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Friday, November 15, 2019

Justices find murder suspect was properly denied appointed counsel in civil suit

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Jul 29, 2019

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Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals Justice Margaret “Meg” Poissant | txcourts.gov

HOUSTON -- Despite a murder suspect's appeal and accusations that a lower court failed to appoint him adequate counsel, the Texas 14th Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling July 18.

Alex Erazo filed the appeal, alleging the Harris County District Court did not appoint counsel in a civil lawsuit. Erazo also asked the court to conduct a new autopsy as he was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and their unborn child. Still, the trial court sided with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, granting summary judgment. Erazo appealed and the current appeals court affirmed.

Although Erazo said the lower court erred when it failed to appoint him counsel, the appeals court pointed out, “The trial court’s Oct. 21, 2017, order denying Erazo’s request for appointment of counsel appears to specifically reference only Erazo’s misfiled request under federal law. However, the order also expressly addressed the issue of whether counsel should be appointed pursuant to Government Code Section 24.016, which Erazo had raised in his petition … the trial court’s explanation of its ruling in the order covered the arguments Erazo made in his petition.”

When it comes to whether the lower court erred in refusing to appoint counsel for Erazo, the appeals court disagreed with Erazo’s allegations that he can’t read or write in English and speaks mostly Spanish isn’t out of the ordinary. Plus, a convicted person asking for exoneration evidence also isn’t unusual either.

“Erazo had his day in court on his murder charge, and he had a partially successful appeal followed by another punishment trial and another appeal,” the appeals court ruled. Considering this, the lower court didn’t abuse its discretion when it refused to appoint Erazo counsel.

Justice Frances Bourliot ruled on the opinion and Justice Margaret “Meg” Poissant concurred. Chief Justice Kem Frost concurred in a separate opinion. Although Frost concurred with the judgment, she disagreed with the general analysis in the majority opinion. She said the court should first evaluate which requests the trial court settled on and decide if the lower court erred when it didn’t rule on some of the requests. She also said the appeals court should decide if the lower court erred in denying some of Erazo’s petitions.

Erazo was in court after he confessed to shooting his girlfriend in the head. An autopsy ruled the crime a homicide. Erazo was convicted and sentenced to life in prison and fined $10,000. Erazo filed an appeal and asked that the victim’s body be exhumed in Honduras and transported back to the U.S. for a new for a new autopsy to prove his claims that the shooting was an accident. In his first petition, he also asked for the court to appoint a counsel for him via the Texas Government Code Section 24.016. Still, the lower court denied this and said it didn’t have the authority to appoint counsel. It also granted summary judgment against Erazo, leading to his appeal.

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