Closing arguments Wednesday in inmate’s death penalty trial

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NEW BOSTON, Texas: The state and defense closed their cases Tuesday afternoon in the capital murder trial of Billy Joel Tracy, a Texas inmate who beat a correctional officer to death at the Barry Telford Unit in 2015.

Tracy, 39, faces death by lethal injection or life without the possibility of parole for using a metal tray slot bar to repeatedly smash Correctional Officer Timothy Davison, 47, in the head and face in front of a cell in administrative segregation July 15, 2015. A jury of nine men and three women convicted Tracy last month. Wednesday they will hear closing arguments and start deliberations.

Tuesday the jury heard from three experts who testified on rebuttal for the state. All said the defense position that Tracy suffers from a “broken brain” doesn’t fit with their evaluations of Tracy and his medical, psychological and criminal histories.

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Psychiatrist Mitchell Dunn testified that he evaluated Tracy prior to his trial in Rockwall, Texas, in 1998 and that after conducting a second evaluation of Tracy in September, his opinion hasn’t changed.

“There is no medical finding that explains planned, predatory, aggressive behavior,” Dunn said. “My diagnosis is antisocial personality disorder.”

Tracy was sentenced to two life sentences plus 20 years for his attack on a teen girl, a police officer and a home burglary. Since then, Tracy has received sentences of 45 and 10 years for attacking correctional officers.

According to Wikipedia, antisocial personality disorder, also known as psychopathy, is characterized by a complete disregard for the rights and feelings of others. Dunn agreed.

Dunn said Tracy exhibits most of the characteristics that define ASPD. The diagnosis is marked by a failure to abide by social norms and rule-breaking, illegal and often criminal behavior, Dunn said. Dunn said Tracy also fits the diagnosis in that he is deceitful and manipulative, has a lack of remorse, is aggressive, and has a reckless disregard for the safety of others and himself.

Dunn said there really is no treatment for ASPD though people do tend to become less violent with age, often because they learn different ways of manipulating others or because they learn that physical violence doesn’t get them what they want.

“I think he is simply a person who doesn’t care about other people and likes to fight,” Dunn said under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards. “He’s learning what to say, what people want him to say.”

Dunn pointed out that Tracy has gone years in the past without any major issues in prison when there is a benefit to him for good behavior.

Forensic psychologist and neuropsychologist Randall Price agreed with Dunn’s diagnosis. Price said he conducted hours of cognitive testing with Tracy in September which led him to the conclusion that intellectually, Tracy has a normally functioning brain, particularly when it comes to solving new and changing problems.

“He said he didn’t have morals and ethics until 2000. He said it never dawned on him that people won’t trust you if you steal from them,” Price said.

Price said Tracy’s manual titled “How to survive and thrive in prison,” is evidence of his ability for complex reasoning. Tracy gives examples of how to earn money for commissary spending and warns against not paying debts to other inmates in his writing.

When asked about brain scans presented during the defense’s case which show Tracy has an arachnoid cyst, Price said, “structure doesn’t always equal function.”

Price said he believes Tracy presents a continuing threat to society and that he believes he is at risk for committing future violent acts.

The final witness to testify in Tracy’s trial, Texarkana neurosurgeon Marc Smith, said he declined to accept any payment from the state for his review of Tracy’s medical records or his testimony.

“I am not a professional witness,” Smith said. “I can’t expect to present myself as unbiased if I’m being paid.”

Smith testified that the cyst seen on Tracy’s brain scans is not an uncommon finding, noting that many people have brains that are not perfectly normal in structure and appearance but which function normally.

“I’m not qualified to tell you how he got that way,” Smith said. “I am qualified to tell you it didn’t come from his brain structure.”

Smith said Tracy is not missing a part of his brain and that the most serious ailment he could identify in Tracy’s records is dermatitis, a diagnosis that means Tracy has complained of irritated skin.

“So he itches,” said Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp.

Smith said there is no swelling or other signs around the cyst in Tracy’s brain to indicate it is aggravating other areas of the brain. Smith said he has seen larger cysts in normally functioning people. Smith said the most logical diagnosis he has heard of Tracy during the trial is the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder espoused by Price, Dunn and a defense psychologist.

The jury was instructed by 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart to return to the Bowie County courthouse Wednesday morning to hear closing arguments. The jury will begin their deliberations afterward.

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