisons are separated from older inmates and participate in programs and educational classes meant to help them succeed.
Brams said Tracy expressed to her that he knows "there is something wrong with me," but until he underwent the testing which showed his brain abnormality, he had no explanation. Brams said Tracy is "aging out of violence" and that Tracy wants to change.
Brams said Tracy self-reported a serious head injury at age six for which he required hospitalization. Under cross-examination from Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp, Brams was asked about letters to Tracy from his mother in which she states that he never suffered a head injury and was never hospitalized.
Crisp queried Brams about Tracy's ability to go long stretches of time without assaulting prison staff when good behavior will get him something he wants, such as a visit with his father prior to his 2012 death.
During cross examination, Brams testified that she doesn't want to see Tracy "in the free world." When Crisp pointed out the staff and other inmates with whom Tracy may cross paths, Brams said she is not a security expert.
Cobb rested the defense's case following Brams' testimony Monday afternoon.
Outside the jury's presence, 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart addressed several defense motions Monday. Lockhart denied a motion from the defense for the court to take the case from the jury's hands and impose a sentence of life without parole because of mental disability. Lockhart took testimony from a number of Texas Department of Criminal Justice and court staff after Cobb complained that a male juror has engaged in misconduct.
Cobb argued that the juror winked and gave a "thumbs up" toward the prosecution table where Crisp and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards are seated the day the jury returned a verdict of guilty to capital murder. Lockhart and Crisp have both said they did not see any such conduct and Monday, Lockhart asked Richards, District Attorneys Office Investigator Aaron Ragland and multiple TDCJ staff about their observations. A number of officers who've been in court in street clothes throughout the trial testified that they have not seen any jurors communicate with the prosecution. Current Telford Unit Warden Garth Parker and TDCJ Office of Inspector General Investigator Michael Horn, who led the investigation into Davison's murder, testified as well that they have observed nothing improper from the jury.
Lockhart denied Cobb's request for a mistrial or to have the juror in question dismissed. Lockhart said that even if a juror had winked or made a thumbs up, such doesn't constitute misconduct and ruled that the allegation hasn't been proved to the court.
Shortly before adjouring court for the day, Lockhart asked Crisp how many rebuttal witnesses the state intends to call beginning Tuesday morning.
"I have three your honor," Crisp said.
Cobb said Tracy, who testified during the guilt/innocence phase of his trial, has decided not to take the stand during the sentencing phase. The case is expected to be in the jury's hands by the end of the week.