Brief Case Info
On May 3 1993, Barbara Canada and her brother Titus were killed by gunfire. Willie Tyrone Trottie, Barbara’s 23-year-old common law husband and father of their 1-1/2 year old son, was convicted of Capital murder. Having been shot five times by Titus, Willie maintains that in shock and pain, he fired in self-defense and that there is at least one witness who could have corroborated this had they been questioned at his trial. Willie was rushed through trial on to Death Row.
(In W. T. Trottie’s Own Words)
The general features of a death penalty case, As you might or might not be familiar with, a death penalty case has several special features.
The trial is essentially divided into two parts. The first and generally larger part is what might be called the guilt/innocence part of the trial, where both sides argue in the question of whether the defendant actually is guilty of capital murder (the kind that can give the death penalty).
If the jury after that part decides to find the defendant guilty of capital murder, the trial goes on to what you might call the punishment part. Here the two parts argue whether there are any mitigating circumstances, and whether the defendant presents any future dangerousness. If the defense counsel fails to convince the jury of the mitigating circumstances, the jury might give the defendant the death penalty. After the trial you can appeal to higher courts. The appeals process in a death penalty case has essentially three stages: the direct appeal, which is generally is the first post-trial review. Here you are confined to raise challenges to what is on the record of the trial.
But in what is with an ancient term are called habeas corpus-proceedings, the defendant (and his attorney) may raise questions based on new evidence about the fairness of his trial. For instance, whether his lawyer performed competently, whether the prosecution withheld important evidence or whether the jurors engaged in misconduct. The habeas appeals go first to state level, and after may also so go further to a federal level.
My appeals The same attorney that was counsel at my trial filed my direct appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) affirmed the conviction and sentence of death in an opinion delivered September 20, 1995 .
My appointed attorney, Jim L. Peacock of Houston , handles my habeas corpus appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas . That appeal was filed August 18, 1997 . In that is argued that I was not given a fair trial.
These are the main points, as stated in the beginning of this appeal (Note: Both terms Defendant and Applicant apply to me, Tyrone Trottie): Counsel at trial presented no defense to the charges against his client. Merely cross-examining the States witnesses does not a defense make. More often than not the cross examination of the States witnesses did nothing more than repeat what had already been presented, thus reinforcing the States case rather than attacking it. More egregorius still was the failure of counsel to call any witnesses to the stand in defense at the guilt/innocence stage of trial. Certainly the fact that Titus Cornelius Canada had previously waved a gun at the Defendant in a threatening manner while the Defendant had his 1 year old child in the car with him raised the issue of the Defendants right to arm himself and confront Mr. Canada regarding their conflicts. This is particularly true since there was inevitably going to be further contact between them due to the familial relationship of Mr. Canada as Uncle to the Defendants son. How the issue of self defense could be so cavalierly ignored as it was by defense counsel is hard to explain. The obvious issues which should have been raised are self defense and the right to arm and confront as to Titus Cornelius Canada and voluntary manslaughter issues of sudden passion as to both Titus and Barbara Canada. Trial counsel did not call one single witness on the Defendants behalf to properly raise these issues even though there was available evidence. Failure to properly present the available evidence or request appropriate defensive charges can not be argued to be a tactic or strategy when no other defense is offered. When the obvious and only available trial defenses are ignored by trial counsel then no other conclusion can be drawn than that there was ineffective assistance of counsel.
Applicant contends that he was denied effective assistance of counsel by virtue of his trial counsels acts and omissions; by denying applicant the opportunity to testify in his own behalf at trial, Counsels ineffectiveness in failing to seek proper jury instructions and argue self defense and the right to arm and confront. Further, Applicant would show that trial counsel failed to present important, competent, and available evidence supporting mitigation in the punishment phase of his trial. Applicant contends that, under any standard. Trial counsels action constitute ineffective assistance of counsel under the United States and Texas Constitutions.
Since the entire appeal consists of 51 pages, plus several exhibits, I will hereby confine myself to some quotes concerning the main issues.
Why was I not called to take the witness stand?
Concerning this issue, the appeal argues:
The defendant had no prior felony or misdemeanor convictions of moral turpitude which would have subjected him to impeachment at trial and was without doubt the best witness to present his defensive theories to the jury regarding manslaughter and self defense and of course mitigation. To be denied this by counsels failure to properly advise of a defendants testimonial rights and refusal to call the defendant is ineffective.
In this case, Applicants counsels failure to seek jury charges and then argue self-defense and the right to arm and confront were examples of ineffective assistance of counsel in that such a defense could have negated the States theory of multiple murder. That failure leads to a harsher punishment (death) than otherwise would have occurred if the defenses were presented. Furthermore, there was evidence before the jury specifically as to the shooting of Titus Canada that the Applicant was returning fire in self defense, having first been shot at by the deceased. The failure to properly present evidence of the defense and obtain proper instruction for the jury denied the Defendant effective counsel since there was no other theory of defense present. This type of failure to present such an important defense would constitute such an egregiously prejudicial mistake so as to presume, even from just this one mistake ineffective assistance of counsel. Mitigating factors were not properly presented. By not taking the witness stand myself, my chances were negatively affected during the punishment phase of my trial, where mitigating circumstances are presented especially since I was not in a position to explain an instance of shooting in 1990 that is not in any police files and not evidence at all:
The failure to properly advise the defendant of his right to testify and in effect prevent the defendant from testifying denied the jury the most crucial of all mitigating evidence and denied the Applicant effective representation of counsel. Since the defendant was represented on direct appeal by trial counsel it is not surprising that this issue can only now be raised by Habeas Corpus Writ. In the case at bar, Applicants trial counsels ineffective assistance was exacerbated when he failed to properly preserve the constitutional argument regarding the trial courts admission into evidence the fact that Applicant shot someone in self-defense in March 1990. See Trottie v. State of Texas No, 71, 793, Opinion Delivered December 11, 1995 , p. 13. As the Court of Criminal Appeals observed in its Opinion sustaining Applicants conviction: appellant argues that the trial court violated the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments when it admitted, at the punishment stage, evidence that he shot someone in self-defense in March 1990. We not address this constitutional argument, however, because it does not comport with the argument made in the trial court.See Trottie v. State of Texas No, 71, 793, Opinion Delivered December 11, 1995 , p. 13.
In the case at bar, trial counsels failure to introduce all mitigating evidence available was made worse by his failure to preserve what error did occur regarding the evidence that came in during the punishment stage. Taken together, the trial counsels failure to properly protect Applicants record and his failure to submit important, relevant, available, persuasive evidence on mitigation doomed Applicant during the punishment stage of his trial. Faulty instruction of the jury To avoid the all too common, but wrongful notion, that if a person convicted of capital murder is sentenced to something less than death, he will be out in the streets within just some years, it is essential that the jury gets the right information on what a life sentence would mean. This did not happen during my trial: The trial court violated the eight amendment by failing or refusing to inform applicants capital sentencing that a life sentence would require that applicant serve at least 35 years before being eligible for parole.
In Texas , a defendant who is sentenced to life in prison for capital murder must serve 15, 35, or 40 years before he is eligible for parole, depending on the date of the offense.The result of this lack of information negatively affected the jurys view in the key issue of future dangerousness.Because it is a common belief that anything less than death means that the offender would be out in the streets in a relatively short time. It is of course easier to give someone a life sentence, if you know that this means he would serve at least 35 years in prison, than if you do not know how long he would be in prison. In the words of my appeal:
The very fact that the jury is told that the Board of Pardons and Paroles controls the actual length of the sentence without telling the jury the limits of that power invites speculation by the jury and creates uncertainty in their minds on how long a Defendant would actually serve as a minimum on a life sentence.This claim is supported by what the United States Supreme Court wrote in the decision of a previous case (Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L. Ed. 2d 133, 1994):
Where a defendants future dangerousness is at issue, and state law prohibits his release on parole, due process requires that the sentencing jury be informed that the defendant is parole ineligible. In my case, the outcome might very well been different if the jury instruction had been correct.
The words of my appeal sum it up:
In the instant case, had the trial court instructed the jury on the correct meaning of a life sentence, jurors would have been faced with a choice of sentencing Applicant to death or sentencing him to a life behind bars in a maximum security prison until he was, at the very minimum, over fifty years old. One or more jurors very well may have voted for a life sentence had they been informed of this information, since it would have provided a rational basis for jurors to conclude that Applicant would not be a future danger if a life sentence were imposed.
Insufficient evidence in the punishment phase.
A person might be found guilty of capital murder. In the then following punishment phase of the trial, the jury asks itself if there are mitigating circumstances; is the answer to this question yes, they cannot give that person the death penalty. As my appeal states, citing the previous case Valdez v. State, 776 S. W. 2d 162 (Tex. Crim. App 1989) ,in my case the jury was not given these evidences :
The reviewing court could consider factors such as:
1) the circumstances of the capital murder offense;
2) the calculated nature of the defendants conduct;
3) the deliberateness exhibited in the crimes execution;
4) existence and severity of the defendants previous offenses;
5) whether the defendant was acting under duress or the domination of another at the time of the crime;
6) the defendants age and personal circumstances;
7) psychiatric evidence;
8) character evidence.
Concentrating on only the areas where the evidence falls substantially below that which should be necessary to justify the death penalty in this case, Applicant would show that there was no probative, reliable, competent evidence that he had a history of violence, that he entered the Canada household on the evening in question with the specific intent to harm anyone, that the only psychiatric testimony showed that the Applicant had specific, identifiable, and treatable problems that impacted his ability to judge the situation appropriately on the night in question, and that his age and personal circumstances mitigated against the imposition of the death penalty. When the evidence is viewed in accordance with the Valdez factors, one is left with the conclusion that either there is insufficient evidence to conclude that Applicant was a continuing threat to society or that the mitigating evidence neglected by trial counsel would have been of paramount importance in the trial below, in the light of the way the evidence came before the jury. In either event, with either conclusion, the imposition of the death penalty on Applicant was inappropriate and violated his rights under the federal and state constitutions.
Compounding the errors committed during the trial, one must also view the problematic admission of certain hearsay evidence from Lynn Clark, the Applicants probation officer. APO Clark testified, over trial counsels objection, that Applicant had said he had shot some man in self-defense.No charges had ever been filed, no victim was ever identified, there was no conviction, no date of the alleged offense and no location for the alleged offense. Put simply, Clark s evidence did not show an extraneous offense. Still, after that, my original trial lawyers tried to argue that this alleged shooting was self-defense, which made things worse for me:
Trial counsel argued, to the trial court and the jury, an implied acceptance of the existence of the extraneous offense with a justification that it was self-defense.This particular piece of evidence was the only direct evidence that Applicant may have been violent at some point in the past.