HOUSTON, Texas – Defense lawyers for a man charged with executing a Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy attempt to avoid their client receiving a lethal injection by engaging in a smear campaign against the murdered victim. A defense lawyer for the man charged denies that he tried to smear the deputy.
Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth was executed at a Chevron service station in Houston at about 8:30 p.m. CDT on Friday, August 28th. The officer was in uniform at the station and was driving a marked patrol vehicle. Initial accounts conflicted as to whether the officer was fueling his patrol car at the time of his murder, or if he was walking out of the convenience store. Official information, confirmed by Breitbart Texas on Tuesday, reveals that Deputy Goforth just left the store and was walking towards his patrol vehicle when he was shot.
Eyewitnesses reported that a black male wearing a t-shirt and shorts walked up behind the officer and shot him in the head and in the back. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson later revealed that the alleged cop-killer shot the deputy 15 times, as reported by Breitbart Texas.
Breitbart Texas traveled to the scene immediately after the execution of the deputy, interviewed witnesses, and reported when police took a “person of interest” into custody. Breitbart Texas also determined the identity of the suspect prior to his name being officially released by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and published an article within minutes of the official announcement.
Anthony Osso, a defense lawyer for the defendant, told Breitbart Texas that the defense will assert as one of the defenses that the officer was not engaging in the lawful discharge of an official duty at the time he was murdered.
The issue raised as to whether the defense can argue that the officer went to the Chevron gas station to meet a woman there rather than as part of his official duties.
Texas law provides for the death sentence in cases where police officers act in the lawful discharge of an official duty and the murderer knows the victim as a peace officer or fireman. The law considers this capital murder and the offense carries the possibility of a sentence of death by lethal injection.
According to the Brady Disclosure filed by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the “female eyewitness to the Capital Murder of a Police Officer, namely Darren Goforth … told officers of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department that she had a romantic relationship with the decedent during the preceding 15 months.”
The notice states that prosecutors gave defense lawyer Anthony Osso a copy of the witness’ statements made to investigators, and a copy of the polygraph examination report. There has been no publicly-released evidence to support the woman’s alleged claim.
Osso told Breitbart Texas, “From the very inception we thought there was a witness we needed to locate.” He said that media broadcasts mentioned a woman but then there were no further reports on the issue.
The defense attorney said his investigators looked into this alleged witness. He then talked to prosecutors, who promised to look into it. Ozzo told Breitbart Texas that during his initial conversation with the State, prosecutors said they lacked awareness of this person but after they looked into it, the State filed the Brady notice.
Texas law mandates that prosecutors “shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.” The United States Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland held that suppression by the prosecution of evidence that is favorable to a criminal defendant violates constitutional due process where the evidence is favorable to the accused’s guilt or punishment. Prosecutors must provide any evidence to the criminal defense that is potentially exculpatory that is found during their investigation.
The prosecution chose to publicly file the Brady disclosure. Brady notices are generally not filed with the court, prosecutors give them to defense lawyers.
Defendant’s counsel Anthony Osso specifically denied that the defense was trying to “smear” the deputy. He told Breitbart Texas, “I am not looking to smear the name of the deputy, he is not here to defend himself, but I do have a duty to represent my client.”
Breitbart Texas asked Osso about his legal argument to the capital murder charge as defined in section 19.03(1) of the Texas Penal Code, i.e., that capital murder is defined there as the murder of a peace officer or fireman who is acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty and who the person knows is a peace officer or fireman.
Osso told Breitbart Texas that the definition of “acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty” is not very clear under Texas law. He said that the issue “is open to a lot of interpretation.” He questioned whether wearing a uniform was enough and said that the who, when, where, and why, had to be determined. Osso added that this defense strategy will “not be the whole defense.”
Breitbart Texas’ Bob Price spoke with Harris County Sheriff’s spokesman Ralph Gonzales, who addressed this defense argument. Gonzales responded that Goforth was on a scheduled shift, he was in a marked patrol car, in his patrol sector, and he was wearing a uniform.
The spokesman for the Harris County’s Sheriff’s Office told Breitbart Texas that whether Goforth was at the gas station and convenience store to buy a soft drink or to pump gas, he was on duty. Moreover, the gas receptacle of the patrol car was on the same side as the pump when the patrol car was parked at the gas station and the car was positioned in a way that it either had been fueled or could be fueled.
Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman told Breitbart Texas that the Chevron station is a common gas refueling location for deputies that work in the area. Breitbart Texas has been to that location on several occasions since the shooting. On every occasion, deputies were present. Often, they appeared to be purchasing food, drinks or fuel.
Other possible defenses in the case include the defendant’s mental health at the time of the murder. As reported by Breitbart Texas, the alleged killer, Shannon Miles, was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in 2012 in a criminal case. Miles was later found competent to stand trial in the assault case but the charges were dropped. as the alleged victim, a homeless man, could not be found to testify.
Miles’ attorney in the Austin assault case, Jon Evans, was reported to have said that Miles’ mother told him in 2012 that her son had a lifelong history of mental illness. She allegedly told him at the time of the trial that her son had “suffered from severe mental illness.” The Austin defense lawyer was reported to have not elaborated beyond that, citing privacy issues.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and an associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2