The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday threw out the death sentence of Manuel Velez, who was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s infant son in 2005. The decision was based on what the court said was the use of inaccurate expert testimony during Velez’s sentencing.
Velez, who was convicted by a Cameron County jury, will be taken off death row, though he has not been cleared of his conviction. Velez has already filed an appeal of his conviction, said Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project.
Velez’s death sentence was based on testimony from state expert A.P. Merillat, who gave the jury incorrect information about what freedoms Velez would have if not sentenced to death, according to Wednesday's ruling.
Merillat made it seem Velez “would have a lot of freedom he truly would not have,” Stull said. “And that’s a key issue in Texas — the state has to prove future danger.”
Armando Villalobos, the Cameron County district attorney who was a prosecutor in the case, did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment.
Velez will be represented by lawyers from two private law firms when he appeals his sentence, though Stull said he will be available to Velez as well.
The lawyers have uncovered evidence that injuries to the baby were sustained before Velez lived with him and while Velez was out of the state, Stull said.
The court also found that Velez’s girlfriend had given misleading testimony at the trial, though it did not consider that testimony grounds to reverse the sentence or conviction.
Merillat’s testimony, meanwhile, was also the basis for a previous death sentence that was overturned after ACLU involvement in 2010.