A judge postponed a capital murder trial Monday after attorneys for Marcus Jerome Landrum argued that prosecutors failed to provide critical pieces of evidence to them, including DNA evidence that could prove favorable to Landrum.
Landrum, 32, who has a long history of mental illness, was set to stand trial Monday in Waco’s 19th State District Court in the January 2011 slaying of 70-year-old Santiago “James” Gonzalez at Gonzalez’s apartment on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Gonzalez suffered 26 stab wounds to the head, back and chest, and his Chihuahua was found impaled by an ornamental sword.
Landrum was found incompetent to stand trial because of chronic paranoid schizophrenia in December 2011, but since has been treated at a state hospital and has been deemed competent.
His attorneys, Russ Hunt Sr., Walter M. Reaves Jr. and Michelle Tuegel, asked Retired State District Judge George Allen on Monday morning to postpone the trial, claiming the state has not provided them with evidence, reports and photographs that the attorneys say they have long requested.
Allen initially denied the request and ordered jury selection to begin at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
But the attorneys re- argued their motion Monday afternoon and the judge postponed the trial until July 29.
“We have been provided a lot of materials, but we have not been given everything we have been asking for for quite some time and we had concerns about that, especially in light of the state passing those new Morton laws, where prosecutors are required to give us everything,” Hunt said.
Hunt was referring to the Michael Morton law, passed this year and named for the former grocery store manager who spent 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Morton was freed and declared innocent in October 2011 after DNA testing of a blue bandanna pointed to another man as the killer.
A prosecutor in the case, who is now a state district judge in Williamson County, was arrested April 20 after a judge found he intentionally hid evidence to secure Morton’s conviction in 1987.
The new law requires prosecutors to turn over all evidence to defense lawyers, including exculpatory evidence that could prove favorable to the defense.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said Monday that his office has complied with all discovery rules and has had an “open-file policy” regarding Landrum’s case.
He said if Landrum’s attorneys don’t think they were given access to the files or provided evidence to which they think they are entitled, there are legal ways to resolve those issues.
“My prosecutors basically turned over their trial notebook to them,” Reyna said. “That is what my prosecutors are going to present in court. If they think they are missing stuff, they have had total access to the stuff they are complaining about or the ability to request it since 2011. If we said no on anything, the process is to go to court and ask the judge to order us to produce it.
“The only time we have ever had any type of hearing regarding any type of discovery motion was this morning, when it was time for their client to face a McLennan County jury,” Reyna said.
Reyna said the judge granted the continuance out of an abundance of caution because appellate courts will review Landrum’s case thoroughly because of his mental health issues.
Hunt said the state failed to provide them with 30 or more supplemental police reports that were not in the DA’s files, a number of crime-scene photographs and the raw DNA data from which the state crime lab reached its conclusions.
Defense DNA and crime-scene and blood spatter experts are out of state, and Hunt said the reports were needed earlier so he could have shipped them to the experts instead of spending taxpayer dollars for the experts to fly to Waco to examine the records.
“We are not trying to spend the county’s money. We are trying to save them money,” Hunt said. “They agreed to give us the report, but they only gave us part of the DNA report. They gave us the conclusion, but they didn’t give us the information that you have to have to come up with that conclusion. In order for our expert to do his job, they have to have the data that was used to reach that conclusion.”
The state gave them 266 pages of raw DNA data Monday morning, Hunt said, providing little time for their expert to study it.
“We have been asking for any kind of evidence that might be exculpatory, especially, for a long time and just haven’t gotten it,” Hunt said. “We filed a motion for that. We were expecting them to do the right thing, and do what they were supposed to do, and they just provided us with this information today. We still don’t have some of the other things.”
Hunt said some of the DNA recovered from Gonzalez’s jacket is from an unknown person, meaning it didn’t come from Landrum or Gonzalez.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez’s niece, Jennifer Adame, and other family members who live in Northern California, were in Waco on Monday to attend the trial. Some flew and some drove, she said.
The postponement has caused them quite a hardship, she said, but they will return again next month.
“I think that this delay is just the family being victimized again, but this time by the defense attorneys,” Adame said. “I just don’t think it is right. I am not sure why they continued it, but I think it is just another stall tactic by the defense, and it just victimizes us again. Our emotions are running high and we came here thinking we are going to have closure, and 30 minutes before jury selection we are told the trial is delayed again. We are upset.”