Appeals court upholds inmate's life sentence, denies incompentency claim

Steve Korris Apr. 29, 2009, 5:56pm

Justice Hollis Horton

Jeffrey Lasiter killed a stranger, apologized to God and drank enough water to damage his brain, but Montgomery County jurors found him competent to stand trial and appeals judges at the Ninth District in Beaumont have upheld their decision.

On April 15, Chief Justice Steve McKeithen and Justices Hollis Horton and Charles Kreger denied a bid to overturn Lasiter's sentence of life in prison.

The justices rejected a theory that jurors should have declared him incompetent because psychologists for the state and the defense both declared him incompetent.

The theory failed because one psychologist connected his incompetence to psychosis and the other connected it to brain damage.

"In this case, the jury resolved the conflicts in the experts' respective opinions and chose to believe that Lasiter was not psychotic and that his brain injury did not render him unable to assist in his defense," Horton wrote.

Texas law declares a criminal defendant incompetent if he lacks sufficient ability to communicate with counsel and lacks a rational understanding of the proceedings.

A defense lawyer can hold a competency trial prior to a criminal trial. Jurors at a competency trial cannot know what charge the defendant faces.

Lasiter shot Kasey Davis at close range with a deer rifle at an apartment complex in Conroe. Lasiter walked to his truck and drove away.

A police officer soon stopped him. Lasiter said the man he shot worked for the CIA and the FBI and they harmed his family. He apologized to God and asked to go to jail.

According to the opinion, in jail "Lasiter drank an extraordinary amount of water and sustained a significant brain injury."

He lost consciousness and briefly required life support. The injury impaired his speech.

Psychologist Steven Rosenblatt examined Lasiter for the state and concluded he was competent, but after a second visit he concluded Lasiter wasn't competent.

Dr. Victor Scarano examined Lasiter for the defense and concluded he wasn't competent.

At the competency trial Rosenblatt testified that on his second examination, a letter in Lasiter's possession tipped his judgment.
Rosenblatt said it expressed "hyper religious content and rambling content which had a paranoid flavor to it."

But Scarano testified that due to brain injury, Lasiter had a factual understanding of the proceedings but not a rational understanding.

He said Lasiter couldn't process information fast enough to track what happened in the courtroom.

He said Lasiter's lawyer would wind up as a guardian of sorts.

Five jail workers painted a different picture.

One said she understood Lasiter perfectly and he made eye contact.

One said he completed Scantron sheets to order meals. Another said he kept a very organized cell, another that he communicated his needs and caused no problems.

One said he had no problem communicating but was quiet and kept to himself.

"On this record, the jury may have believed that Lasiter was not currently suffering from psychotic thought, agreeing in part with Dr. Scarano, and that Lasiter's brain injury did not render him incompetent, agreeing in part with Dr. Rosenblatt," Horton wrote.

He wrote, "The relevant time frame for determining a person's competency is at the time of the proceedings, not the time of the offense."

The opinion does not identify the judge who held the competency trial. District Judge Kathleen Hamilton accepted Lasiter's plea and sentenced him.

Bill Delmore represented the state. Kaye Ellis Stone represented Lasiter.

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