Daniel set to die for Officer Padron slaying

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Brandon Daniel was sentenced to death by lethal injection late Friday for the killing of Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron.

The sentence was handed down at 11:23 p.m. after more than eight hours of deliberations and nine days of testimony.

“You are a coward and I hope you rot in hell,” Johnny Padron, Jaime’s older brother, said in a brief statement to Daniel following the sentence.

Amy Padron, Jaime’s ex-wife, also took the stand after the sentence was handed down, giving an emotion-packed speech where she read letters from her 8 and 12-year-old daughters.

“You made me cry,” one of the letters read. “Now it is your time to cry in prison for the rest of your life.”

“There are so many things you took away,” Matt Baldwin said to Daniel. Baldwin was Padron’s old partner in San Angelo. “I don’t know why you did it. I don’t care. So many lives were destroyed by what you did.

“Any moments of fame you may think you had, I want you to know that you lost,” Baldwin added. “You confirmed Jaime was the winner. Jaime was the hero.”

The weight of the jury’s life-or-death decision was not lost among those in the courtroom.

“You guys had a very difficult task. Your lives will never be the same from here on out,” Linda Diaz, Jaime’s sister, said to the jury. “You were doing your job. Please don’t carry this on your shoulders. You followed the instructions you were given.”

Daniel was remanded into custody to be transferred to The Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Prosecution’s closing arguments

“He is a future danger, and there is not one good reason not to sentence him to death,” said prosecuting attorney Bill Bishop, ending his argument.

Before closing, Bishop told jurors everything that can be considered to Daniel’s benefit came from him — adding that all of the defense experts only got their information from Daniel himself.

“It cannot be trusted. It is all his grand design,” said Bishop, referencing Daniel trying to find a Xanax and Ambien defense while in jail. “He laid out the clinical words he was supposed to say but he could not explain them.”

Bishop went on to say that Daniel gets his self-worth by taking pictures of himself with a gun, blowing a hole in his ceiling and taking a picture of the damage. Yet, Bishop pointed out that Daniel’s motive for having that gun on April 6, 2012, is still a mystery.

“For 22 months, he has pondered upon that and still cannot give an explanation as to why he took a loaded .380 to Walmart,” said Bishop. “You take a loaded .380 to Walmart to kill somebody, and that is what he did.”

Bishop said Daniel’s intention was not escape or to run away the morning of April 6, 2012.

“His intention was far more sinister,”-said Bishop, describing Daniel readying his weapon as he ran. “This is someone who gains his self-worth through evil that he has done.”

Bishop went on to describe Daniel’s fascination with Columbine and the Boston Marathon bombings.

The life of Jaime Padron was remembered by Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb.

“In our society, we are critical of police until we need police,” said Cobb who reminded the jury about Padron’s military service in the Marines and his desire to serve the community.

Cobb called the shooting “A cold-blooded assassination” and said Jaime Padron’s two daughters already will be paying a price for the rest of their lives. He said a sentence of life in prison would force them to pay again. In a letter from jail, Daniel wrote he was “living the dream, retired at age 25.” In the patrol car ride after the shooting, he said he at lease would not have to work or pay for food.

“The man murdered your father in cold-blood and you will, as an adult when you start paying taxes, will pay for his room and board,” said Cobb as he posed the scenario. “If that is what passes for justice in this community, we should tear that flag down and blow up this courthouse, because it is wrong.”

Defense’s closing argument

Brad Urrutia took the floor for defense, talking about the Texas sentencing law.

“The next time he leaves prison will be in a coffin,” he said.

Urrutia said Daniel is going to a place where hardened criminals go to do time, not a club with a pool or tennis courts. In addition, Urrutia told the jury there is a pattern of the state trying to deceive the jury.

“They aren’t lying to you,” he said. “They are just trying to hide the truth.”

Urrutia said the alleged list that Daniel kept with jailers’ name on it doesn’t exist or else it would have been introduced as evidence. He continued to say that with all the talk about coded letters, the state never disclosed that, decoded, the letter said, “I love you, mom.”

Urrutia continued on during closing arguments to tear into inmate informant Louis Escalante’s testimony.

“You can’t trust a word that man says,” said Urrutia. “He is a liar … They [the prosecution] got in bed with Mr. Escalante and had to live with his fleas.”

He questioned: “They [the state] wants you to take a man’s life, and they bring you that kind of evidence to do it? … You really, really, should demand better evidence from your DA. It should not be half-truths and innuendo.”

Russell Hunt said Daniel’s life can still produce positives even behind prison walls. He mentioned Daniel’s intelligence and potential that allowed him to become a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard and develop programs still being used today.

“Brandon Daniel has expressed remorse and has responded to psychiatric medication in jail,” Hunt said about the prospect of Daniel’s future in prison.

Daniel’s sister has been sitting two rows behind the defense table for the entire trial and has spent much of it crying. His family may also be considered a mitigating factor.

“This person has value. He has value to others and is loved by others for  a reason.

Considering a death sentence

Much of the closing arguments reminded jurors of the procedure they have to follow when considering a death sentence.

Must answer:

  1. Is Daniel is a future threat? Jury must find Daniel a future threat beyond a reasonable doubt before answering “Yes” to this question. If it is a unanimous “Yes,” then they must answer the next question. This must be a unanimous “Yes” to move on. To answer “No” to this question, a minimum of 10 jurors must agree. The same goes for mitigation.
  2. Are there mitigating factors (determined by all the testimony heard about Daniel’s upbringing, childhood, alleged depression, drug use, etc.) for why he should not receive death? If they answer “No,” he gets the death sentence.

Any other combination of answers means life in prison for Daniel.

The defense rested on Day 5 of the sentencing phase, and the state had no more rebuttals.

The court on Friday heard from rebuttal witnesses and Daniel’s ex-girlfriend, Jenna Feland.

State expert Marisa Mauro took the stand first as a rebuttal witness on Friday, saying Daniel displayed “shockingly little” difficulty in adjusting to jail. She disagreed with early defense experts who said Daniel suffered from severe depression.

Mauro said Daniel described to her that his teenage years were “normal” and that he had friends, though he wished he had more. Daniel did mention during that time that his mom was emotionally abusive.

Daniel also told Mauro that he tried to kill himself by carbon monoxide poisoning when he was 16, but his mother caught him. He got no therapy afterward.

Mauro told jurors that Daniel expressed a desire to get the trial over with and move onto the next phase, saying that is not indicative of major depression. Mauro said there is no indication of depression before, during or after, and she doesn’t believe it affected Daniel as it related to Padron’s shooting.

Mauro said Daniel had a long history of drug use, but she is not sure how much rose to the level of abuse.

“I wouldn’t say severe,” said Mauro, regarding Daniel’s depression. “This is a person who was very high-achieving in his career.”

Under cross-examination, the defense asked Mauro if someone talking with a stranger would be hesitant, such as Daniel was with her, to which she responded, “Yes.”

Probed by the defense, Mauro explained why her diagnosis would be different from other jail psychologists, who have said Daniel suffered from severe depression. Mauro said they were doing different jobs.

Mauro said when she worked at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, she’d sometimes get 15 suicide calls a day — often “manipulative gestures” that were not legitimate.

Closing arguments are also likely on Friday. If jury begins deliberations, it may be a long night.

Many have wondered where Daniel’s mother, Mary O’Dell, has been throughout her son’s trial. His father and sister have been present throughout the past two weeks, his father considerably less due to an illness.

Neither prosecution nor defense attorneys subpoenaed O’Dell, and she has chosen to stay out of the room. Meanwhile, the defense’s case has been critical of her parenting.

In addition to Daniel’s aunt, one of his software engineer co-workers from HP, Billy Little, took the stand Thursday. He told the jury he worked with Daniel and even visited him in jail four times, often talking to him about religion.

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.”

More information about Daniel’s sentencing:

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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