The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected, without comment, an appeal by Brandon Daniel, who was sentenced to die for the 2012 shooting death of an on-duty Austin police officer.
Lawyers for the death row inmate argued that state District Judge Brenda Kennedy improperly communicated with jurors during Daniel’s 2014 trial, then refused to step aside when defense lawyers filed an appeal in her court that criticized Kennedy’s actions as inappropriate and grounds for a new trial.
he Texas Court of Criminal Appeals compounded the error, defense lawyers said, when the state’s highest criminal court declined to transfer Daniel’s appeal to another judge, then accepted Kennedy’s recommendation that his appeal be denied.
According to an affidavit by a juror, Kennedy responded to a jury note without consulting Daniel’s trial lawyers and without revealing what she said. Travis County prosecutors, however, argued that there is “no competent evidence of an alleged jury note” and that the allegation that the judge “secretly communicated with the jury is not supported by the record.”
Daniel’s lawyers also told the Supreme Court that the inmate should be allowed to pursue a second claim — that his trial lawyers acted deficiently by missing evidence that he was autistic. The diagnosis could have explained what prosecutors called Daniel’s lack of remorse and use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, giving jurors a reason to choose a sentence of life in prison instead of capital punishment, the appeal said.
Prosecutors countered by arguing that the state appeals court considered, and rejected, the autism claim.
Daniel, 30, shot and killed Austin police officer Jaime Padron on April 6, 2012, as the two struggled on the floor of a North Austin Walmart. Padron, a Marine veteran and father of two girls, had responded to a call from store employees about a possibly intoxicated shoplifter.
Daniel was quickly arrested after the shooting, and police found $57 worth of food, alcohol and other store items in his backpack and a magazine containing six hollow-point bullets in his pocket.
Travis County jurors quickly found Daniel guilty of capital murder in February 2014, then sentenced the former software engineer to death after eight hours of deliberations.
A North Austin elementary school has been named for Padron, 40, who had been an Austin police officer for three years after 14 years with the San Angelo Police Department.