"Appeals court decision could come soon in murder trial," is the Bryan-College Station Eagle report written by Maggie Kiely.
Tuesday came and went without word from the state's 10th Court of Appeals on a request from prosecutors that put the capital murder trial of John Ray Falk Jr. on hold last week, just minutes before closing arguments were set to begin.
The appeals court is reviewing a writ of mandamus filed by Walker County District Attorney David Weeks and assistant attorney general Jane Starnes asking that the justices take action to amend what the prosecution says is a legal error that unfairly increases their burden of proof.
Arguments surrounding the state's petition for mandamus -- a legal tool not commonly used in criminal cases, especially in mid-trial -- were heard by appeals justices in Waco on Monday, a week after both sides rested their cases in the guilt-innocence phase of Falk's trial.
The state contends that District Judge Ken Keeling was wrong in adding language to the court's charge -- legal instructions jurors receive heading into deliberations -- that requires them to prove an element not necessitated by law.
Prosecutors also contested Keeling's decision to exclude the option of finding Falk guilty as a party to the crime, instead of a party conspirator.
But defense attorneys and Keeling's appeals lawyer argued the judge followed the law in constructing the jury instructions and insisted that granting the mandamus would lead to similar tactics being attempted by upset prosecutors in the future.
Although an appeals ruling is still pending, Keeling said he instructed jurors to return Monday in hopes of being able to resume at that point.
The Huntsville Item reports, "Attorneys await high court ruling," by Cody Stark.
The capital murder trial in the death of correctional officer Susan Canfield has been delayed for another day as attorneys from the state and defense await the ruling by the 10th Court of Appeals about the appropriateness of jury instructions.
Walker County District Attorney David Weeks and special prosecutor Jane Starnes are challenging the “fairness” of 278th District Judge Ken Keeling’s instructions to the jury in the trial of Texas prison inmate John Ray Falk Jr., claiming the wording made it more difficult for the prosecution to prove that Falk —who escaped with Jerry Duane Martin from the Wynne Unit in Huntsville five years ago — is responsible as a co-conspirator for Canfield’s death.
Trial officials made oral arguments before the Court of Appeals on Monday morning at the McLennan County Courthouse in Waco. Falk’s trial, which began Nov. 26 in Bryan, has been on hold since Dec. 3 after Weeks filed a writ of mandamus asking the high court to halt the trial court’s proceedings until it could rule on the state’s objections to the jury’s instructions. Weeks filed his writ before closing arguments began in the trial.
The instructions — which in capital cases typically include four questions the jurors must answer to determine Falk’s guilt — in this case say that Falk should have anticipated that Martin would murder Canfield by striking her horse with a vehicle. The state is asking the Court of Appeals to amend the instructions, arguing there are no previous cases in which the prosecution had to prove the defendant anticipated the specific manner and means in which a murder was committed.
Co-defense attorney Lane Thibodeaux and Rick Metzel, an Austin lawyer representing Keeling, say that the instructions were written that way because of the language of the state’s indictment of Falk. Thibodeaux also contends that there are not any previous cases that say a judge cannot include manner and means in the jury instructions.
Earlier coverage of the case begins at the link.