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Lawyers Say Death Row Inmate's String of Awful Attorneys Should Halt Thursday Execution 

  • Courtesy of TDCJ

On the eve of TaiChen Preyor's scheduled execution date, his lawyers are scrambling to make requests  for more time to change his death sentence to one of life-long imprisonment or, at least, to fully investigate his case.

His lawyers claim that Preyor's previous counsel was under-qualified and held back crucial information about his past, which they say could have affected the outcome of his trial and several appeals. The new team of lawyers have made requests to Texas' highest criminal court for more time to fully investigate, but it rejected the pleas saying Preyor's previous lawyer "competently represented" him. The lawyers have filed a request to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and are waiting for its ruling, which is expected this morning.

Preyor was convicted for killing a 20-year-old San Antonio woman in 2004, and has been on death row for 12 years. The lawyers are not contesting the murder charge, but they're hoping to change the execution date in order to give them more time to do a deeper investigation, claiming Preyor's two previous lawyers weren't up to the task.

Their biggest issue? Preyor's main legal consultant, Phillip Jefferson, was a lawyer who was disbarred for "gross misconduct" and "indifference to the interests of his clients." Preyor's family alleged that Jefferson claimed he was retired and would need an active lawyer to file all of the official paperwork. That lawyer was Brandy Estelle, a California lawyer who works primarily in real estate law and probate. According to Preyor, Estelle used Wikipedia to help create her case because she was so unfamiliar with Texas' procedures and how to litigate a death penalty case. The family eventually fired the two lawyers for a slew of reasons including, issues with being double billed for services and a federal clerk calling a Texas legal assistance office to recommend that Preyor hire new lawyers because of misguided efforts on the part of Jefferson and Estelle.

The lawyers say that the previous counsel filed federal paperwork and appeals on Preyor's behalf when they weren't qualified to do so. In addition, they said that the previous consultants failed to provide information about Preyor's childhood, which is said to be riddled with domestic and sexual abuse.

"These experiences do not excuse his crime, but this...evidence, had it been presented, could have caused one juror to change their mind about a death sentence," the lawyers said in a press release.

The new group of lawyers took on the case and in April 2016, asked a federal court to approve and fund a new investigation of Preyor's case on his behalf. The money didn't come in until nearly a year later in May 2017.

"We're asking the court to give us the time and the space to actually litigate this issue and find the facts," lawyer Catherine Stetson said.

According to the Texas Tribune, the state and Bexar County have requested the execution date remain the same saying it “has been postponed for over a year in order to accommodate [Preyor] and his attorneys, but at the expense of the victims and the state’s interest in finality.”

But the lawyers contend that they were waiting for final approval to represent Preyor for 13 months out of the postponement time. During this time, they said the district judge was sitting on approval for representation and nearly $45,000 for the team. The lawyers said they've only had two months with proper funds to work on the case.

If Preyor is denied the extension request, his sentence on Thursday will mark the fifth execution in Texas this year — breaking a tie with Arkansas for the most executions in 2017. Preyor is one of 235 people on death row in a state that routinely conducts the most executions in the nation. Texas has 10 doses of its controversial execution drugs left in its supply and six other scheduled executions set before February 2018.

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