State Asks For Restraints, Additional Security At Trial For ‘Combative’ Murder Defendant

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TEXARKANA, Texas–Prosecutors have asked the judge overseeing the murder case of a Texarkana man accused of killing his girlfriend to approve extra restraints and additional security officers at trial because of his allegedly “continuous aggressive and violent” conduct in the Bowie County jail.

Travis Alston Turner, 29, is accused of strangling Jennifer Rose Garrett, 29, to death on Aug. 12, 2021, in a residence they shared in the 6200 block of Summerhill Place in Texarkana, Texas. Turner was arrested the same day and his behavior has allegedly presented ongoing challenges for jail staff and resulted in his placement in administrative segregation, according to a motion filed Friday by First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp.

When police officers attempted to serve a search warrant on Turner to collect potential DNA evidence, they had to restrain him, Crisp’s motion said.

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Jailers and transport deputies have allegedly struggled with Turner’s combative behavior on a routine basis.

“Attempts to remove the defendant from his cell, for any purpose, generally results in a use of force by the jail staff,” the motion said. “On Dec. 21, 2021, the defendant assaulted Sgt. Stephen Driksell and CO Devonte Kenney. The defendant used a closed fist to repeatedly strike each of these officers in the head and face.”

Turner’s alleged jailhouse violence has led a supervisor to order staff to take protective actions when dealing with Turner, including outfitting in protective gear and bringing additional officers whenever he must be taken out of his cell.

Competency Questions

At a pretrial hearing on Monday, 202nd District Judge John Tidwell scheduled the case for a competency hearing on Jan. 5. The court is likely to consider psychological reports and possible expert testimony in determining whether Turner meets the legal requirements for the case to proceed. Defendants are typically deemed competent if they are capable of understanding the charges against them, what is happening in their case and capable of assisting their lawyer in preparation of their defense.

Turner’s defense attorney, Ronald Davis of Little Rock, Arkansas, was granted a motion earlier this year for Turner to undergo a mental status evaluation.

Due Process Versus Court Security

The motion notes that defendants usually appear before juries in street clothes without visible restraints to avoid giving the impression that the accused is dangerous and unfairly prejudices jurors against them. The due process clause prohibits visible restraints during the guilt or innocence phase of a trial unless there are specific findings made by a judge that they are necessary.

In the motion for restraints and additional security, Crisp notes other alleged instances of violent conduct by Turner that have led to other criminal charges.

Turner is facing felony terroristic act and battery charges in Miller County, Arkansas, in connection with a Feb. 26, 2021, shooting that sent one man to the hospital while another managed to escape unharmed. Seven spent shell casings were recovered from that scene, according to Crisp’s motion.

While free on bond on the Arkansas charges, Turner allegedly assaulted his mother and threatened to kill her, resulting in a misdemeanor family violence charge in Bowie County which remains pending.

“Sixteen days after the defendant made bond on the assault family violence charge, he murdered Jennifer Rose Garrett,” the motion alleges. “Because of the defendant’s history of assaultive offenses, the continued and repeated acts of violence and aggression, including his attack on correctional officers, evidence exists to support the implementation of additional restraints on this defendant, including, if it becomes necessary, an electronic immobilization device.”

The motion refers to the need for a greater-than-usual number of security officers in the courtroom and suggests the use of a “stun belt” which can be activated to control an unruly defendant.

“These restraints are required for security measures, prevent an escape and to protect the courtroom and its occupants,” the motion said. “Specifically, the state would like the court to find that there is particularized need for the defendant to be placed in hand restraints that are tethered by standard handcuffs and belly chain, leg restraints that are tethered to the floor, an electronic immobilization device attached to defendant’s waist or ankles.”

Crisp’s motion goes on to request that Judge Tidwell warn Turner in advance of the trial that intentionally showing any restraints to the jury or making unnecessary noise with them won’t result in “relief” such as a mistrial, for example.

What’s Next

If Turner is found competent to go forward, his trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection on Jan. 31. If convicted of murder, Turner faces five to 99 years or life in a Texas prison. His bond is set at $3 million.

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