The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed Monday to halt the execution of a man scheduled to die next month for the 1997 murder of a Texarkana man.
Julius Jerome Murphy was sentenced to death by a Bowie County jury in 1998 for shooting 26-year-old Jason Erie. Murphy, 36, and Christopher Solomon were both convicted of capital murder but Solomon’s death sentence was commuted to life because he was under 18 at the time of the killing.
Erie’s car was stranded on Summerhill Road when a car carrying Murphy, Solomon, Christine Davis and Marie Woods pulled over and gave him a jump in the early hours of Sept. 19, 1997. After Erie paid Murphy and Solomon $5 for their trouble, Erie was shot once in the head by Murphy and his wallet was stolen.
Last month Murphy’s lawyers filed a motion for a stay of execution in the case which alleges prosecutors in 1997 threatened criminal charges and promised leniency to witnesses Christine Davis and Javarrow Young, unbeknownst to the defense. The defense is entitled to full disclosure of any deals made with witnesses before trial.
Young was reportedly with Murphy and Solomon shortly before Erie’s murder but was not present when Erie was murdered. According to the motion to stay Murphy’s execution, Young now has said he did not tell the “whole story,” during Murphy’s trial in 1998 and that Solomon was the triggerman, not Murphy.
The defense’s motion further argues that “nationwide standards of decency have evolved to the point where Texas’ death penalty no longer is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted an indefinite stay to Murphy’s execution Monday. The issues raised may mean a new round of briefing and arguments before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rules on whether Murphy’s death sentence will stand.
Murphy’s lawyers are also asking a Bowie County court to step back into the case. Murphy’s lawyers filed a petition Friday asking for a court order compelling the Bowie County District Attorney’s Office to hand over every scrap of paper in the Murphy case file.
According to documents attached to the petition, Murphy’s advocates copied more than 2000 pages during a visit to the DA’s office in August. A couple of weeks later, Bowie County District Attorney Jerry Rochelle sent the defense a letter listing material which was not made available to the defense. According to Rochelle’s letter, the material included copies of news articles about neuropsychology, a court transcript involving a case in Florida, and “attorney work product,” or handwritten notes made by prosecutors. Whether those notes should be disclosed to the defense is likely to be disputed.
Rochelle was not District Attorney at the time of Murphy’s trial. When Murphy was charged and tried for capital murder, his case was assigned to the 102nd District Court, over which District Judge Bobby Lockhart now presides. At the Time of Murphy’s trial, Lockhart was Bowie County’s elected District Attorney and the lead prosecutor’s supervisor. Lockhart filed a motion Monday removing himself from the case. A new judge has not yet been assigned to handle Murphy’s recent court action in Bowie County.