Speed up State Appeals! HPD cop killers ‘enjoy’ living an average of 22 years longer than the men they killed

Tom Kennedy

EIGHT INDIVIDUALS CURRENTLY RESIDE ON TEXAS’ Death Row awaiting the jury-mandated punishment for wantonly killing a Houston police officer.

As prosecutors always point out: these men are entitled to the most extreme version of due process since their lives are at stake. No one wants an innocent man to become a victim of the ultimate punishment under Texas law.

Yes, but:

The state and federal appeals process almost always takes many years, usually decades. For the last 10 years the Badge & Gun has kept close tabs on the timeframes of the appellate process of Houston’s cop killers. The math we do is based on the number of years the convicted killers – all of whom used hand guns – have been allowed to live from the date of their capital crime until today.

In 2007, the average number of years of life was 13 years. By 2013 it grew to 18 years. Today, in the summer of 2017, it’s just more than 22 years – and growing.

Given these circumstances, few anti-death-penalty advocates could argue that due process is not being administered, good and proper.

We don’t argue against that crucial right that is constitutionally protected. However, we have to wonder why the Legislature – with its much-appreciated commitment to law enforcement officers across Texas – doesn’t properly enhance laws affecting the appeals of those convicted of the capital murder of law enforcement officers TO SPEED UP THE STATE APPELLATE PROCESS.

Right to a speedy trial is one thing. We need the right to a speedy capital murder appeal.

Too frequently we see such cases languishing on the agenda of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Alas, appellate attorneys are known to work too slowly. Consequently, it takes years to duly process appeals at the state level before the usually-unsuccessful appellant is then entitled to access the federal courts. And we don’t have to tell you how long that process can take.

At this point let us recount the case of “the granddaddy of Death Row inmates” who is there as the result of murdering an HPD officer. Arthur L. Williams killed Detective Daryl W. Shirley on April 28, 1982 – 35 years ago! The Williams/Shirley case has been scoured with a fine-tooth appellate comb through the state and federal process until most recently a federal court reversed the case on a jury charge error. This means another technicality remanded the case to state court for a new punishment hearing.

Guess what? No hearing has been set yet.

State lawmakers should be more mindful of appellate court agendas and do more to ensure prompt movement of capital murder cases involving law enforcement officers. Technicalities have enabled Detective Shirley’s killer to take in 35 years of life since his capital crime. It’s time the Legislature messed with those technicalities enough to speed up the time it’s taking Shirley’s family – and his HPD family – to see justice done.