AUSTIN (KXAN) — Moments after Senior Officer Jaime Padron was killed, Brandon Daniel sat in the back of a police car and pondered if he would lose his own life.
“Can I get the lethal injection? Is it possible?” he attempted to ask an officer who did not reply.
“I’ll probably go away the rest of my life,” said Daniel in a low, slow voice as he swayed back and forth behind the glass divider in the patrol car.
The death penalty is an option in Daniel’s Capital Murder trial for the April 2012 shooting of Padron inside the Parmer Lane Walmart.
Though difficult to hear on the video, the prosecution provided subtitles to assist the jury.
The Padron family began watching the video, but many left crying after Daniel said “At least I get free food and don’t have to work again.”
Daniel is constantly trying to get attention of the officers but to little avail, even asking “Why me?” and for the opportunity to go to the bathroom.
Once the patrol car leaves the Walmart, Daniel continues to talk to the two officers in the front seat.
“You guys pissed I capped one of your other friends? That is probably it. Well, if there is any consolation, I met him before. He is a (expletive,)” says Daniel in the video.
“I am glad he is dead. I will see you all in hell.”
Officers do not respond in the video to any of his comments.
Despite his lack of remorse in the video, Daniel did appear to raise a hand to his face and hide emotion when crime scene photos and videos were shown to the jury. The pictures and video contained graphic content of Padron inside the Walmart.
The jury saw a much more remorseful Daniel during a video-taped interrogation that took place just at APD Headquarters the night of the shooting.
During that interrogation, Daniel said he felt bad for Padron because he had children and was just doing his job. It is unclear who informed Daniel about Padron’s two daughters.
After answering several questions, Daniel began to ask about his immediate future.
“Can I ask you a question? Am I going to jail for the rest of my life?” he asks. The interrogator Heather Robinson tells him she cannot answer that but asks him what he feels should happen to him.
“Probably to be put to death,” said Daniel, an answer that brought faint shudders from those in the courtroom gallery.
Prior to making that statement, Daniel talked about his version of the events leading to Padron’s death.
He said he was a regular marijuana smoker and had taken four bars of Xanax even though his usual dosage was two bars.
“I decided to go on a ride on my motorcycle and I wasn’t thinking very clearly. I went to the Walmart and I decided to shoplift,” said Daniel in the interrogation.
He said he stuffed vegetables, Portobello mushrooms, and peppers in his backpack.
He purchased the .380 handgun used in Padron’s shooting from a Colorado pawn shop two- to three years earlier. Daniel said he carried the gun to protect himself from threats he received after serving as an informant for a Colorado county. It was his first firearm and he had only fired it in the Colorado mountains, never in self-defense.
After stuffing several items in his backpack, Daniel said he saw Padron and the Walmart loss prevention officer approaching him and immediately put his hand in the pocket where he kept his gun.
“I had a .380 in my pocket and knew consequences could be worse. He ran after me so I shot him. He grabbed me, I turned around, and saw his face and I shot him.”
Daniel said he thought he fired just once, but admits he knew where he was aiming.
“I turned around and I saw a clear shot at his face. I pulled it up directly to his face.”
After making such a clear recollection of the events, the interrogator asked him how he felt about the incident hours later.
“I feel horrible. I feel like life is over.”
The end of a five-year relationship is what led Daniel to do Xanax. He expressed difficulty over losing the girlfriend that moved to Texas with him months earlier.
“She wanted something better. But I still love her.”
He told the interrogators he had been good his entire life, graduated college, and had a good job, but it all changed in recent months with the breakup and the turn towards drugs.
Towards the end of the interrogation, Heather Robinson becomes more aggressive with her questions.
“Did you know he had 2 children? Children that don’t have a father because of Portobello mushrooms.”
Daniel appears to become emotional in the interrogation as Robinson continues.
“You are going from a Class C ticket you would have gotten for shoplifting to capital murder. You should feel horrible. You are going to have to live with this. I don’t know how you are going to do that.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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