NEW BOSTON, Texas: A Bowie County jury deliberated less than half an hour before sentencing an inmate with a history of murder to life in prison for assaulting a Telford Unit correctional officer in November 2016.
The eight-woman, four-man jury rejected arguments from David Robert Steiner Jr.’s defense team that his attack on Officer Louis Jaralillo was “necessary.” State Public Defenders Ndubisi Ogbodo and Caren Presley argued that Steiner was so terrified of being killed or raped in prison that he believed an attack on a correctional officer was the only way he could get a transfer out of Telford.
After the jury found Steiner guilty of assault of a public servant, aggravated assault of a public servant and possession of a deadly weapon in a penal institution, they heard additional testimony concerning Steiner’s past criminal history to help them determine punishment.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice Officer of Inspector General Investigator Michael Horn testfied that the jury’s verdict Thursday brings Steiner’s felony conviction count to eight, under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards. At the time of the assault on Jaralillo, Steiner was serving two 30-year terms for murder and a 20-year term for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon concurrently. Horn said Steiner also has a previous conviction for cocaine possession.
The jury then heard more details about the events that brought Steiner to Telford.
Under questioning from Charles Breaux of the Texas Special Prosecution Unit, Border Patrol Agent Louis Valdez testified that he was working a border patrol checkpoint in Comstock, Texas, when an older pickup caught his attention. Valdez said the driver appeared nervous, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles.
A short time later, Valdez responded to assist a traffic stop by a fellow agent involving the pickup. Steiner gave agents answers that didn’t make sense when questioned about the truck’s owner and two weed eaters in the back. As the agents waited for more information, Steiner seized an opportunity and fled down a somewhat remote area of U.S. Highway 90, Valdez said.
Steiner fled at speeds that left the Border Patrol SUVs behind but eventually Valdez and another agent attempted to block the road not far fom Langtry, Texas.
“I see him stand up in the truck and push that gas pedal as hard as he could. He was coming right toward us. He was trying to ram us,” Valdez testified.
As other agents, local law enforcement and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers joined in the chase, Steiner continued on the highway at reckless speeds, ending with tragedy.
Valdez said he was traveling along the highway and had called for helicopter assistance when he saw a mangled white Nissan in the roadway. The truck was smoking on the side of the highway.
Valdez said the female passenger in the Nissan was alive when he first approached but the older woman was clearly deceased in the back seat. Valdez said the front passenger slumped into the driver and died before his eyes.
The driver survived but with permanent injuries.
Border Patrol Agent David Kahn testified that when he arrived on the scene of the wreckage, the stolen truck Steiner was driving was on fire. He pulled Steiner to safety.
“He looked at the passenger car and he asked if anyone was dead. I said, ‘Yes. Two.’ He said, “Sorry,’ and just kind of shrugged his shoulders,” Kahn testified under questioning from Breaux.
Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper David Miller testified under questioning from First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp that the crash victims were a husband and wife traveling to Laredo, Texas, to drop off the wife’s mother. After that, the couple had plans to take a honeymoon in Corpus Christi, Texas, which they had put off for six years.
Miller said all of the crash victims in the Nissan were wearing their seatbelts but were crushed by the collision.
The jury also heard testimony from Correctional Officer Cody Sallee, who had contact with Steiner at the Coeffield Unit of TDCJ in Tennessee Colony.
Sallee said Steiner threatened to harm him after he refused to violate prison rules to take the inmate for recreation.
“As I began to walk away, he said, ‘One of these days they will let me out of these prison gates and when they do you’ll be staring down the barrel of a .45 and when I’m done with you, I’m coming for your wife and kids,” Sallee testified.
Crisp and Richards asked the jury to send a message that such conduct toward public servants in Texas “won’t be tolerated.”
“The life that he has chosen, the conduct he has engaged in, he absolutely deserves the harshest punishment,” Richards argued. “Those agents will go back to the border, to DPS, and the COs are going in for their shifts and they all want to go home. What can you do to help insure they do? Send a message to people who think they can get away with this.”
Crisp said Steiner’s claim of necessity and plea for mercy ring hollow.
“I can’t imagine how it gets more chilling than learning what David Steiner did when he learned that two people died,” Crisp argued. “Y’all drop the hammer on David Steiner and tell him what you think.”
The jury deliberated less than 30 minutes before returning with a life sentence on the most serious charge, aggravated assault on a public servant. That sentence will run consecutively to Steiner’s other terms, 102nd District Judge Jeff Addison ordered.