A Murder in Texas
Part Five – The Verdict and Penalty Phase
As you already know, Johnny Frank Garrett was found guilty and of course you know that he was given the death penalty.
So the verdict is already known.
But what happened during the penalty phase of the trial that didn’t set aside death to a then 18 year old mentally challenged young man?
Let’s take a look.
First, the judge was technically bound by law to adjudicate death in the state of Texas due to the way their law is written.
If a murder is committed while in the act of a sexual assault, it’s automatic.
No gray area.
Takes all the guess work out, I guess, but what about the mental health of the convicted person?
In Texas, it’s illegal to execute a mentally challenged person or one found to be insane.
At the punishment phase of the trial the government offered testimony of Garrett’s bad reputation in the community and his past acts of aggression.
From what I’ve been able to find his “crimes” in the community were mostly petty theft.
I wasn’t able to find any history of rampant violence or sexual crimes.
The defense presented Garrett’s mother, who made a personal plea for mercy on Garrett’s behalf and testified about his relationship with his brothers and sisters. The defense also called several officers who testified that Garrett had caused no trouble while awaiting trial in the Potter County jail.
His defense brought in forensic psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis to examine him. To his defense, she found him to have severe childhood trauma and significant brain damage. He also had multiple personalities, one of which (“Aaron”) Dr. Lewis claims described committing the rape to Dr. Lewis, but still repeatedly denying that either personality committed the murder. The “confession” described in Dr. Lewis’ book consists of a claim by Lewis that Garrett stated that one personality (Johnny) wanted sex, and so the other personality (“Aaron”) found a woman and raped her. There are no details about the crime, and when asked about the murder he continued to maintain his innocence.
Seems a bit lacking when someone’s life is in question.
Now let’s see what the jury DIDN’T hear in the trial or during the penalty phase.
As a youth, Garrett was raped by his stepfather, who then hired him to another man for sex. From the age of 14 he was forced to perform bizarre sexual acts and participate in pornographic homosexual films. He was first introduced to alcohol and other drugs by members of his family at the age of ten and subsequently indulged in serious substance abuse involving brain-damaging substances such as paint-thinner and amphetamines. Garrett was regularly beaten and on one occasion was put upon the burner of a stove, resulting in severe scarring.
Information on Johnny Frank Garrett’s abusive upbringing and mental health problems were not made available to the jury. According to three mental health experts who examined him, Garrett was extremely mentally impaired, chronically psychotic and brain-damaged as the result of several severe head injuries he sustained as a child. He suffered from paranoid delusions, including a belief that the lethal injection would not kill him. One of the experts described Garrett’s case as “one of the most virulent histories of abuse and neglect…I have encountered in over 28 years of practice.”
Anyway, Johnny Frank Garrett did receive the death penalty.
His last words were,
“I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my ass.”
BUT, this story doesn’t end here.
This is just the beginning.
Tomorrow – The Curse