NEW BOSTON, Texas — A Texas prison inmate serving time for murder is on trial this week in Bowie County for allegedly assaulting a correctional officer and possessing a homemade shank.
A jury of four men and eight women began hearing testimony Wednesday afternoon in the case of David Robert Steiner Jr., 40. He is accused of attacking Correctional Officer Louis Jaralillo in the dayroom Nov. 10, 2016, of H pod in Building 7 at the Telford Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in New Boston.
A video of the event played for the jury showed Steiner milling about the dayroom, speaking briefly to Jaralillo and then landing several blows with his fists before the officer deploys pepper spray in the inmate's face.
As Jaralillo motions to the officer, Kewana Bagby mans the building's pickett, a control center where doors are electronically opened and closed. Steiner runs into the pod's shower area and returns with a weapon First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp theorized was fashioned from a piece of a mop.
As the secure door of the pod opens slightly, Jarallilo manages to exit the dayroom as Steiner, right behind him, makes a swiping motion in the officer's direction seconds before the door closes, leaving Steiner in the dayroom and Jaralillo on the other side of the steel door.
Jaralillo and other correctional staff including Melinda Thomas, Jason Woolery, Kirk Brigance and Araceli Perez testified under questioning by Crisp and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards and under cross examination by state Public Defenders Ndubisi Ogbodo and Caren Pressley.
Thomas and other officers said Steiner stood in the dayroom with the piece of six-to-seven-inch metal in his hand and repeatedly ignored commands to drop the weapon after Jaralillo escaped the dayroom and a cadre of officers responded to a call for help from Bagby.
Woolery said that he immediately retrieved the shank when Steiner dropped it out of concern it might quickly disappear into the prison's general inmate population.
"There is nothing that is going to legally excuse his behavior," Crisp said in opening statements. "But then he comes up with a story about having problems which made the assault necessary."
In his opening statement, Ogbodo told the jury that Steiner was terrified that he was going to be raped or killed by gang members and attacked Jaralillo in hopes it would effect his transfer from Telford. Ogbodo said Steiner assaulted Jaralillo after the officer refused to let him enter his cell, as is prison policy during an ongoing inmate count.
A number of the correctional staff who testified said inmates fearful of other inmates can approach any staff member with concerns. Woolery testified that he would immediately notify a supervisor under such circumstances and mentioned that inmates concerned for their safety may refuse to enter their cell, prompting placement in a holding cell and an interview with a supervisor.
The state rested its case Wednesday afternoon. The jury was instructed by 102nd District Judge Jeff Addison to return to court Thursday morning when the defense will begin presenting evidence in support of its position that Steiner believed it was necessary to assault an officer for his own safety.
Steiner is currently serving concurrent sentences for two counts of murder and a single count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon he received in January 2014 in Terrell County. According to an Oct. 18, 2012, press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Texas, Steiner was being pursued by law enforcement after fleeing from a traffic stop in Comstock, Texas. Steiner charged at border patrol agents near Langtry, Texas, and hit a car being driven by a civilian head-on, killing two occupants and injuring a third. A stolen rifle, which Steiner was prohibited from possessing as a convicted felon, was found in Steiner's possession at the time of the fatal crash.
In addition to the state convictions for murder and assault, Steiner received a 20-year federal sentence which he has not yet begun serving.
Steiner is facing charges of assault on a public servant, aggravated assault on a public servant and possession of a deadly weapon in a penal institution in Bowie County. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.