The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has taken the rare step of overturning the capital murder conviction of a death row inmate, granting Albert James Turner a new trial based on issues with his defense attorneys at his trial.
Turner was convicted in 2011 of killing his wife and mother-in-law in Fort Bend County shortly after Christmas 2009. His daughter, who was 12 at the time, called the police and said she had witnessed the crimes.
At Turner’s trial, he wanted to maintain his innocence. When put on the stand, he told jurors “I didn’t kill anyone” and claimed instead that the murders resulted from a conspiracy involving a local mayor, according to court documents.
But Turner’s defense team, believing they could secure a life sentence as opposed to the death penalty if Turner pleaded guilty, told jurors he had committed the crime and “still hasn’t accepted what has happened,” according to court documents.
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In a 7–1 decision Wednesday, the high court ruled that Turner had a constitutional right to attorneys who would represent his interests at trial. Their reasoning was based heavily on a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case, McCoy v. Louisiana, that ruled defendants have “the right to insist that counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel’s experience-based view is that confessing guilt offers the defendant the best chance to avoid the death penalty.”