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Death row inmate gets new sentencing hearing because lawyer refused to present his case

Hector Medina was sentenced to death in 2008 after killing his two young children. Now, he's getting a new sentencing trial because his lawyer refused to present evidence to persuade jurors to opt for the lesser sentence of life without parole.

Hector Medina was convicted and sentenced to death in the shooting deaths of his 3-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter.

The lawyer of a man sentenced to death for killing his two young children predicted that the case would be back in court 10 years later. She was off by a year.

Nine years ago, Hector Medina was convicted of capital murder in Dallas County after he fatally shot his 8-month-old daughter and 3-year-old son in March 2007. On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a new sentencing hearing, where he will fight for the alternative to a death sentence — life without parole.

The court ruled Medina didn’t get a fair trial in 2008 because his lawyer refused to present a defense at the punishment phase, the part of the trial after a capital murder conviction where jurors weigh factors that will lead either to a death or life sentence. Donna Winfield, Medina’s trial lawyer, refused to present a case after the defense’s portion of the trial was delayed because one juror was injured and another left to witness the birth of his grandchild, according to court records.

Winfield — who could not be reached Wednesday — had said that several of her witnesses, flying in from other states and out of the country, couldn’t coordinate to arrive at the newly scheduled date and asked for a months-long delay. Medina is an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, and relatives from his home country were set to testify on his behalf. The court refused.

So she “intentionally torpedoed” Medina’s case, said Judge Michael Keasler in his concurring opinion in Wednesday’s order. She refused to present a case, telling the trial judge, “I don’t care if I lose my law license over [this].”

“Suffice it to say, her ludicrous attempt to hold the trial court hostage resulted in a death sentence she was duty-bound, but did shamefully little, to oppose,” Keasler wrote.

Still, she was right. Medina is now getting a new punishment trial because of her actions. Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said in a statement that her office respects the court's decision and will begin preparations for a retrial.

Medina’s current appellate attorneys, Jeremy Schepers and Benjamin Wolff with the state’s Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, said that they were pleased with the court’s recognition that their client was deprived of a fair trial and effective assistance of counsel.

“The jury who initially sentenced Mr. Medina to death heard nothing of the intense trauma Mr. Medina suffered during the civil war in El Salvador, or other aspects of his compelling life story,” they wrote in a statement. “We are grateful that he will now have an opportunity to present this mitigating evidence.”

One judge dissented from the court’s order. Presiding Judge Sharon Keller said Medina should not qualify for a new trial because his lawyer didn’t completely abandon him during the trial — she still cross-examined state witnesses.
But Keasler said in light of the court’s ruling that Medina was unaware of Winfield’s sabotage strategy, he could not be held accountable for her actions.

“This long and sordid saga is still far from over. All the witnesses, evidence, and resources expended in his initial punishment hearing must now be marshaled anew,” he wrote. “The mother of two murdered children will once again be asked to relive her worst nightmare before a jury of twelve strangers.”

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Courts Criminal justice Death penalty Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals Texas death row