Testimony continues in inmate’s death penalty trial

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New Boston, Texas: A Dallas medical examiner testified Wednesday in the trial of capital murder defendant Billy Joel Tracy that the correctional officer he is accused of beating to death in 2015 suffered massive skull fractures.

Tracy, 37, is facing the death penalty if found guilty of capital murder in the July 15, 2015, beating death of Correctional Officer Timothy Davison. Davison, 47, was attacked by an inmate at the end of a routine walk from a dayroom at the Telford Unit in New Boston, surveillance video shows. Multiple witnesses testified Monday that Tracy is the inmate in the video who slips a hand free of cuffs and punches Davison with a closed fist moments after Davison opens the door to cell 66 in administrative segregation.

The offender in the video uses the officer’s metal tray slot bar, a 16 inch pipe with a forked end used to open the slot in cell doors, to repeatedly strike Davison in the head and face. Medical Examiner Chester Gwin testfied late Wednesday afternoon under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp. Gwin said Davison suffered numerous “depressed skull fractures” from being struck with “tremendous force” which caused pieces of his skull to penetrate the brain. Gwin testified as a photo of the right side of Davison’s face was displayed showing a perfect outline of the slot bar.

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Gwin testified that measurements from that wound and from the bar itself led him to conclude the slot bar caused Davison’s fatal injuries. Gwin testfied that the bones around Davison’s left eye were “pulverized” and that their destruction caused Davison’s eye to collapse. Like a trauma surgeon who took the stand Monday, Gwin said he typically sees fractures of the severity found on Davison’s head only in car accident victims.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice Major Wade Alexander testified that an “extraction team” was quickly mobilized to remove Tracy from cell 66 after Davison was attacked. Alexander said each member of the team, wearing numbered vests, helmets, protective equipment and gas masks, has a specific job during an extraction.

The first team member carries a shield. The second member is supposed to secure any weapon the inmate may have and secure the inmate’s right arm while the third team member’s job is to secure the left arm. The fourth and fifth team members secure the right and left legs.

Video and audio recorded by a correctional officer with a handheld camera was played for the jury Wednesday. A Telford sergeant reads commands from a sheet of paper instructing the inmate to submit to a strip search and hand restraints or face the consequences of being sprayed with a chemical agent and the use of a five-man extraction team.

Alexander said Tracy’s non-compliance with the orders, including placing some sort of covering over the rectangular window next to his cell door, led the officers to deploy pepper spray twice into the cell before entering. The chaotic scene in the video continues until Tracy is removed from the cell in handcuffs and shackles.

Under questioning from Texarkana defense attorney Jeff Harrelson, the remainder of the extraction video was shown. A member of the prison medical staff wipes Tracy’s face of blood and chemical spray. A photo showing Tracy’s face, bloody from a cut above his left eye, was shown. Alexander said it is not unusual for offenders to sustain some injuries during an extraction.

Correctional Officer Latresse Sharp testified that she was assigned to film Tracy while he waited in a holding cell to be transferred to a different TDCJ unit as is the policy following a serious incident. Sharp said she was ordered not to speak to Tracy and was told to keep others from speaking to him as well. Sharp said Tracy bragged about beating Davison and made insulting comments to her and threatening comments to a passing correctional officer.

“Yeah, I beat his ass,” Sharp quoted Tracy as saying. “He made a statement that I should read about him, that there is a video we’re shown in training.”

Sharp said Tracy told him supervisors or “rank” at Telford should have warned officers about his violent history and that extra security was nearby whenever he was moved from his cell at the last unit in which he was housed.

TDCJ Office of Inspector General Investigator Ronald Stafford testified as photos of the area where Davison was attacked were shown. In the spot where Davison was attacked, knocked unconscious and continually beaten was a pool of blood which dripped down onto the surface of the floor below in a large stain. Along the stairwell where Davison’s body was tossed after the attack were several large blood stains and drips as well as a number of spots of splattered blood.

TDCJ OIG Investigator Michael Horn testified as photos of the inside of cell 66 were shown the jury. Horn said that Tracy’s personal belongings were packed in plastic bags and stacked in the cubby or bed area of his cell. Horn said it appears Tracy prepared in advance for the immediate or “non-routine” transfer to another TDCJ unit which occurs when an inmate is involved in a serious incident.

Photos of a pair of white tennis shoes found on top of the cell’s bunk were shown. The shoes appeared to have droplets of blood on them. Horn testified as the video of the attack was played for the jury a second time. Horn said the offender attacking Davison strikes him in the face and head at least five more times after Davison is obviously unconscious.

Department of Public Safety Crime Lab forensic analyst Kristen Cosota testfied under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards that the blood found on the shoes in Tracy’s cell match Davison’s DNA. Samples collected from the forked end of the tray slot bar match Davison’s DNA also.

Shortly after 5 p.m., 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart released the jury for the day with instructions to return Thursday morning. Crisp told Lockhart the state has presented all evidence it planned to introduce at this point in the trial and said she may rest the prosecution’s case in the morning, allowing the defense to begin calling witnesses.

The jury has the choice of sentencing Tracy to death by lethal injection or life without the possibility of parole. If Tracy is convicted, the punishment phase of trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 1.

Tracy was sentenced to two life sentences plus 20 years in 1998 by a jury in Rockwall County for aggravated assault, burglary of a habitation and assault on a peace officer. Attacks on correctional officers at other units of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have resulted in additional sentences of 45 and 10 years.

Tracy is being held at the Telford Unit during his trial.

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