March 01, 2010

Texas Death Row Prisoner in Need of Counsel

The Project is seeking counsel for “RG,”  an unrepresented Texas Death Row prisoner in his federal habeas proceedings.  According to testimony by law enforcement officials, RG, while in custody on an unrelated matter, told authorities that he had information about a woman who had gone missing two years earlier.  Testimony reflected that RG then led authorities to the place where the victim’s body was found.  The only other evidence connecting RG to the murder was several conflicting  statements he made to authorities.   

During the sentencing phase of the case, the State introduced purported expert opinion from a psychologist that RG would be a future danger.  RG’s direct appeal counsel complained that the use of this controversial evidence violated RG’s right to due process when it was admitted absent any evidence of its scientific validity. 

The appeals court upheld the admissibility of this expert testimony under the federal constitution. Unusually for a Texas capital case, however, one Judge dissented on the issue. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice website reflects that RG has a seventh-grade education.  It is unknown whether RG is a person with mental retardation.  It is believed that little to no extra-record investigation of either the offense or RG’s life history in mitigation has occurred at either the trial or state post-conviction stages.  In state  post-conviction proceedings, a seven-page habeas application was filed on RG’s behalf, and it was ruled on by the trial court one month later.  

Given RG’s reported lack of education, mental retardation is a possibility that requires investigation. Such an investigation has ramifications not only for sentencing (which could render RG ineligible for the death penalty) but, because the case depended almost in its entirety on RG’s own uncounseled custodial statements made to law enforcement, for the conviction as well.  

RG’s case has received extremely brief consideration by the Texas courts. It is highly unlikely that this is because there are no meritorious issues in the case, but because he has been represented by lackluster counsel who did little or no investigation into the case or RG’s background. The need for volunteer counsel who can conduct a thorough investigation is extremely urgent and work should begin immediately. Briefing is due on February 22, 2011. 

If your firm is interested in learning more about this case, please contact Staff Attorney Emily Williams at