De­fense makes at­tempt to ex­plain Billy Joel Tracy’s men­tal state

Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn LaRowe

NEW BOS­TON, Texas—The de­fense rested its case Mon­day in the pun­ish­ment phase of trial for Billy Joel Tracy, a Texas prison in­mate fac­ing a pos­si­ble death sen­tence for the fa­tal beat­ing of a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer at the Barry Telford Unit in New Bos­ton.

Tracy was found guilty by the jury last month of cap­i­tal mur­der in the July 15, 2015, death of Cor­rec­tional Of­fi­cer Ti­mothy Dav­i­son.

The fi­nal de­fense wit­ness to take the stand Mon­day af­ter­noon was psy­chol­o­gist Jolie Brams Ph.D., who tes­ti­fied un­der ques­tion­ing from Mount Pleas­ant, Texas, de­fense at­tor­ney Mac Cobb. Brams tes­ti­fied that she re­viewed Tracy’s school records, avail­able med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal records, prison records, and in­ter­viewed Tracy’s mother and Tracy.

Brams said Tracy’s par­ents met while both were pa­tients in a psy­chi­atric fa­cil­ity and that Tracy’s pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents met un­der sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances. Brams de­scribed Tracy’s mother as nar­cis­sis­tic and un­avail­able and his fa­ther as an ex­tremely vi­o­lent sub­stance abuser.

Brams tes­ti­fied Tracy’s par­ents were ill equipped to be par­ents and as a re­sult, Tracy and his older sis­ter were un­able to form the bonds and at­tach­ments nec­es­sary for a healthy mind. Brams said the chaos and stress of Tracy’s child­hood is com­pounded by the “bro­ken brain” other de­fense ex­perts tes­ti­fied is ev­i­dent on brain scans which show Tracy has a cyst in an area re­spon­si­ble for reg­u­lat­ing emo­tion and in­hi­bi­tion.

Brams said that at age 6, Tracy tested in the top per­centile of stu­dents but that sev­eral years later he showed a marked de­crease in per­for­mance. Brams said Tracy’s mother com­mit­ted him to a now de­funct psy­chi­atric in­sti­tute when he was 12 and that while there Tracy was over-med­i­cated and was not given any help tran­si­tion­ing home upon re­lease. Brams said Tracy des­per­ately needed in­ter­ven­tion which he never re­ceived as a child.

Tracy was sen­tenced to prison time when he was 17 for re­tal­i­a­tion af­ter be­ing kicked out of the house by his mother at 16. Brams said the 18-month prison stay Tracy did as a youth­ful of­fender likely made him more ag­gres­sive and mis­trust­ing and that to­day, young of­fend­ers in Texas pris­ons are sep­a­rated from older in­mates and par­tic­i­pate in pro­grams and ed­u­ca­tional classes meant to help them suc­ceed.

Brams said Tracy ex­pressed to her that he knows “there is some­thing wrong with me,” but un­til he un­der­went the test­ing which showed his brain ab­nor­mal­ity, he had no ex­pla­na­tion. Brams said Tracy is “aging out of vi­o­lence” and that Tracy wants to change.

Brams said Tracy self-re­ported a se­ri­ous head in­jury at age 6 for which he re­quired hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. Un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion from As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Kel­ley Crisp, Brams was asked about let­ters to Tracy from his mother in which she states that he never suf­fered a head in­jury and was never hos­pi­tal­ized.

Crisp queried Brams about Tracy’s abil­ity to go long stretches of time with­out as­sault­ing prison staff when good be­hav­ior will get him some­thing he wants, such as a visit with his fa­ther prior to his 2012 death.

Dur­ing cross ex­am­i­na­tion, Brams tes­ti­fied that she doesn’t want to see Tracy “in the free world.” When Crisp pointed out the staff and other in­mates with whom Tracy may cross paths, Brams said she is not a se­cu­rity ex­pert.

Cobb rested the de­fense’s case fol­low­ing Brams’ tes­ti­mony Mon­day af­ter­noon.

Out­side the jury’s pres­ence, 102nd Dis­trict Judge Bobby Lock­hart ad­dressed sev­eral de­fense mo­tions Mon­day. Lock­hart de­nied a mo­tion from the de­fense for the court to take the case from the jury’s hands and im­pose a sen­tence of life with­out pa­role be­cause of men­tal dis­abil­ity. Lock­hart took tes­ti­mony from a num­ber of Texas De­part­ment of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice and court staff af­ter Cobb com­plained that a male ju­ror has en­gaged in mis­con­duct.

Cobb ar­gued that the ju­ror winked and gave a “thumbs up” to­ward the prose­cu­tion ta­ble where Crisp and As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Lau­ren Richards are seated the day the jury re­turned a ver­dict of guilty to cap­i­tal mur­der. Lock­hart and Crisp have both said they did not see any such con­duct and Mon­day, Lock­hart asked Richards, Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice In­ves­ti­ga­tor Aaron Ragland and mul­ti­ple TDCJ staff about their ob­ser­va­tions. A num­ber of of­fi­cers who’ve been in court in street clothes through­out the trial tes­ti­fied that they have not seen any ju­rors com­mu­ni­cate with the prose­cu­tion.

Cur­rent Telford Unit War­den Garth Parker and TDCJ Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral In­ves­ti­ga­tor Michael Horn, who led the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Dav­i­son’s mur­der, tes­ti­fied as well that they have ob­served noth­ing im­proper from the jury.

Lock­hart de­nied Cobb’s re­quest for a mis­trial or to have the ju­ror in ques­tion dis­missed. Lock­hart said that even if a ju­ror had winked or made a thumbs up, such doesn’t con­sti­tute mis­con­duct and ruled that the al­le­ga­tion hasn’t been proved to the court.

Shortly be­fore ad­jour­ing court for the day, Lock­hart asked Crisp how many re­but­tal wit­nesses the state in­tends to call be­gin­ning Tues­day morn­ing.

“I have three your honor,” Crisp said.

Cobb said Tracy, who tes­ti­fied dur­ing the guilt/in­no­cence phase of his trial, has de­cided not to take the stand dur­ing the sen­tenc­ing phase. The case is ex­pected to be in the jury’s hands by the end of the week.

Staff file photo by Evan Lewis

Billy Joel Tracy’s lead de­fense at­tor­ney, Mac Cobb of Mount Pleas­ant, stands as he dis­cusses is­sues re­lated to wit­nesses ex­pected to tes­tify for the de­fense at a hear­ing Nov. 8 be­fore 102nd Dis­trict Judge Bobby Lock­hart. Tracy, in glasses, is seated at the de­fense ta­ble with Texas De­part­ment of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice staff nearby. Tracy is fac­ing a pos­si­ble death sen­tence in the July 2015 fa­tal beat­ing of Cor­rec­tional Of­fi­cer Ti­mothy Dav­i­son at the Barry Telford Unit in New Bos­ton, Texas.

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