Appeals court hears arguments in Williamson County death penalty case


Highlights

Defense: Evidence insufficient against Steven Thomas, convicted in the 1980 slaying of Mildred McKinney.

Prosecutor: Fingerprint and DNA proved Thomas was at crime scene at home of the 73-year-old McKinney.

A defense lawyer for a man given the death penalty for a Williamson County killing argued before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday that the evidence used to convict Steven Alan Thomas did not prove he committed the crime.

A Williamson County jury convicted Thomas of capital murder in October 2014 and sentenced him to death for the sexual assault and strangulation of 73-year-old Mildred McKinney in 1980.

Defense lawyer Ariel Payan said Wednesday that Thomas’ fingerprint, which was found on the back of a clock in McKinney’s bedroom, could have been there because Thomas worked for a pesticide company that had been to her house.

Payan also said Thomas’ sperm was found on a piece of medical tape wrapped around one of McKinney’s thumbs but that did not prove he sexually assaulted her. McKinney also had DNA inside of her from three other unknown men, he said.

The same arguments about how the evidence could not prove Thomas’ guilt were made by his lawyers during his trial.

Payan also said Wednesday the testimony of a jailhouse snitch during Thomas’ trial could not be confirmed and should have been inadmissible. The inmate, Steven Shockey, told a jury that Thomas told him about being high on cocaine, breaking into a house, having to restrain a woman before she got out of bed and taking money and jewelry.

Williamson County Assistant District Attorney John Prezas, who was representing the state on the appeal, said the physical evidence alone was enough to convict Thomas without Shockey’s testimony. The clock that had Thomas’ fingerprint on it was found in the middle of McKinney’s bed near some of the cord used to tie her up, Prezas said.

He also said Thomas’ sperm was found not on medical tape but on a ribbon tied around McKinney’s thumb that was used to restrain her hands. Prezas also questioned whether Thomas had been to McKinney’s house when he worked for his brother’s pesticide company. Thomas’ brother testified during the trial that McKinney was one of their clients but he didn’t have records that showed Thomas made a service call to her house, Prezas said.

By state law, every death penalty case is automatically sent to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

“The litigants can request oral argument or not,” Payan said after the hearing. “I almost always do, and it is usually granted but not always.”

It was unclear Wednesday when the judges would make a decision.



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