Texas trial begins in corrections officer's death

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Associated Press

Posted on November 27, 2012 at 10:02 AM

BRYAN, Texas (AP) — Attorneys for a convicted killer on trial for the killing of a corrections officer during an escape attempt in Huntsville five years ago contended Monday that another inmate — not their client — was responsible for the death.

Susan Canfield, 59, a seven-year Texas Department of Criminal Justice officer, was killed as John Falk Jr. and fellow prisoner Jerry Martin broke away from the inmate work crew outside the Wynne Unit prison. Martin jumped into a truck at a nearby city service center and rammed it into Canfield, who was on horseback. The horse threw her and her head struck the edge of the truck roof and windshield, killing her.

Canfield's fatal hinge fracture "opened up her skull," Walker County District Attorney David Weeks told jurors in his opening remarks Monday as Falk's capital murder trial got under way. Weeks is seeking the death penalty for Falk.

Martin and Falk sped away before they were caught a few hours later.

Michele Esparza, Falk's lead lawyer, said jurors would have to decide between "different versions of what took place," saying many facts they might think of as small would be disputed by the defense.

"Beyond a reasonable doubt, John Falk was not in that truck," Esparza said. "And he was not helping collide with the horse."

She also insisted that despite reports of a gun battle involving Falk, Martin and other officers, "he has a loaded rifle he doesn't use. ... They didn't shoot at all these people."

Weeks, whose opening statement focused solely on a description of the escape and subsequent manhunt, said Falk had run up to Canfield and engaged her "in a fight for her life."

Weeks and a corrections officer witness, Larry Grissom, described Canfield that day as a "high rider" — on horseback — as "the last line of defense" among a team of nearly a dozen officers supervising 77 inmates working in an onion field and pepper patch outside the prison.

According to Weeks, Martin used the ruse of holding a broken watch to get close to an officer, then got the officer's weapon in a struggle and tossed it to Falk. Shots were fired, including in a gunfight with Canfield, Weeks said.

Falk is accused under a Texas law that makes an accomplice equally liable as the actual killer. Weeks must convince jurors Falk knew, or should have known, the consequences of Martin's actions that led to Canfield's death even if Falk wasn't behind the wheel of the truck when she was hit.

"When the horse reared up, he wasn't near the horse," Esparza said of Falk. "He didn't do anything to help Jerry Martin. He didn't encourage it and didn't expect it to happen."

Martin, 42, the other inmate involved in the 2007 break, was convicted three years ago of capital murder in Canfield's killing and is now on death row. At the time of the escape, he was serving 50 years for attempted capital murder out of Collin County in suburban Dallas.

Falk, 45, already had been in prison since 1986 with a life sentence for a murder conviction in Matagorda County. Both inmates, however, had been classified as minimum security prisoners based on good disciplinary records and were assigned to do field work outside the prison at the northern edge of Huntsville.

State District Judge Ken Keeling moved the trial from Huntsville to Bryan. Falk, dressed in a black coat, tan pants and an open-collar white shirt, joined with Esparza in forcefully saying "not guilty" when Keeling asked how he pleaded to the capital murder charge.

Canfield's husband, Charles Canfield, a retired Houston police officer, was the first witness and told how he saw his wife of more than 18 years leave their Huntsville-area ranch and head for work about 5 a.m., Sept. 24, 2007, shortly before he also left for work at the Houston Police Academy, where he was an instructor. Later that morning, he received a phone call "that something had happened in Huntsville," he said.

"I had deduced myself that I had lost my wife," he said, his voice breaking at times.

Weeks said Falk had gotten behind the wheel when he and Martin sped off in the stolen truck. They dumped it about a mile away and carjacked a woman in a bank drive-through. Huntsville police pursuing them shot out a tire in the car and the inmates ran away on foot.

Falk was apprehended within an hour. Martin was caught hiding in a tree about 3 1/2 hours later.

The trial is expected to take several weeks.

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