"Velez hearing comes to end," is Mark Reagan's Brownsville Herald report.
Judge Elia C. Lopez in 30 to 60 days will tell the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals whether she thinks convicted murderer Manuel Velez should have another day in court.
Velez was convicted in October 2008 of killing 1-year-old Angel Gabriel Moreno. He was sentenced to death, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the sentence in June because expert witness testimony on future dangerousness was deemed inaccurate.
The child’s mother, Acela Moreno, pleaded guilty to striking Angel Gabriel Moreno on or about Oct. 31. She served five years of a 10-year sentence and testified against Velez during the trial. She received a plea deal and pleaded guilty to injury of a child.
Lopez listened to five days of testimony detailing what Velez’s pro bono habeas counsel said were critical mistakes by his defense attorney, Hector Villarreal, that included not exploring medical evidence or failing to call witnesses who might have cast doubt as to whether Velez was responsible for the child’s death.
Brian Stull of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project has blogged the hearing. "Velez Hearing Day 4: Plight of Victim’s Family Shows That Death Penalty is the Wrong Priority," is his post at the ACLU Blog of Rights.
Day 4 of the Manuel Velez innocence hearing on Friday in Brownsville, Texas, brought into focus the plight of the poor, depressed, and overwhelmed young mother of the child victim who died -- a mother who desperately needed help but never found it.
At a 2008 trial, Manuel was convicted and sentenced to death for killing 11-month-old Angel Moreno. Before Friday’s testimony, most of this hearing’s evidence has been the testimony of experts who showed that the child’s injuries were caused at a time when Manuel was not involved with the family and had no access to the child.
Witnesses Friday described the months leading up to the boy’s death, and the struggles his mother, Acela Moreno, faced. A friend testified that troubles started when Moreno came to her home at 3:00 a.m., with one of her three children in her arms. Moreno asked for money so she could flee the home of Juan Chavez, the father of the victim in this case, who was abusing her. The friend had provided money to Moreno in the past. On another occasion, the friend drove Moreno to a battered women’s shelter.
"Velez Hearing Day 3: A Portrait of Constitutionally Inadequate Counsel," is Stull's earlier post.
In Day 3 of the Velez hearing in Brownsville, Texas, I want to take a moment to explain the legal context – the rule of constitutional law – that will entitle Manuel Velez to relief if the judge, the Hon. Elia Cornejo Lopez, credits the facts presented.
The legal journey starts 50 years back with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright. There, the court held that the Constitution entitles poor people facing possible imprisonment counsel appointed at the state’s expense. In later decisions, the court clarified that a poor person’s right to appointed counsel is a right to effective counsel.
So how does an appellate court, after a conviction, test whether the prisoner had effective counsel? The law gives a two-step test. First, counsel’s alleged mistakes must be serious errors, not Monday-morning complaints that a different strategy would have worked better. Second, the prisoner has to show that the trial attorney’s mistakes or omissions made a difference in the trial’s outcome – in legal parlance, “a reasonable probability of a different outcome.”
A typical winning claim looks like this. Counsel failed to present readily available evidence of the prisoner’s innocence. And, had that innocence evidence been shown at trial, it likely would have made a difference in the jury’s decision.
The task in this hearing for Manuel’s counsel, a dedicated team of lawyers from the firms Carrington Coleman and Rothgerber, Johnson, and Lyons, has been to demonstrate counsel’s failures to show that the child victim had been injured long before Manuel had access to him. Much of the hearing evidence is medical evidence of the child’s injuries that counsel failed to explore in the 2008 trial, which led to Manuel’s capital murder conviction and death sentence.
We’re in day 2 of the Manuel Velez innocence hearing in Brownsville, Texas. As we’ve previously explained, this case posed a dilemma because two adults were in a Brownsville home on Halloween 2005 when 11-month- old Angel Moreno was taken to the hospital unable to breathe. Both adults, Manuel Velez and Acela Moreno, the boy’s mother, pointed the finger at one another as the perpetrator. But no witness, physical, forensic, or other evidence suggests Manuel ever hurt this or any other child.
Nevertheless, to prove Manuel was the perpetrator – and convince a jury to sentence him to death – the state claimed that Manuel must have killed the child because the child only began showing evidence of injuries and abuse during the two weeks in which he (and his mother) lived with Manuel. Those two weeks ran up to the day the child was hospitalized.
Earlier coverage of Manuel Velez' case begins at the link.