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Attorney: Autism diagnosis could keep killer alive

Greenville Herald-Banner - 10/18/2018

Oct. 18--Attorneys at a Wednesday hearing differed over whether convicted murderer Micah Crofford Brown suffers from autism spectrum disorder and whether it would have saved his life before a jury sentenced him to death five years ago.

Brown was convicted in May 2013 of capital murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection for the 2011 shooting death of his ex-wife, Stella Michelle "Doc" Ray, a Caddo Mills school teacher.

Testimony in the evidentiary hearing for Brown's latest appeal ended in late July, and attorneys from both sides made their final arguments Wednesday morning before 196th District Court Judge Andrew Bench.

"Micah Brown deserves a new trial," said defense attorney Natalie Corvington with the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, which filed the appeal of Brown's death sentence.

But the prosecution's attorney, Tina Miranda of the Texas Attorney General's Office, countered that the trial attorneys may not have even considered presenting the diagnosis to the jury as part of the defense strategy.

"It is equally probable they could have found that harmful," Miranda said.

At the close of the hearing Bench said he would review the arguments before making a decision.

Testimony during the trial indicated Ray was shot and killed in Greenville on the night of July 20, 2011, as the result of a dispute with Brown concerning the couple's two children.

After the conviction and death sentence were upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a last-ditch appeal called a "post-conviction writ" was filed in 2015 by the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, a state public defender agency charged with representing convicts sentenced to death in appeals proceedings.

The 124-page document listed multiple alleged problems with Brown's conviction and sentence, including "ineffective assistance" by the defense attorneys in the trial and initial appeals hearings; "improper arguments" by prosecutors during the punishment phase; and failure to present "evidence during the punishment phase that Brown suffers from autism spectrum disorder."

The condition is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior, which, Corvington argued, may have mitigated the jury's decision to issue the death penalty.

Corvington said the trial defense team failed to listen to a mitigation specialist who suggested Brown may have the disorder. She told the court that the disorder "could be responsible for how he appeared as remorseless and unemotional during the commission of the murder, during police interviews and interrogations and while testifying in his own defense during trial."

"None of this is justification, of course, but it is by its definition mitigating," Corvington said, noting how the revelation of the condition potentially could have convinced "just one juror" against returning with the death penalty. "Autism explains all of it."

Miranda responded by noting that defense attorneys did present at trial other information provided by mitigation specialists showing that Brown suffers from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. She said the disorder would have accounted for many of the same symptoms.

"I don't know what else counsel could have done," Miranda countered, adding that about 80 of Brown's family members and friends were interviewed by the defense about the case -- none of whom mentioned that Brown had or might have autism.

"That's where the red flags [about potential autism disorder] should have come from," she said.

Brown, who has been in custody at the Hunt County Detention Center since the July hearing, was to be transferred back to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Institutional Division following Bench's final ruling in the appeal.

An execution date has not yet been scheduled for Brown.


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