Defense experts claim inmate has a broken brain

Tracy appears in court in Feb. of 2016 (photo by Field Walsh)
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NEW BOSTON, Texas: Several defense experts testified in the sentencing phase of Billy Joel Tracy’s capital murder trial that the inmate who beat a correctional officer to death in 2015 at the Barry Telford Unit has a “broken brain.”

Tracy, 39, is facing a possible death sentence in the beating of 47-year-old Timothy Davison. Davison was escorting Tracy from an interior recreation room in administrative segregation when Tracy slipped his hand free of his cuffs and punched him in the head, knocking him down. Tracy grabbed Davison’s metal tray slot bar and used it to beat him in the head and face before throwing him down a flight of stairs.

Experts who testified Friday said Tracy suffers from extensive brain abnormalities which make it difficult for him to control his emotions and behavior. Steven Yount, a family practice doctor from Bastrop, Texas, said medical scans including an MRI, PET, and EEG show Tracy suffers from significant damage to an area of his brain responsible for regulating emotion, under direct questioning from Mount Pleasant defense attorney Mac Cobb. Yount said Tracy’s blood work shows he has a low testosterone level which he believes means Tracy will become less aggressive in the future.

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Under cross examination by Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards, Yount agreed that while in prison Tracy has refused to take medication as prescribed and has refused to cooperate with lab work necessary to monitor medication levels. Richards asked Yount how a person who plots and plans attacks for months can be described as “impulsive.”

Andrew Newberg, a doctor practicing in Philadelphia, testified under questioning from Cobb that Tracy’s PET scan shows areas of low metabolism in his brain which indicate vital areas regulating emotion and self-control are not functioning properly. Under cross examination by Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp, Newberg declined to say that Tracy’s violent conduct and Davison’s murder were caused by the abnormalities seen in Tracy’s brain scans.

“I’m not a psychiatrist,” Newberg said.

Crisp asked Newberg about writing he has done on Brazilian mediums channeling the words of deceased people.

“I’m looking at why people believe what they believe,” Newberg said.

Jeffrey Lewine Ph.D., a neuroscientist, testified that Tracy’s “broken brain” has faulty circuitry which could be driving his criminal behavior. Lewine said an EEG scan measured “epileptic spikes” in Tracy’s brain.

Richards asked Lewine about a group he and the other defense experts are associated with, Mindset Consulting, which makes a substantial amount of money by testifying as experts in capital cases.

“Seems like you’ve got yourself a cottage industry here,” Richards asked.

Lewine and several of the other defense experts faulted TDCJ for not having Tracy escorted by a group of officers. Lewine said “broken brains can be treated,” when approached by a team of medical and psychiatric specialists working together.

All of the defense experts testified that either they individually or the Mindset Consulting group is being paid sums around $400 an hour. The state is paying for Tracy’s defense.

Testimony from defense experts is scheduled to continue Monday before 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston. The state has the option of presenting witnesses to refute the defense’s experts once the defense rests.

Tracy is facing the possibility of death by lethal injection or life without the possibility of parole. The trial could end next week.

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