Clos­ing ar­gu­ments set to be­gin in trial

The de­ci­sion on pun­ish­ment for in­mate in guard’s death may come as soon as to­day

Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn LaRowe

NEW BOS­TON, Texas—A Bowie County jury is ex­pected to hear clos­ing ar­gu­ments and be­gin de­lib­er­a­tions this morn­ing in the trial of a Texas in­mate fac­ing a pos­si­ble death sen­tence in the 2015 fa­tal beat­ing of a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer.

Billy Joel Tracy, 39, be­came ag­i­tated dur­ing the tes­ti­mony of the state’s fi­nal wit­ness, Texarkana neu­ro­sur­geon Marc Smith. Smith and two other ex­perts who tes­ti­fied Tues­day re­futed tes­ti­mony from de­fense ex­perts who said Tracy can’t be held wholly li­able for his re­peated acts of vi­o­lence be­cause he has a “bro­ken brain.”

Tracy was con­victed last month of cap­i­tal mur­der in the July 15, 2015, blud­geon­ing of Cor­rec­tional Of­fi­cer Ti­mothy Dav­i­son at the Barry Telford Unit in New Bos­ton. Tracy man­aged to slip free of his hand­cuffs, at­tack Dav­i­son, and beat him into un­con­scious­ness with a metal tray slot bar at the end of a rou­tine es­cort from recre­ation back to cell 66 in ad­min­is­tra­tive seg­re­ga­tion.

“I’m not qual­i­fied to tell you how he got that way,” Smith said of Tracy’s propen­sity for vi­o­lence. “I am qual­i­fied to tell you it didn’t come from his brain struc­ture.”

Smith said the “arach­noid cyst” present in an area on the right side of Tracy’s brain ev­i­dent in MRI and PET scans does not ex­plain mur­der, un­der di­rect ques­tion­ing from As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Kel­ley Crisp and cross ex­am­i­na­tion by de­fense lawyer Mac Cobb. Smith said he rou­tinely sees sim­i­lar cysts in peo­ple who func­tion nor­mally and re­quire no med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion what­so­ever.

Psy­chi­a­trist Mitchell Dunn tes­ti­fied un­der ques­tion­ing from As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Lau­ren Richards that he eval­u­ated Tracy in 1998 prior to a trial in Rock­wall County in connection with the bru­tal as­sault of a 16-year-old girl and again in Septem­ber. Dunn said his di­ag­no­sis of Tracy has not changed in 19 years and told the jury Tracy suf­fers from anti-so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der. Dunn said he ex­pressed the opinion in 1998 that Tracy had the ca­pac­ity to com­mit homi­cide and that he be­lieves Tracy con­tin­ues to be at risk of com­mit­ting vi­o­lent acts in the fu­ture.

Un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion by Cobb, Dunn said that a brain in­jury, a bad child­hood and an arach­noid cyst can­not ex­plain Tracy’s his­tory of “planned, preda­tory at­tacks” but con­ceded that the de­vel­op­ment of anti-so­cial per­son­al­i­ties may likely be a com­bi­na­tion of “na­ture and nur­ture.” Dunn said the per­son­al­ity dis­or­der oc­curs in 1 to 3 per­cent of the gen­eral pub­lic and in as high as 70 per­cent of prison pop­u­la­tions.

“I would dis­agree with the term ’bro­ken brain,’” Dunn said. “That is not a med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis.”

Dunn said an­ti­so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der is char­ac­ter­ized by a fail­ure to abide by so­cial norms, de­ceit­ful­ness and ma­nip­u­la­tion, im­pul­sive­ness, ag­gres­sion, a reck­less dis­re­gard for the safety of oth­ers and self and a lack of re­morse.

“They re­ally have no em­pa­thy,” Dunn said. “They blame other peo­ple. ‘It’s their fault, they shouldn’t have been such a sucker, or he had it com­ing to him.’”

Dunn used Tracy’s 2009 at­tack of Bri­an­lee Lo­mas as an ex­am­ple. Tracy per­ma­nently dis­fig­ured Lo­mas by slash­ing his face with a weapon fash­ioned from ra­zor blades and told an in­ves­ti­ga­tor he did so be­cause a cap­tain had been screen­ing his mail.

“He’s like a kid in high school who gets in trou­ble and then keys the prin­ci­pal’s car,” Dunn said. “He used Lo­mas as an ob­ject. What he did to him was no dif­fer­ent than key­ing some­body’s car.”

Dunn said Tracy dis­agrees with the di­ag­no­sis of anti-so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der be­cause he cares about the men­tally ill and be­cause he doesn’t harm an­i­mals.

Foren­sic psy­chol­o­gist and neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Ran­dall Price tes­ti­fied that his eval­u­a­tion of Tracy led him to con­clude Tracy is not suf­fer­ing from an in­tel­lec­tual or neu­ro­log­i­cal deficit. Price said Tracy is of av­er­age in­tel­li­gence and well above av­er­age in cer­tain ar­eas of “ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing” which re­quire com­plex prob­lem solv­ing.

Price agreed with Dunn that Tracy’s di­ag­no­sis is an­ti­so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der. Price said the de­fense ex­perts’ fo­cus on ab­nor­mal brain scan re­sults as the driv­ing force be­hind Tracy’s vi­o­lence doesn’t com­port with the test­ing of Tracy he per­formed in Septem­ber. Price said struc­ture doesn’t al­ways equal func­tion.

“My opinion is that he will com­mit fu­ture acts of vi­o­lence in the world and in prison, ei­ther one. That’s my opinion,” Price said. “The sheer num­ber of as­saults over the years ex­ceeds that of any in­mate I’ve ever stud­ied.”

Smith said that while he is not an ex­pert in psy­chol­ogy or psy­chi­a­try, his knowl­edge as a prac­tic­ing neu­ro­sur­geon leads him to be­lieve that an ab­nor­mal brain is not what has driven Tracy to com­mit re­peated se­ri­ous acts of vi­o­lence.

“The struc­tural ab­nor­mal­i­ties in his brain ab­so­lutely do not con­trib­ute to the way he be­haves,” Smith said. “I think it’s more along the lines of an­ti­so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der.”

Smith said he re­fused an of­fer from the state to bill for his time.

“Not in a crim­i­nal case,” Smith said. “I’m not a pro­fes­sional wit­ness. I’d have a tough time pre­sent­ing my­self as un­bi­ased if I’m get­ting paid.”

Crisp asked Smith to iden­tify the most se­ri­ous med­i­cal is­sue he was able to iden­tify from re­view­ing years of Tracy’s prison med­i­cal records and test­ing per­formed by de­fense ex­perts.

“Der­mati­tis,” Smith said, prompt­ing Crisp to ask, “He itches?”

Af­ter the state and de­fense rested and closed their cases Tues­day af­ter­noon, 102nd Dis­trict Judge Bobby Lock­hart in­structed the jury to re­turn to court Wed­nes­day morn­ing to hear clos­ing ar­gu­ments and be­gin de­lib­er­a­tions. Tracy faces life with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role or death by lethal in­jec­tion. The jury’s de­ci­sion on pun­ish­ment could come to­day.

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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