BRYAN, Texas (AP) — A judge declared a mistrial Monday in the case of a Texas prisoner who faced a possible death sentence if convicted of a 2007 escape attempt that left a corrections officer dead.
State District Judge Ken Keeling said it was an "impossible and unconscionable burden" for Brazos County jurors to consider a case that's been on hold for 55 days.
The trial of John Ray Falk Jr. was moved from Huntsville to Bryan and the delays resulted as prosecutors appealed Keeling's instructions to the jury.
Walker County District Attorney David Weeks argued the instructions were too limiting and impeded their efforts to win a death penalty against Falk.
"I don't believe justice can be done in this case when y'all were sitting on the sidelines for 55 days," Keeling told jurors.
Falk, 45, was the second of two inmates accused in the death of Officer Susan Canfield outside the Wynne Unit prison in Huntsville. Canfield, 59, died of head injuries after being thrown from a horse that was hit by a truck stolen at the Wynne Unit. A partner, Jerry Martin, was convicted and sent to death row.
Weeks told The Eagle, the Bryan-College Station newspaper (bit.ly/14psHHP), he would again seek a capital murder conviction and the death penalty against Falk.
One of Falk's lawyers, Michelle Esparza, said only that she was surprised with Keeling's decision.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals two weeks ago overturned a lower court's ruling that upheld Keeling's jury instructions, which Weeks argued were too limiting as they allowed the jury to consider Falk a conspirator and not party to the death, improperly increasing his burden of proof.
Martin was driving the stolen truck and Falk was nearby. He was charged under Texas' law of parties, which makes him equally liable for Canfield's death.
A state appeals court in Waco had allowed Keeling's instructions and Weeks took his appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
At the time of the September 2007 escape attempt, Martin was serving 50 years for attempted capital murder out of Collin County in suburban Dallas. Falk had been in prison since 1986 with a life sentence for a murder conviction in Matagorda County.
Both inmates 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.
They sped off in the stolen truck, dumping it about a mile away, then carjacked a woman in a bank drive-thru. Huntsville police pursuing them shot out a tire in the car and the inmates fled on foot. Falk was apprehended within an hour, and Martin was caught hiding in a tree about 3½ hours later.
Information from: The Eagle, http://www.theeagle.com