Closing arguments set to begin in trial
The decision on punishment for inmate in guard’s death may come as soon as today
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.