Texas inmate facing death penalty appears in Bowie County court

Tracy appears in court in Feb. of 2016 (photo by Field Walsh)

A Texas prison inmate accused of beating a Telford Unit correctional officer to death last July appeared before a Bowie County judge for a pretrial hearing Friday.

Billy Joel Tracy, 38, is accused of wielding a metal bar used to open the tray slots in prisoner’s doors like a baseball bat to hammer the life out of correctional officer Timothy Davison during a routine walk from a recreational area to a cell in administrative segregation July 15. Last month Bowie County District Attorney Jerry Rochelle announced the state will seek the death penalty.

Tracy, escorted by several tough-looking prison officers, appeared Friday afternoon for a pretrial hearing before 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart. As Rochelle, Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp and defense lawyers Mac Cobb and Jeff Harrelson discussed the case, two of Tracy’s escorts kept hands on the accused killer’s body.

After Davison’s murder, Tracy was immediately moved from Telford. He is currently being held at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, which is about four hours from Texarkana. Cobb and Harrelson want Tracy moved to a closer unit so they can more easily consult with him about his defense.

“I still would defer to the decision making of TDCJ. They know where best to house this individual,” Rochelle said. “I understand their request. But an inmate being held for capital murder on a death penalty case should have a housing decision made by them. But if they have the ability to house him where requested, the state has no objection.”

Lockhart asked Tracy if personal property he mentioned at his arraignment hearing last month has been returned. Tracy complained to the judge in January that Ramen noodles, a hot plate and other items he had in his cell at Telford have been taken. Rochelle responded by saying the property is being held as evidence.

“No, it was stolen,” Tracy said when Lockhart asked him.

Cobb said some items have been returned to Tracy but asked about a manual typewriter. Cobb said the typewriter is currently being examined by analysts at the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab and asked if it could be returned to Tracy once the state is finished with it.

“We may want to have our own experts look at it,” Cobb said.

The lawyers also discussed a visit to the crime scene at Telford by the state and defense. Crisp said the visit will “substantially” disrupt prison operations and that an order from the court is necessary in order for the defense to bring in cameras and video equipment. Because of the disruption the lawyers’ trip to the prison will create, Crisp said both sides have agreed to go together at the same time. Lockhart agreed to sign an order defining the details.

Also discussed were autopsy photos, documents and a potential trial date. Lockhart told the lawyers he doesn’t want to begin jury selection too close to the holiday season as potential jurors might not want to serve at that time of year. Lockhart said he wants Cobb to present him with possible dates.

“It doesn’t have to be by our next pretrial hearing April 1,” Lockhart said. “But pretty shortly after that.”

Picking a jury in a capital murder case can take weeks as each prospective juror must be questioned individually and must be willing to consider death as a possible punishment.

Capital murder is the most serious crime in Texas’ criminal code. It is punishable by life without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection.

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