Woman on Texas Death Row Loses Appeal

Texas' highest criminal court Wednesday refused an appeal from an East Texas woman on death row for the slaying seven years ago of her developmentally disabled baby sitter.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected 15 claims raised by Kimberly Cargill, 50, of Whitehouse, who was convicted in Smith County in 2012 of causing the asphyxiation of 39-year-old Cherry Walker.

Ten of the claims in Cargill's appeal contended her trial lawyers were deficient for not presenting evidence that Walker died in June 2010 of an epilepsy-related seizure rather than homicidal violence. The court said three other claims were rejected because they should have been raised in an earlier appeal following her conviction and one was refused because it had been raised and rejected in that earlier appeal. The final claim argued attorneys handling the previous appeal were deficient for not arguing that an autopsy photo allowed into evidence was improper and prejudicial.

At her trial, prosecutors said Cargill was facing a child abuse investigation and that she had already lost custody of one of her two children. They argued she killed Walker to keep her from testifying at a custody hearing.

Walker's body was found on the side of a road in Smith County. It had been doused with lighter fluid and set on fire, and an autopsy determined that she was asphyxiated.

Cargill testified at her trial that Walker suffered a seizure while she was driving Walker home after a pleasant dinner at a restaurant, and that she panicked and didn't act rationally. She said she set Walker's body on fire to eliminate any of her own DNA that may have been on the victim.

Cargill is one of six women on death row in Texas. She does not yet have an execution date and still may file appeals in the federal courts.

In a second capital case, the appeals court upheld the conviction and death sentence of a Houston man condemned for fatally shooting a police officer and a bystander who tried to help the officer shot during a traffic stop after a chase on Christmas Eve 2012.

Attorneys for 25-year-old Harlem Lewis III raised 14 points of error from Lewis' Harris County trial in 2014 for the killings of Cpl. Jimmy Norman, 53, an officer in the Houston enclave of Bellaire, and Terry Taylor, 66. The chase ended in the parking lot of Taylor's auto repair shop in Houston.

Officers responding to the scene exchanged gunfire with Lewis and he ran off wounded before he was captured. He testified at his trial that his gun, which was stolen, went off and he didn't remember running away.

Attorneys unsuccessfully questioned in the appeal whether the evidence was sufficient to convict Lewis and result in a death sentence, argued that too many uniformed police officers were allowed to attend the trial as spectators, and contended jury instructions, prosecution jury arguments, victim impact evidence and evidence of Lewis' criminal record were all improper.

In another Texas death row case Wednesday, a federal appeals court rejected an appeal from a 60-year-old prisoner condemned for helping a former suburban Houston police officer murder his wife more than 22 years ago.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused arguments from lawyers for Joseph Andrew Prystash that raised questions about jury selection and juror instructions and the propriety of evidence.

He was convicted of being the middleman in a plot orchestrated by former Missouri City police officer Robert Fratta to murder his wife, 34-year-old Farah Fratta, during a custody battle. She was found shot dead in her garage in 1994.

Evidence showed Fratta hired Prystash who then hired triggerman Howard Paul Guidry. Prystash was to get Fratta's Jeep and Guidry was to receive $3,000.

All three men are on death row.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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