Daniel guilty of capital murder in Officer Padron slaying

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A Travis County jury found Brandon Daniel guilty Friday of capital murder in the 2012 slaying of Austin Senior Police Officer Jaime Padron.

The verdict means Daniel is eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The sentencing hearing will begin Monday at 9 a.m., court officials said.

Daniel was accused in the April 2012 death of Padron, who was shot while responding to a call that Daniel was drunk and trying to shoplift at Walmart on Parmer Lane.

Defense attorneys argued that Daniel did not intend to kill the officer, but it wasn’t enough to convince the jury, which took just over an hour to reach its verdict after nearly a week of testimony.

“Make no mistake, he intentionally killed that officer,” said prosecutor Bill Bishop. “If you listen to the evidence and listen to the witnesses. If you listened to what they tell you, there is no dispute.”

That is the thrust of the closing arguments the jury heard before retiring to deliberate in the jury room around 12:40 p.m. Friday.

Padron’s family tempered their reactions in the courtroom, at the request of officials in the courtroom, but a spokesman later said the family was relieved.

“We are very pleased with outcome of this trial,”  said Matt Baldwin, a friend of Jaime’s from the San Angelo Police Department.

Baldwin spoke on behalf of the Padron family and would not say if they prefer life or death for Daniel.

“I will just say they are very pleased with the community support.”

Bishop’s statements were in response to the defense’s theory on intent. Defense attorney Brad Urrita said Daniel’s was trying to escape, not kill. Urrita’s argument is that Daniel turned and shot, but did not know it was an officer tackling him. Therefore he did not knowingly kill officer Padron, the defense argued.

Daniel’s intoxication was a focus before the closing arguments. Dr. Matthew Masters practices addiction medicine, and he was the first to take the stand on Friday. He testified about the effects of Xanax on the state of mind and mental cognition.

“The high from Xanax would be similar to that of alcohol intoxication,” Masters said.

He added the drug was commonly used to treat panic disorders, but people could also abuse it to get high. People can have a variety of behavioral responses to Xanax, and it can cause amnesia or memory loss. Masters said seven hours after the shooting, Daniel still had an intoxicating level of alprazolam in his blood.

Evidence on Thursday showed the jury saw several pink pieces taken from Daniel’s apartment. The paper appeared to be notes Daniel wrote to himself. One of them read “Stop (expletive) yourself up.” Another appeared to indicate Daniel’s attempt to cut down on his use of Xanax.

Hunt contends the notes indicate Daniel wanted to back off of the drugs. But Masters, said the chance of someone self-tapering on a pill addiction is extremely low. A full recovery usually takes in-patient therapy.

The influence of Xanax was a point of contention on Thursday’s, when Defense attorney Russ Hunt cross-examined Detective David Fugitt about Xanax use, to which Fugitt said Xanax does not necessarily affect mental cognition. Fugitt responded by saying that Daniel was able to drive his Kawasaki motorcycle and manipulate the clutch, showing adequate motor skills.

In an effort to show Xanax affected Daniel’s mental state, Hunt tried to find inconsistencies in what surveillance video showed and what Daniel said during his interrogation. Hunt tried to establish that Daniel’s memory was skewed by Xanax, pointing out that Daniel said during his interrogation that he fired once and shot Padron in face — even though evidence shows he shot three times and hit Padron once in neck.

The state cross-examined Masters calling in question the credibility of his diagnosis of Daniel’s depression and addiction. They questioned him on the amount of money he is making to testify, which the judge dismissed as a meaningless statement.

On Thursday, Daniel’s ex-girlfriend took the stand in his defense telling jurors that life was tense and that Daniel told her he was on a “downward spiral” after their breakup six months before the slaying.

“He didn’t feel like he had anybody. I kind of left him and he didn’t have any friends besides work friends,” an emotional Jenna Feland told jurors.

In Day 3 of Daniel’s capital murder trial in the death of , the jury also heard from Medical Examiner David Dolinak — though the Padron family left before any autopsy photos were shown. Dolinak told jurors that the barrel of Daniel’s gun was pressed against Padron’s neck when it was fired.

Dolinak testified Padron’s uniform had two holes in it, one in the right breast pocket and another just to the side. He said the contents of Padron’s pocket were fragmented — testimony consistent with what Walmart workers said they saw during Day 1’s testimony. Dolinak said neither Padron’s protective vest or the portion of his body that the vest covered had any damage.

Much of the trial has proven too difficult for Padron’s family to watch, but they talked to jurors on Thursday about Padron’s journey from marine in Desert Storm to corrections officer, to finally land his dream job as a police officer.

Fugitt is still on the stand to resume testimony after Wednesday’s interrogation video — presented on a day full of crime-scene photos and video of the aftermath inside the store.

Under redirect from the state, Fugitt says it is not unusual for someone involved in a shooting to forget how many times they pulled the trigger.

Austin Police Department forensics employee Claire McKenna took the stand, going through a long list of swabs taken from Daniel the night of the shooting. The chemist who followed McKenna — also employed by APD — testified that results showed no alcohol in Daniel’s blood sample.

A toxicologist said marijuana was found in Daniel’s blood sample, but it did not have a “psychoactive component.” A psychoactive component is what impacts the brain and its functions.

The Backstory

During the trial of Areli Escobar, the county’s last death penalty case in 2011, defense attorney Allan Williams said juries for death penalty cases are given almost “God-like power.”

On Tuesday morning, 10 women and 2 men began to weigh the fate of 26-year-old Brandon Daniel.

Brandon Daniel faces capital murder charges for the killing of Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron.

APD Sr. Officer JaimePadron
APD Sr. Officer JaimePadron

In April of 2012, Daniel was arrested in the death of Senior Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron who was responding to a disturbance call at the Walmart on Parmer Lane. Employees called police and said Daniel was drunk and trying to steal from the store. When Padron arrived, police say Daniel tried to run and it led to a struggle between the two men. Padron was shot in the neck during the incident.

KXAN.com is live streaming the trial

Seven months later, the Travis County District Attorney’s office announced they would pursue the death penalty for Daniel — something Chief Art Acevedo had immediately pushed for when initially responding to the media in the early morning hours of the shooting inside a North Austin Walmart.

“I believe, for what he has taken from this community, this community should have that option,” said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo when the decision was made. “The ultimate price for the ultimate act of committing Capitol Murder of a police officer.”

In a county where the death penalty is rarely sought, officials weighed several factors including community outrage over the officer’s killing, the grand funeral procession, the arrangements and the number of people in the community moved over the entire incident.

“It is definitely not frequent,” said attorney Mindy Montford who is not associated with the case. “Across the state, we are known for not seeking the death penalty as often as some other counties.”

“He wasn’t just taken from his family,” said Acevedo the day officials announced they’d seek the death penalty. “He wasn’t just taken from us, the Austin Police Department and his law enforcement colleagues. He was taken from this community.”

“And it was not just an attack on an officer,” he continued. “It was an attack on the fabric that holds our community together. So I believe, what he has taken from this community, this community should have that option, the ultimate price for the ultimate act of committing a capital murder of a police officer.”

Although it was ultimately Lehmberg’s decision, it was one the district attorney had to first run through a committee of trusted advisors within her office — people with differing views and some who even oppose the death penalty itself.

Because Daniel was reportedly drinking and on Xanax when the murder happened, many have wondered about a plea of temporary insanity.

It’s one that Montford said is not a valid defense, adding that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to your conduct.  The defense, however, may be able to get into that slightly once a verdict is returned, as a mitigation of conduct, though still not as a defense to the conduct itself.

GOING IN-DEPTH: Padron’s Service

  • Padron spent 14 years as a police officer in San Angelo.
  • He joined the Austin Police Department just more than three years before he was killed and also served as a police officer at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport as part of the Emergency Management Department that consolidated with APD in 2009
  • Padron, 40, was shot in the neck responding to an early-morning call. Police say store employees subdued Daniel and tried desperately to save Padron’s life.
  • Padron was the first Austin police officer killed on duty since 2004.
  • He is one of 18 APD officers killed in the line of duty. The first dates back to 1875, with the most recent happening in October of last year.

The defense may be able to use it to explain, putting into perspective for the jury, and in an effort to try to get some sympathy from the jury. Defense attorneys would argue that because of the voluntary intoxication, this is not the way that the suspect normally acts.

In addition, Montford noted that while Daniel does have a criminal history, it does not include any violent offenses. It’s likely, then, that the defense will pose to the jury that something went terribly wrong that night — making sure the jury knows that the person Daniel was on the morning he allegedly shot Padron dead was not the person Daniel typically was.

Background, history and all sorts of other varying information will all play into the trial. Montford added the process would be a long one.

“Even if they do get a conviction, you’re going to see this go through the system for many, many years before that family feels that justice has actually been done,” said Montford.

Along those same lines, prosecutors will bring up for the jury the legacy Padron left behind, in addition to his two young daughters and family members.

Should Daniel be found guilty, the appropriate sentence for killing a police officer is one that will belong to the people of Travis County. Twelve people who can evoke the “God-like power” Williams spoke of by answering just two questions.

PAST AND FUTURE

The first several days of the trial will reveal evidence only to assist the jury with the question of Daniel’s guilt and innocence.

But more than likely, the real debate and uncertainty will come during the sentencing phase which would follow a guilty verdict.

For death penalty cases in Texas, a jury must answer the first question:

Is the defendant a future danger while in prison?”

If the jury answers “yes,” they must then answer a second question:

“Are there mitigating circumstances to warrant a life sentence as opposed to death?”

If the jury answers “no,” then the defendant will be sentenced to death. Any other combination of answers will mean a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Both prosecution and defense will try to convince the jury to answer the questions in their favor. Doing so will likely require look into Daniel’s past and future.

“Mitigating factors could be his background,” said Montford. “Maybe he was abused as a child, maybe he was on drugs or alcohol. All of that is taken into consideration by the jury at punishment.”

Intoxication is not allowed as a defense for committing a crime in guilt/innocence, but Daniel’s alleged use of alcohol and Xanax the night of the shooting could come into play when it is time for the jury to answer the two key questions about the former software engineer.

“(The defense) will show this is an individual that would not act this way if he was not intoxicated and did not have a violent criminal history,” said Montford. “That would be indicative of whether he would be a ‘future danger.’”

But Montford knows the prosecution will have their own interpretation of the law for the jury to consider.

“The state is going to show who Officer Padron was and put a face to him. He is a father of two going in on this call when this individual shot him point blank.”

THE JURORS

Human nature is a difficult element to gauge. There is no way to know how the 12 strangers in the jury box will react to hearing certain pieces of evidence or how it could affect their decision.

Five days after Padron was killed, thousands of people lined the procession route to honor him.

“The people were very supportive of Officer Padron and his family,” remembered Montford. “It will be interesting to see if they can set that emotion aside or if that will play a part in giving the death penalty.”

Montford also said the overwhelming majority of women on the jury could become a factor, although it is hard to tell which side may benefit.

“There are studies that show women jurors, for better or worse, are sometimes more indecisive than men.”

Women are also inclined to use emotion according to Montford. Mothers on the jury may show compassion for Daniel and his mother.

Of course, they could also sympathize with Padron’s parents.

One personal belief or opinion which should not become a factor is each juror’s opinion on the death penalty as punishment.

Both sides spent weeks vetting possible jurors for the case.

“When you seat the jury, these people all said they can follow the law,” said Montford. “They may not like the law, may want to change the law, but if a judge asks them to consider the death penalty, they would do it. They are going to take an oath.”

TRAVIS COUNTY AND THE DEATH PENALTY

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Travis County has just five inmates on death row.

Hays County has one while Williamson County has none.

By comparison, Bexar County (San Antonio) has 18, Dallas County has 32, Tarrant County (Fort Worth) has 38, and Harris County (Houston) has 95.

Remembered

“Above all else, he was a hero … He is in heaven right now.” — Police Chief Art Acevedo

“Jaime, you will always be with me. Always.  You are my brother.”  — Fellow officer and partner Rahim Kidd

“He was destined to be a leader in our organization, just like he was a leader wherever he went.” — APA President Wayne Vincent

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