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Condemned Judge Says|His Brain Was Damaged

KAUFMAN, Texas (CN) - The Texas justice of the peace convicted of murdering a district attorney's wife demanded a new trial, claiming brain scans show his "brain is broken," which should mitigate his death sentence.

Eric Williams, 47, of Kaufman, was sentenced to die on Dec. 17, 2014 for the capital murder of Cynthia McClelland, the wife of former Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McClelland.

The McClellands were gunned down in their Forney home on March 28, 2013, two months after Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was shot to death in a Kaufman County courthouse parking lot by a masked gunman.

Prosecutors said during the jury trial in Rockwall County that Williams plotted to killed McLelland and Hasse after they prosecuted him in 2012 for stealing three county computer monitors. That conviction resulted in the loss of Williams's job and his disbarment.

A Kaufman County judge granted Williams' attorneys request for brain scans, to be performed on Dec. 30. The attorneys argued that visiting Dallas County Judge Mike Snipes refused to extend the two-week-long punishment phase of Williams's trial to allow for the scans and expert testimony indicating brain damage.

Medical testing was performed on Williams on Jan. 8.

"The results of this new testing reports probable prior brain injury which is newly discovered evidence that may have produced a sentence less than death," the Jan. 16 motion for new trial states. "The unavailability of this evidence through the actions of the trial judge prejudiced the substantial rights of Eric Lyle Williams."

Williams's attorneys say they learned the results of the brain scans only four days before the Jan. 16 court-imposed deadline to seek a new trial. They say Judge Snipes denied funding for the tests before Williams's trial, but "reversed his position after the merits trial had begun."

The motion cites the findings of Dr. William Orrison Jr., who concluded that Williams showed brain injuries with prior head trauma.

"Eric's left frontal cortex is the seat of judgment, decision-making, etc. The damage is at the interface between gray and white matter," the motion states. "This suggests brain damage causing Eric to have poor executive function that is supposed to regulate Eric's unregulated emotions coming from his shrunken and damaged hippocampus. The frontal executive system of Eric's brain has impaired communication with his more primitive limbic system, generally causing likely difficulties in regulation of behavior, emotion, and the ability to communicate feedback regarding his actions to the emotional centers of his brain further diminishing his ability to regulate his emotions and prevent his emotional system from over-riding the rational aspect of his reasoning and moral judgment."

The motion also cites loss of connecting fibers in Williams's corpus callosum.

"This may create schizophrenic symptoms, as a result," the motion states. "Eric may misperceive things out in the world. A juror might find this to reduce moral blameworthiness."

Williams's attorneys said they would have presented a "robust" defense of their client at trial "grounded on brain damage likely flowing from chronic and uncontrolled diabetes" if Snipes had funded the brain scans sooner.

The attorneys accuse Snipes of bias against Williams, of engaging in "facial expressions, body language, choice of language, and extrajudicial and on-camera behavior" against him.

Snipes had harsh words for Williams at sentencing, comparing him to Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer.

"You made yourself out to be some kind of Charles Bronson, a vigilante," Snipes said. "At the end of the day, you murdered a little old lady."

Snipes retired from the bench after Williams's trial. Visiting Lamar County District Judge Webb Biard is scheduled to hear arguments on the motion on Feb. 24.

Special prosecutor Toby Shook told the Dallas Morning News he will be ready for the hearing.

"We will retain experts of our own that can shed light on this issue," he said Tuesday.

Follow @davejourno
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