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David Robert Steiner

NEW BOSTON, Texas — A Barry Telford Unit inmate received a life sentence Thursday from a Bowie County jury in connection with a 2016 assault on a correctional officer.

David Robert Steiner Jr., 40, was found guilty of assault on a peace officer, aggravated assault on a peace officer and possession of a deadly weapon in a penal institution shortly before noon Thursday after about 20 minutes of jury deliberation.

After hearing testimony concerning the punishment Steiner should receive for his attack on Correctional Officer Louis Jaralillo in a dayroom of the prison Nov. 10, 2016, the jury returned a life sentence for the aggravated assault and two, 20-year terms on each of the other charges.

Jaralillo and his co-workers were completing an inmate count in Building 7 when Steiner asked to be let into his cell, witnesses testified and surveillance video showed.

When Jaralillo told the inmate he'd have to wait until the count was completed — as prison policy dictates — Steiner waited until the officer's back was turned and struck him in the back of the head several times.

After Jaralillo sprayed Steiner in the face with a chemical agent, Steiner ran to a shower area of H pod and pulled a six-to-seven-inch rod, which was sharpened to a point at one end and bent to form a handle at the other.

As Jaralillo motions for the officer in the pickett to open a secure door, Steiner approaches him from behind, swiping toward the officer as Jaralillo narrowly makes it to safety on the other side of the door.

The jury rejected an argument from Steiner's defense team, state public defenders Ndubisi Ogbodo and Caren Presley, that Steiner felt the attack was necessary. Ogbodo and Presley argued that Steiner feared he would be raped or killed in general population at Telford and thought attacking an officer would effect his transfer to a different unit in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Thursday afternoon, Office of Inspector General Investigator Michael Horn chronicled Steiner's prior felony convictions under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards.

Steiner's three convictions Thursday brought his total felony judgments to eight. Steiner's life sentence will run consecutively to the time he was already serving when he attacked Jaralillo, 102nd District Judge Jeff Addison ordered at the end of the trial.

Steiner is serving two concurrent 30-year sentences for murder and a 20-year sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon connected to a May 2012 flight from federal Border Patrol agents near Comstock, Texas. As Steiner fled from agents in a stolen truck at speeds reaching 100, he crossed the center line and struck a small passenger car head-on, killing two occupants and injuring a third.

That fatal crash is at the root of the state sentences that landed Steiner in Telford. Steiner's conduct in 2012 also resulted in a 20-year federal term for charging at border patrol agents in the truck.

Border Patrol Agent Louis Valdez testified under questioning from Charles Breaux of the state's Special Prosecution Unit that he was wary of the man sitting behind the wheel of an old maroon truck at a border checkpoint May 25, 2012, near Comstock because of the look in the man's eyes and his tight, "white knuckle," grip on the steering wheel. Not long after the truck passed through the checkpoint, it was pulled over by one of Valdez' fellow agents and Valdez responded to assist in an area known for narcotics and migrant trafficking.

Steiner fled the stop at a high speed on U.S. Highway 90 after giving Valdez nonsensical responses about the truck's owner and some lawn equipment in the truck's bed. Valdez and other agents were unable to keep up with Steiner as he drove into the small community of Langtry, Texas. Valdez and an agent in a different, marked Border Patrol SUV blocked the road with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

"I saw him stand up in the truck and push that gas pedal as hard as he could. He was coming right for us, he was going to ram us," Valdez testified.

Valdez and his fellow agent had to maneuver off the roadway to avoid being struck as the small truck flew by at a dangerous speed. Valdez called for backup and a helicopter as the truck traveled down the highway. As law enforcement coordinated, Valdez came upon a horrible scene.

A small white Nissan passenger car was mangled in the roadway and the truck was smoking nearby. Valdez said a woman in the front seat of a small, white Nissan looked at him and he assured her he'd be right back as he checked on a woman in the rear seat.

"Her eyes were wide open but there was no life. I'd never seen anything like that before," Valdez said. "I went back to the lady in the front. She looked at me and then slouched over to the driver's side."

The driver survived but suffered permanent injury, First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said. The driver and his wife were traveling to Laredo, Texas, to drop off the wife's mother before heading to Corpus Christi, Texas, for the honeymoon they'd put off for years. The woman and her mother perished at the scene.

Valdez said agents from another sector with emergency medical training arrived and began working on the civilian driver and Steiner. The horrific experience led Valdez to undergo emergency medical training himself so that if needed, he could provide a higher level of medical assistance in the future.

Border Patrol Agent David Kahn testified that he responded to assist and arrived on the scene in time to pull Steiner from the cab of the burning truck, after hearing Valdez say on the raido, "We have two angels."

"He was conscious, aware," Kahn said of Steiner. "He looked at the passenger car and he asked if anyone was dead. I said, 'Yes. Two.' He said he was sorry and just kind of shrugged his shoulders."

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper David Miller testified under questioning from Crisp that he was further down the highway, hoping to use a spike strip to deflate the truck's tires, when he realized the pursuit had ended badly. Miller was tasked with placing the crushed, lifeless remains of the two dead passengers in body bags.

Miller said the truck's passenger side struck the small Nissan's passenger side with such force that it spun the car around and knocked the engine block into a rocky area on the side of the highway.

Correctional Officer Cody Sallee testified about his experiences when Steiner was housed at the Coeffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, Texas. Sallee testified that Steiner threatened to "set him up" with contraband when Sallee wouldn't violate prison policy.

"As I began to walk away, he said, 'One of these days they will let me out of these prison gates and when they do, you'll be staring down the barrel of a .45. And when I'm done with you I'm coming for your wife and kids," Sallee testified.

In her closing remarks, Richards spoke of Steiner's disregard for human life and public servants in particular.

"He ends up murdering two people and for what," Richards asked the jury. "A stolen truck and a couple of weed eaters?"

Richards and Crisp asked the jury to let Steiner, and other inmates considering attacks on their keepers, know that such behavior won't be tolerated.

"I can't imagine how it can get more chilling than that federal agent telling what David Steiner did when he learned two people had died," Crisp said. "He killed a wife and her mother and he shrugged his shoulders? Is that a candidate for rehabilitation? A good person would be crying, begging God for forgiveness. This is despicable and disgusting behavior."

Crisp spoke too of the resources expended at Texas prisons addressing Steiner's frivolous claim that his assault on Jaralillo was necessary.

"This is ridiculous," Crisp argued. "This whole thing is a sham and y'all saw through it."

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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