AUSTIN (KXAN) — The ex-girlfriend of a man on trial in the murder or Senior Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron took the stand in his defense on Thursday, telling jurors that life was tense and that boyfriend Brandon 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.
Just 30 minutes before he entered the Walmart on Good Friday in 2012, Jenna Feland testified, Daniel sent her a text message that made little sense. She was asleep at the time, she said, and missed the text until the next morning.
“It was really incoherent. I could tell he was really messed up at the time,” she said. “I could tell something was wrong.”
Feland testified that she and Daniel smoked marijuana while they were together, but that he would also do “acid, mushrooms or ecstasy” and that the latter drug made him paranoid. The two were trying to remain friends when prosecutors say Daniel gunned down Senior Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron in the Walmart that April night.
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.
As Dolinak walked through some of Padron’s autopsy photos, Daniel’s sister sat behind Daniel crying. Most of the time, Daniel looked straight forward at the monitor in front of him — without much expression.
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.
Watching the trial of Brandon Daniel unfold has been too difficult for the family of fallen Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron to bear.
For much of the trial, they waited in a room outside the courtroom while graphic crime scene photos and testimony detailing Padron’s death were being presented inside.
But just before the state rested their case, they finally got their turn to talk to jurors about Jaime’s life instead of his death.
“He loved being a police officer,” said Johnny Padron, Jaime’s older brother who tried to convince him to join the family business and make more money.
But that was not what Jaime wanted to do with his life.
“He wanted to serve.”
Johnny told the jury about his brother’s journey from Marine in Desert Storm to corrections officer to finally his dream job as a police officer for San Angelo Police Department and then onto Austin PD.
Through it all, he always made time for his two daughters.
“He loved those girls tremendously,” Johnny said before telling the story of how Jaime would go to the children’s school to read stories for all students just to be close to his daughters.
Eventually the topic turned to the morning of Good Friday 2012.
A former colleague of Jaime’s called Johnny at 5:30 in the morning.
“He said, “We need to talk, there has been an accident.”
Upon learning about his brother’s death, Johnny had to tell their mother and father.
“They were devastated,” said Johnny. “They have been good parents. They raised a good family. They taught us respect.”
“The world turned into a very ugly place for us that day.”
Prosecutor Gary Cobb told Johnny since so many pictures of Jaime had been presented at the scene of his death, he would admit one more picture, only this one was of Jaime while he was alive.
The picture was shown for the jury right before the state rested.
During a phone call made from jail, broadcast for the jury, Daniel told his mother he was frustrated with his defense team.
“I know there is no hope, but he won’t even consider different defenses,” said Daniel in the conversation that took place ten days after he was arrested for shooting and killing Senior Officer Jaime Padron.
The defense Daniel refers to in the call is not the same defense team currently representing him in this death penalty trial.
His mother, Mary O’Dell, is very supportive in the phone call and talks to her son about the things she is doing to help him through the process.
“I’ve got it all covered. Don’t worry and don’t stress,” said O’Dell to the son she referred to as “Bran,” and also would call “honey” and “babe.”
During the course of the call, the mother and son discuss selling his car and retrieving certain items from Daniel’s ex-girlfriend.
O’Dell is also making plans to fly from Colorado to see her son, but was disappointed when he informed her that the Del Valle facility only allows video visitation.
“Are you kidding me? I can’t see you in person?”
At no point do the two discuss the shooting.
In other evidence, 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.
In the days leading up to shooting, a text message shows Daniel was trying to purchase eight bars of Xanax.
Pictures from inside Daniel’s apartment show pink notes, one of which read, “Read Posts, cut nails.”
Another note read: “Step down pills over week. Monday 2 Max Tuesday 1 Max, Wednesday 0, Thursday 1 Max, Friday TBD”
Defense attorney Russ Hunt contends the notes indicate Daniel wanted to back off of the drugs.
Detective David 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.
Hunt cross-examined 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.
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.
While it is only the third day of the trial, there is a possibility that the prosecution could rest Thursday.
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