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Court Reporter’s Death Nets Murderer New Trial

HOUSTON (CN) - Lost testimony caused by a court reporter's death entitles a man sentenced to 99 years for murdering his wife to a new punishment trial, a Texas appeals court ruled.

Suspecting that his estranged wife had cheated on him Raymond Leal, 40, admitted in court that he shot and killed her in 2009.

A week later a jury sentenced him to 99 years, and fined him $10,000.

Leal appealed, and his court-appointed lawyer requested the reporter's record, including all witness testimony during Leal's punishment hearing.

But the court reporter for Leal's punishment trial, Barbara Burleigh, died in a car wreck in April before she prepared the record.

Two other court reporters and Burleigh's scopist searched through her records and her computer files but could not find backup recordings for at eight out of 13 witnesses.

Leal filed a motion to remand the case for a new trial on Sept. 7, and state prosecutors did not file a motion in response.

The 14th Court of Appeals in Houston granted Leal's motion in a recent ruling.

"We conclude that the missing record is necessary to the resolution of the appeal of appellant's ninety-nine year sentence," a three-judge panel wrote in a per curiam ruling meaning no judge is identified as the author.

While the judges granted Leal a new punishment trial his conviction based on his guilty plea will stand.

"The error resulting from the lost record is harmless with respect to appellant's conviction," the judges wrote.

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