A Bill for 17-Year-Old Capital Murderers Died in the Pile-Up Behind Wendy Davis' Filibuster
Last night, Senator Wendy Davis' epic filibuster against an antediluvian piece of abortion legislation was ended because Roe v. Wade apparently isn't "germane." So, the "unruly mob" up in the gallery finished the job for her. The votes could not be counted in the din before the special session ended.
Senate Bill 5 wasn't the only bill that expired when the clock struck midnight. Currently, there is no constitutional punishment for 17-year-old capital murderers in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that juveniles -- anyone under the age of 18 -- can't receive automatic life sentences without parole. In Texas, the only sentence for 17-year-old capital murders is mandatory life without parole. So, if you're the Parker County District Attorney and you've got a capital defendant of a certain age scheduled to go to trial next month, you were probably rather hoping legislators would resolve the matter. But legislation to provide for a life sentence with parole withered. There is a local kid to whom this means something:
Jake Evans, an affluent Aledo teen, allegedly murdered his mother and little sister, then calmly phoned 911 and told the operator, "I've been kind of planning on killing for a while now."
There are a dozen cases like his in Houston. But because Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst wouldn't put the bill up for a vote before the abortion legislation designed to effectively shutter just about every clinic in the state, it was scuttled due to an eminently foreseeable filibuster.
Before that, the House tacked on an amendment that would allow for life sentences with or without parole. The option to lock them up forever would remain on the table, but it would allow the state to pass constitutional muster. Problem is, the bill first had to go back to the Senate, which was then in the throes of an episode that could launch a political career into the stratosphere.
What's next? Well, Dewhurst has intimated that yet another special session is all but certain. Governor Rick Perry's office won't say. In the courtroom, all bets are off.
"Honestly, no one really knows. There are some prosecutors who think they can still try to seek a capital murder conviction, but they know there's no sentence for it, and the issue would be thrown to appellate court to decide what to do," said the Texas District and County Attorneys Association's Shannon Edmonds. "Other prosecutors don't think that's a viable option, and instead fear being forced to proceed on lesser crimes with lesser punishments."
For example, if a defendant killed someone during a robbery, the prosecutor must choose between the crimes. He or she might go after them on the aggravated robbery because it's an easier conviction to get. But they'll also incur the wrath of a victim's family, which might feel slighted. And there's no guarantee the defendant will get the maximum punishment, or won't be up for parole in five years.
In Evans' case, the district attorney could try him for the alleged murder of his mother and sister separately. "If you try them separately, it's the only way you can stack (the sentences)," Edmonds says.