Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Supreme Court refuses to block Texas execution based on faulty expert testimony  

A Texas inmate failed in his second attempt to convince the Supreme Court to throw out his death penalty appeal for a botched robbery.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court refused Thursday to halt a Texas man’s execution to review faulty expert testimony that landed him on death row for a stabbing three decades ago.

The justices did not provide an explanation for their ruling on the emergency application. There were no noted dissents.  

Brent Ray Brewer was only 19 years old when he killed Robert Doyle Laminack in a botched robbery in 1990; he stabbed Laminack in the neck with a butterfly knife while hitching a ride with him to a Salvation Army.  

A jury sentenced Brewer to death in 1991, but in 2007 the Supreme Court vacated Brewer’s death sentence because of issues with the jury instructions during the sentencing phase.  

Two years later, during his resentencing, the state relied on testimony from the infamous Texas forensic psychiatrist Richard Coons. For decades, Coons testified in death penalty cases across the state, providing his expertise in over 50 trials. However, his work his work was later discredited; in particular, Coons’ method for deciding whether a person poses a future danger has been deemed inadmissible in Texas.  

Although Coons never saw Brewer except in court hearings, Coons created an assessment of Brewer’s future dangerousness based on information from prosecutors. Coons testified that Brewer had no conscience and was not bothered by violence. He even cast doubt on the defense’s expert testimony, claiming it relied only on reported violence.  

A second jury sentenced Brewer to death, finding there was a likeliness he would commit further violence.  

Brewer argued Coons’ testimony shouldn’t have been admitted but lost on appeal. He asked the Supreme Court to review his appeal, claiming the lower courts errred in turning him away. However, Brewer needed the justices to put a pause on his execution before the high court could even consider his full appeal.  

In his emergency application, Brewer said his constitutional claims regarding Coons’ testimony were ignored by the federal habeas court. 

“Although one state court judge was persuaded that Mr. Brewer should be granted relief, the Fifth Circuit refused to even review the claim on the merits, denying a request for a COA, which allows his execution to proceed on Thursday without any federal appellate review of a potentially meritorious claim that goes directly to the imposition of the death penalty,” wrote Shawn Nolan, a public defender representing Brewer. “All Mr. Brewer asks for, in this still initial habeas corpus proceeding is the opportunity for full appellate consideration of his claim.” 

Texas argues the lower courts had an opportunity to review Brewer’s constitutional claims and refused to do so. The state urges the Supreme Court to take the same path.  

“Brewer’s attempt to obtain rehearing and a stay is nothing more than an end run around the Court’s rules to present additional cases and argument that were previously available in support of grounds this Court has already rejected,” wrote Craig Cosper, Texas’ assistant attorney general. 

Texas is scheduled to carry out Brewer’s execution at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.