Texas executed death-row inmate TaiChin Preyor on Wednesday, ending frantic legal efforts by a Hogan Lovells team and others who pointed to alleged incompetence on the part of Preyor’s former counsel.
To try to halt Preyor’s death by lethal injection, his pro bono lawyers argued that Brandy Estelle, his initial court-appointed post-conviction counsel, was “woefully unqualified,” and served only as a “mouthpiece” for Phillip Jefferson, a disbarred lawyer, who handled the legwork for Preyor’s earlier appeals.
Estelle, who came from California, was so new to handling a Texas death-row appeal that she included in her research file on the case a Wikipedia entry write-up titled “Capital Punishment in Texas,” the lawyers argued.
But those allegations and arguments failed to persuade the Texas or federal courts to stop the execution, which followed Preyor’s conviction for a 2004 murder.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion on the day of Preyor’s execution denying his request for a delay, and stressing that he had “waited until two weeks before his execution to bring the motion.”
The Supreme Court declined to review Preyor’s final appeal, so the state proceeded with the execution.
Asked if the case holds any lesson for death-penalty lawyers, Elizabeth Lockwood, an associate on the Hogan Lovells team who is in charge of the firm’s pro bono practice, wrote in an email: “The fact that Mr. Preyor was executed after being represented not just by a string of ineffective counsel, but also by a disbarred attorney, should give people pause.”
She added, “We are hopeful that his case will inspire members of the legal community to more stringently police the counsel appointed to represent all criminal defendants, and especially those facing death sentences. If our system is to have public confidence, the people on trial for their lives must be afforded competent, credentialed attorneys. We cannot allow unqualified attorneys and those who have had their law licenses revoked to have free reign in our courtrooms, especially when a life is at stake.”