Christine Marie Paolilla is an American
woman who was convicted of shooting four of her friends to death in
2003 in what became known as the Clear Lake Massacre, which made
Christine Paolilla was born on Long Island, New
York on March 31, 1986 to Lori, a stay-at-home mom, and Charles
Paolilla, a construction worker. When she was 2 years old, her father
died, followed by her grandfather and great-grandmother. When she was
7 years old, Paolilla went to live with her grandparents. As a young
girl, Christine was diagnosed with alopecia and began wearing wigs.
During her childhood, Paolilla's self-confidence was very low.
Paolilla attended Clear Lake High School in
Houston, Texas, where she befriended students Rachael Koloroutis and
Tiffany Rowell, who helped her fit in with the other students. In
2003, she was voted "Miss Irresistible" by her school's student body.
That year, she also began a relationship with 21 year-old Christopher
On July 18, 2003, 17 year-old Christine Paolilla
and her then-boyfriend, 21 year-old Christopher Lee Snider, went to
her friend Tiffany Rowell's house, where Tiffany and Rachael
Koloroutis, Tiffany's boyfriend Marcus Precella, and Marcus' cousin
Adelbert Sanchez were. According to Paolilla, the couple planned to
get drugs at the house, but Snider reportedly got into an argument
with Precella, which led to the killings of Rowell, Koloroutis,
Precella, and Sanchez.
More than three years after the murders, the case
was still unsolved. In July 2006, after receiving an anonymous tip,
police arrested Paolilla inside a San Antonio, Texas hotel room. She
was living with her then-husband Justin Rott; the two were heroin
addicts who had not left the hotel room in eight months. Initially,
Paolilla denied killing her friends. In his interrogation however,
Rott told police that Paolilla had confessed to him that she had been
an active participant in the murders. He stated that Paolilla had gone
back into the house and beat Koloroutis to death with a gun.
Before he could be apprehended by police,
Christopher Snider committed suicide in Greenville, South Carolina.
On October 13, 2008, Christine Paolilla was
convicted of four counts of capital murder. Because she was a juvenile
offender at the time of the killings, she was spared the death
penalty. The following day, she was sentenced to life in prison. She
is currently incarcerated at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville,
Texas and will be eligible for parole in 2046.
Psychiatrist Gail Saltz stated "I think there’s a
chance she thought they were pitying her … but still envied them,
because they didn’t have to work so hard to be nice, to be accepted.
That’s going to create some intense envy and jealousy, bring out the
aggression, and the … wish to punish them for what they have" about
How jealousy drove 'psycho' teenager to brutally
murder one of the only girls who was ever nice to her
By Michael Zennie - February 27, 2012
Christine Paolilla was viciously bullied in high
school over the outlandish wigs and messy drawn-on eyebrows she wore
to hide the fact that she went bald as a young child.
When Tiffany Rowell and Rachael Koloroutis, two of
the most popular girls at suburban Clear Lake High School outside
Houston, Texas, befriended her, they made Paolilla into a new woman.
They taught her to dress and do her makeup. They
helped her buy more attractive wigs. When they were done with her
transformation, Paolilla was voted 'Miss Irresistible' by her class.
But police say a dark jealous streak drove
17-year-old Paolilla, along with her drug-addict boyfriend, to gun
down Rowell and Koloroutis, both 18, along with Rowell's boyfriend and
The killings were committed in such a brutal
fashion that police concluded they were the result of deep personal
hatred. Rowell and Koloroutis were both shot multiple times, including
in the crotch -- evidence of sexual envy.
When Paolilla realized Koloroutis was still alive
despite being shot 12 times, she grabbed the barrel of her pistol and,
holding it like a hammer, used the butt of the handle to bash in her
best friend's head as she choked on her own blood.
The cold-blooded murders remained a mystery that
baffled police for three years. Investigators never suspected a
17-year-old friend could be responsible for such a horrendous crime.
A new book, 'Never See Them Again' by true crime
writer M. William Phelps, exposes the gut-wrenching story of a teen
plagued by drug abuse and consumed by jealousy who turned on 'the only
people who wouldn’t stab me in the back.'
Revelation comes as little surprise, in retrospect,
to the family of her 21-year-old boyfriend at the time, Chris Snider.
In Snider's house, Paolilla became known as 'the
psycho,' according to Snider's sister Brandee for her obsessive
behavior and 'crushing jealousy.' Snider called the police on Paolilla
several times, Phelps wrote.
When they would fight, Paolilla would sleep on
Snider's front lawn until he let her inside. She rattled the screen
door and tried to break into the house.
She demanded violently rough sex from him, as if
'she wanted him to punish her.'
But Snider, for his part, was no choir boy. He was
'pushy and aggressive' and had a hard drug habit.
Rowell and Koloroutis urged Paolilla to dump him,
saying she could do much better for herself.
When Paolilla confessed to her crimes three years
later, she says it was Snider's idea to visit her two friends and rob
By this time, Rowell and Koloroutis had graduated
and were pulling in large cash tips working at a local strip club.
Rowell was dating Marcus Ray Precella, 19, who dealt cocaine and
In the afternoon on July 18, 2003, Paolilla and
Snider went to visit Rowell and Kolorouti, who were home with Precella
and his cousin, Adelbert Nicholas Sanchez, 21.
Paolilla said Snider surprised her by thrusting a
pistol into her hand before the robbery. He surprised her again during
the robbery, she said, by shooting Precella.
Paolilla says the first shot triggered a rampage
inside her. She claimed the gun went off on its own and she began
firing blindly and sobbing.
But police say the crime scene they discovered,
four bloody bodies in the living room of a home in suburban Clear Lake
City, Texas, showed a clear-eyed execution.
They counted 40 shots fired. Most were directed at
Rowell and Koloroutis. Paolilla shot both women in the groin -- wounds
that were absent in the men.
Koloroutis was wounded in the buttocks, meaning she
was likely shot trying to run away. As she choked on her own blood,
Paolilla walked over, police say, and repeatedly bashed her in the
head with the butt of her pistol.
Police noted distinctive 'overkill' in the female
victims, meaning their killer had intense personal animosity toward
This behavior from Paolilla doesn't surprise
'I remember her being intensely jealous,' she said,
according to the New York Post.
'There must have been some underlying jealousy
between (Paolilla) and (Koloroutis). When I saw photos of
(Koloroutis), I knew instantly. She was very beautiful.'
A break in the case didn't come for three years.
Paolilla had just married a man she met in rehab when a TV special on
the unsolved Houston murders came up on TV. She saw a sketch of the
suspect. It looked just like her.
That's when Paolilla confessed to her new husband.
The pair went on the run, staying in a hotel room for seven months
straight without leaving.
When police, acting on a tip, caught up with
Paolilla, they found a fetid room littered with more than 100 needles
from heroin use and smeared with dog feces.
When officers closed in on Snider, he ran into the
woods with a bottle of pills and soda. They found in dead from a
deliberate drug overdose.
Paolilla never fully confessed to her part in the
killings -- she always blamed most of her actions on Snider.
However, thanks to testimony from her new husband,
a jury convicted her of four counts of capital murder. Because she was
a minor during the killings, she was spared the death penalty and
sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.
'Psycho' 17-year-old shot, beat classmates to
Pretty Texas teens give high school’s ugly duckling
a makeover — and psycho 17-year-old shoots & beats them to death
By Larry Getlen - NYPost.com
February 26, 2012
When she was a teenager, Rachael Koloroutis, who
lived in a suburb outside of Houston, used to keep a photo of her
close friend Christine Paolilla in her handbag.
On the back of the picture, Paolilla had written,
“Damn, we’ve had some crazy memories. I love you.”
One night in the summer of 2003, Paolilla, along
with a boyfriend accomplice, shot Koloroutis and three other young
people for no discernible reason.
Upon realizing that Koloroutis was still alive,
Paolilla bashed her skull with the butt of her gun, striking her over
and over as the dying girl, choking on her own blood, asked, over and
“Never See Them Again,” the riveting new book from
veteran true-crime author M. William Phelps, examines one of the most
horrific murders in recent American history, a case that took the
Houston Police Department three years to solve.
That’s because the perpetrator was their least
likely suspect — a 17-year-old girl.
When she was 2 years old, Christine Paolilla lost
her heroin-addicted father to a construction accident. Soon after, she
was diagnosed with alopecia, a disease that results in the loss of all
Growing up, she tried to compensate, wearing
“bulky, Halloween-like” wigs, drawing eyebrows that would easily
smudge with sweat.
She was teased relentlessly at school, other kids
whipping off Paolilla’s wigs as she tried to make her way to class.
Rachael Koloroutis, however, seemed different. She
and her best friend, Tiffany Rowell, were among the most popular and
pretty girls at Clear Lake HS, and they decided to befriend the
bullied girl — a decision that Paolilla surely found confusing. After
all, teen girls being mean to each other is the linchpin of pop
culture: think “Carrie,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Heathers,” “Clueless,”
“Mean Girls,” etc.
Yet Koloroutis and Rowell, one year ahead of
Paolilla, seemed well-intentioned. They taught her how to “dress and
buy wigs and wear her makeup so she didn’t look like Tammy Faye
Bakker,” and helped her so reverse her fortunes that she was
eventually voted “Miss Irresistible.”
The three were so close that Rowell and Koloroutis
were the only friends Paolilla would let see her without her wig on.
Other things, however, she kept hidden.
Paolilla had a boyfriend named Chris Snider, a
“pushy and aggressive” kid with a criminal record and a hard-drug
Snider scared Paolilla’s mother, who later told ABC
that there was “something in [his] eyes.” Even Koloroutis and Rowell,
Phelps writes, told Paolilla that “she could do better,” and that
“there was another guy out there for her who would treat her with
dignity, respect and kindness."
Sources told Phelps that every fight Paolilla and
Snider had was caused by a “crushing jealousy” on her part that
resulted in “a crazy rage.” If Snider so much as looked at another
girl, Paolilla would hit him.
Yet a part of her also enjoyed feeling humiliated
and degraded by Snider, and she demanded such rough sex that it almost
seemed “as if she wanted him to punish her.”
Around the Snider home, Paolilla — who also had the
police called on her several times by her own parents — was known as
After particularly nasty fights, “she’d spend the
night on the front lawn, sleeping, trying to get into the house,
yelling, going nuts, rattling the screen door,” writes Phelps.
Snider’s sister, Brandee, is quoted as saying, that Paolilla
“threatened to kill my mom, my dad and even me! She was an absolute
cancer to us."
The abusive nature of their relationship reached
its apex one night when an enraged Paolilla, without warning, stopped
yelling at Snider, stared him down and “licked his face from his chin
up.” She then spat on the ground before walking away.
Snider had told his family, more than once, that
only two things frightened him: the cops and Christine.
The murders took place at around 3:30 p.m. on July
18, 2003, when a teenage couple, calling on friends in Clear Lake
City, Texas, found four bodies in a blood-soaked living room.
In addition to Koloroutis and Rowell, both 18, the
dead included Rowell’s boyfriend, Marcus Ray Precella, 19, and his
cousin, Adelbert Nicholas Sanchez, 21.
All four had been shot multiple times, and Precella
had “blunt-force head injuries.”
But the worst appeared to be saved for Koloroutis —
her head bashed in, a clump of clotted hair in her right hand. She was
shot at least 12 times, including once in the left buttock, an
indication that she was trying to run from her killer. She had also
been shot in the crotch.
The nature and precision of the shots — over 40
bullets were fired, with police marveling at their accuracy —
indicated a possible execution-style slaying. But the personal anger
directed toward Koloroutis — known among investigators as “overkill” —
suggested that the murderer had a personal relationship with at least
this victim. The shot to the crotch alone was a strong indicator of
sexual jealousy or competition.
Yet police quickly formulated a theory that the
murders were most likely drug-related, and they stuck to it.
Koloroutis and Rowell had just graduated, and the former pretty girls
of Clear Lake High were now pulling waitressing shifts at a local
strip club. Precella dealt ecstasy and cocaine.
Despite over 400 leads in the early months, most
leading back to Precella’s drug associations, the investigation went
No one thought to suspect Paolilla, in large part
because few women — let alone teenage girls — commit murder. Of the
1,190 juveniles arrested for murder or manslaughter in the United
States in 2009, only 7 percent were female.
And so a couple years passed, and life went on.
Snider wound up in a Kentucky jail on an old car-theft warrant and
Paolilla in drug rehab in Kerrville, Texas, where she met a longtime
heroin addict named Justin Rott.
It was love.
The two got married and, using a $360,000 trust
left by her late father, bought a condo. Their nesting period was
Soon after moving in, Paolilla saw a news story on
TV about the anniversary of her best friends’ unsolved murders. She
called Rott in to watch, and as police sketches were thrown up on
screen, Paolilla unraveled.
She paced the living room, saying “Oh my! Oh my!”
over and over. Then she stopped and stared at her new husband.
“Does that,” she asked, “look like me?”
Having offered this semi-confession, Paolilla soon
told her husband what happened that afternoon — a version of events in
which she was surprisingly passive.
She and Snider went to the house to steal money and
drugs — his idea, she said — and Snider surprised her by handing her a
gun just before entering the house.
He then shot Precella — another surprise. And then,
she claimed, the gun she was carrying just went off on its own, and
she lost control of it as she fired “blindly” around the room, crying
the whole time.
After they left the crime scene, she told Snider
she had to go back inside to “make sure they’re all dead.” Back
inside, she saw Koloroutis crawling on the floor, trying to dial 911
on her cellphone while gagging on her own blood.
At that point, Phelps writes, “Christine took out
her pistol . . . leveled it over her head, holding it by the barrel
like a hammer, and began, in a whipping motion, pounding on the back
of Rachael’s head, bashing her skull in, making sure she was dead.”
Finished, Paolilla then ordered Snider to drive her
to work— she needed to clock-in for her shift behind the makeup
counter at Walgreens.
Rott moved through a version of the stages of
grief: shock, anger, denial, acceptance.
The couple stuck together, going on the run. They
moved into a room at a La Quinta Inn and embarked on a drug binge as
epic in its volume as its squalor.
They shot $500 worth of heroin and cocaine daily
while living on Cheez-Its, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and soda. They
never left the room and never allowed housekeeping in, and as the
weeks accumulated, it was strewn with blood, vomit, their dog’s feces
and over a hundred needles.
They lived in that room for seven months.
Ten days before the third anniversary of the
murders, Houston police received an anonymous tip from a man — later
confirmed not to be Rott — who said he’d met Paolilla in rehab and
she’d had told him how she and her boyfriend committed the Clear Lake
Cops tracked her down through her ATM activity, and
within two days of that tip, they arrested her.
Paolilla gave varying accounts of what happened the
afternoon of the murders, but eventually gave away enough that,
combined with Rott’s testimony and other evidence, prosecutors were
able to convict her of first-degree capital murder.
She was given a mandatory life sentence, leaving
her ineligible for parole for 40 years.
Her accomplice and former boyfriend, Chris Snider,
ran into the woods with a bottle of soda and a collection of pills
once he heard the cops were on his tail. He killed himself.
As to the question of why a 17-year-old girl would
turn so violently on “the only people who wouldn’t stab me in the
back,” as she once said, the most plausible explanation may have come
from Snider’s sister Brandee.
“I remember her being intensely jealous,” Brandee
said. “There must have been some underlying jealousy between her
[Christine] and [Rachael]. When I saw photos of [Rachael], I knew
instantly. She was very beautiful.”
Rowell, too, had been shot in the crotch. The two
young men were not.
Ultimately, though, only Paolilla knows why she did
what she did. And, she continues to exhibit no interest in apologizing
Paolilla gets life in 4 Clear Lake slayings
Clear Lake victims' families say the verdict allows
them to move forward
By Dale Lezon - Chron.com
October 14, 2008
Although Christine Paolilla claimed her former
boyfriend fired fatal gunshots at four young people five years ago,
the former Clear Lake High School student was convicted of capital
murder and sentenced to life in prison on Monday.
Paolilla, 22, was found guilty by a Harris County
jury in connection with the deaths of her friends, Rachael Koloroutis
and Tiffany Rowell, both 18; and in the killings of Rowell's
boyfriend, Marcus Precella, 19; and his cousin, Adelbert Sanchez, 21.
Paolilla received an automatic life sentence
because she was 17 at the time of the killings. The U.S. Supreme Court
has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute murderers who were
juveniles when they committed their crimes.
Paolilla cried as a bailiff led her from the
courtroom after state District Judge Mark Kent Ellis sentenced her.
She must serve 40 years before she is eligible for parole, prosecutors
After more than five years, the families of the
four young victims said the guilty verdict would allow them to move
forward with their own lives.
"I feel justice was served," said George
Koloroutis, Rachael's father, outside the courtroom after the verdict
was read. "It's a good first step toward closure."
Paolilla's attorney, Mike DeGeurin, said the case
will be appealed.
In closing arguments Monday, DeGeurin suggested to
jurors that Paolilla's former boyfriend, Christopher Lee Snider, was
solely responsible for the shootings. Snider later killed himself in
"She's upset," he said of his client. "She totally
understands the grief of the families, her friends, the ones who were
killed. She only wishes they could understand that she didn't want any
of that to happen. But she understands their grief."
The four victims were found dead July 18, 2003, in
a Clear Lake-area home. Prosecution witnesses have said the killings
appeared to have been drug-related.
Snider and Paolilla had gone to the house together,
and he killed the four while Paolilla hid, DeGeurin said. Earlier in
the trial, jurors saw Paolilla's videotaped statement, in which she
told police that Snider was responsible.
She said she had accompanied him to the house to
buy drugs and that the shootings took place after they returned later.
DeGeurin told jurors in his opening statement that
Snider duped Precella out of drugs and then took Paolilla back to the
house to show that he wasn't scared of him.
Paolilla told police that she did not know Snider
had intended to shoot the four. She said that she was scared and was
crouched behind a pillar when she heard gunshots.
Snider opened fire with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol
with 16 bullets after they arrived. Then he jammed a .38-caliber
revolver against Paolilla's stomach to try to make her help, DeGeurin
Paolilla, who also had a gun, said Snider forced
her into the living area and held her hand on the gun handle as it
Prosecutor Rob Freyer told jurors that Snider alone
was not to blame for the killings
"What a tired and pathetic tactic," he said. He
said Paolilla was just as responsible.
"Could this horrible event have happened without
her?" he asked jurors in his closing argument. "Of course not."
Paolilla's stepfather, Thomas Dick, blamed Snider.
"I'm very sorry for these families and their loss,"
Dick said when the court adjourned after the verdict was announced.
"The guy who did this is dead. He was very, very bad. He was a
predator. My daughter is paying for someone else's sins. My daughter
doesn't deserve this. My daughter was a victim, too."
Juror Cliff Sheets said he was among four panelists
who had initially voted for acquittal, but who all eventually changed
their minds. He said questions he had about the case were answered
during their discussions.
"There was a lot of contradiction in her stories,
in the three interviews she gave (to police)," he said.
Dr. George Glass, a psychiatrist testifying for the
defense, said that Paolilla was a heroin addict at the time she gave
her statement to police, and she would have told investigators
anything as long as she thought it would help her get drugs to relieve
the painful withdrawal from the narcotic.
Quadruple murder suspect found guilty
By Mary Alys Cherry - Clear Lake Citizen
Clear Lake High graduate Christine Paolilla was
found guilty of capital murder by a Harris County jury Monday and will
be sentenced to life in prison.
Paolilla was charged with the murders of four young
people in Clear Lake five years ago -- killed in a Brook Forest home
while enjoying a pizza party.
The panel got the case after Assistant District
Attorneys Rob Freyer and Greg Goodheart and defense attorney Mike
DeGeurin presented their closing arguments, each trying to punch holes
in the other’s case.
DeGeurin worked to discredit the most damaging
testimony and paint Paolilla as a frightened unwilling participant in
the quadruple murders, committed by her then-boyfriend Christopher
Snider -- telling jurors that they should not convict her unless they
thought she was guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt."
He also showed a large photo of Snider, who
committed suicide in July 2006, and questioned police tactics in
questioning his client.
Freyer asked "if this horrible event could have
happened without her." And, he wanted to know, "if she was so scared
of Snider, why did she call him 11 times the day after the murders?
Why do a home invasion of someone you know unless you’re going to kill
"You are the ones who get to clean up the
wreckage," he told the jurors, going on to show photos of the four
"This is Adelbert Sanchez. That young man will
never get to go home again, never get to eat a cheeseburger, enjoy
Christmas. His family can go visit him at the graveyard." Then,
turning and pointing at Paolilla, he said. "But her mommy can visit
her in prison.
"Those kids don’t get to go home again and she
Goodheart quickly went on the attack, calling it a
home invasion for dope. "They sold drugs in that house. She knew about
the drugs, Christopher had only been there one time. She got them in."
Earlier, Paolilla told police how she had blood on
her hand and went in the bathroom and washed it off. "So, how in the
name of God did she get blood on her hand if she didn’t participate?
"Disregarding all the rest (of the evidence), she
was a willing participant in a dope hijacking," Goodheart said as he
concluded the case.
Both prosecution and defense rested their cases at
the end of last week -- the prosecution after testimony put the
defendant at the scene of the crime and also taking part in the
quadruple murder, and the defense after trying to dispute damaging
Paolilla, now 22, is charged with accompanying
Snider on July 18, 2003 and killing Tiffany Rowell and Rachael Ann
Koloroutis, both 18; Marcus Ray Precella, 19; and Precella’s cousin
from Houston, Adelbert Nicholas Sanchez, 21, as they were enjoying a
pizza party at the Rowell home.
Rowell and Koloroutis, recent Clear Lake High
graduates, and Precella, were former classmates and friends of
Paolilla, who was 17 at the time of the murders and therefore not
eligible for the death penalty.
Snider committed suicide in Greenville, S.C.,
shortly after Paolilla’s arrest, as Houston Police looked for him.
Paolilla told police that she and Snider went to
the Rowell home looking for drugs and Snider just started shooting the
four, even putting his hand on the gun he had given her to hold and
causing it to go off.
Later, however, a HPD fire arms expert testified
that neither of the guns used in the crime, found at the home of
Snider’s mother and stepfather in Louisville, Ky., would go off as
Paolilla claimed, showing jurors that it was somewhat difficult to
fire either weapon.
Paolilla’s husband, Stanley Justin Rott, testified
at length how she confessed her role in the murders to him numerous
times and how they were both addicted to heroin.
Each of the victims had been shot multiple times, a
doctor from the Medical Examiner’s Office testified, and both Precella
and Koloroutis also suffered blunt force trauma to the head.
A psychiatrist, Dr. George Glass, testified for the
defense Thursday afternoon, talking about Paolilla’s "very unfortunate
He told the jury how her uncle committed suicide,
how her father was killed in a construction accident when she was a
child, leaving her mother overwhelmed with two small children and no
insurance, and then how her mother turned to drugs.
"All this could affect a person," he said,
explaining that while still a child she also developed alopecia,
losing all her hair, eyelashes and eyebrows and was teased at school
about her wig -- making her vulnerable to bad guys such as Snider,
whom she met in intermediate school.
Glass also testified that he did not think Paolilla
had the capacity to waive her rights when police were questioning her,
as she was in withdrawal from heroin.
He said one’s mental state during withdrawal is
concentrating on drugs. "I don’t think she had a clue (about what was
going on). She just wanted to feel better."
In the police video he watched, he said, "she
doesn’t look like anyone who can make reasonable decisions."
Court of Appeals of Texas
Houston (14th District)
Paolilla v. State
Christine Marie PAOLILLA, Appellant v. The STATE of Texas,
May 26, 2011
Panel consists of Justices SEYMORE, BOYCE, and
Appellant Christine Marie Paolilla filed a petition
for discretionary review. Pursuant to Texas Rule of Appellate
Procedure 50, we withdraw our opinion of March 3, 2011, and issue this
substitute opinion in its place.
Appellant was convicted of capital murder. She was
seventeen years old at the time of the offense, and therefore
ineligible to receive the death penalty. See Tex. Penal Code § 8.07(c)
(West 2010). Because the State could not seek capital punishment, she
was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment instead. On
appeal, she challenges the constitutionality of her sentence, the
denial of her motion to suppress, and the denial of her motion for
mistrial. We affirm.
Four people were murdered in a Clear Lake home
during the afternoon of July 18, 2003. The home belonged to Tiffany
Rowell, who was counted among the four complainants. The other three
were her friends Rachel Koloroutis, Marcus Precella, and Adelbert
Nearly three years after the offense, police
received a tip through Crime Stoppers linking the homicides to
appellant and her then-boyfriend, Christopher Lee Snider. A warrant
was secured for appellant's arrest in San Antonio, where she had been
staying in a hotel with her husband, Stanley Justin Rott.
The Arrest and Appellant's Recorded Statements
The warrant was executed at 11:55 a.m. on July 19,
2006. When police entered the hotel room, they were met with evidence
that the occupants had been using substantial amounts of heroin.
Hundreds of used syringes littered the room. Appellant was wearing a
t-shirt stained with blood, and several needle marks could be found
over her body.
Appellant was escorted to the San Antonio Police
Department, where she agreed to a video-taped interview at 2:45 p.m.
During the interrogation, appellant admitted to driving Snider to
Rowell's house on the day of the offense. She said they originally
went there to purchase drugs, but they made a return trip when Snider
complained of forgetting something. Appellant insisted that Snider
went into the house by himself on both occasions while she remained in
the car. When Snider returned the second time, she saw him running
with a gun in his hands. She denied ever hearing any gunshots.
The interrogation ended at approximately 3:50 p.m.
Appellant, however, remained alone in the interview room as the
recorder continued to tape. In the ensuing minutes, her condition
clearly began to deteriorate. She grew visibly tired, appearing weak
and sick. The recording ended just after 3:58 p.m., when appellant
requested to see a nurse, claiming she was bleeding.
Appellant was transported to Santa Rosa Hospital in
San Antonio at approximately 4:12 p.m. Medical records indicate she
was currently menstruating, but no other signs of bleeding were
reported. Appellant did present, though, with a chief complaint of
heroin withdrawal. She informed doctors that she was accustomed to
taking heroin every ten to fifteen minutes, and that her last
injection was roughly 10:00 a.m. that morning. At 5:30 p.m., appellant
was administered six milligrams of morphine and twenty milligrams of
Using only an audio recorder, interrogators
continued their interview inside the hospital at 6:15 p.m. During this
session, appellant again denied ever entering the home. She stated,
however, that a fight erupted inside, with Snider admitting to
shooting all four complainants. The interview concluded at 7:15 p.m.
At approximately 9:00 p.m., just before her discharge, appellant
received additional dosages of morphine and Methadone.
Appellant was flown to Houston later that evening.
She slept on the flight and through part of the next day after being
placed in a jail cell. Following an unrecorded interview during the
afternoon of July 20, appellant complained of illness and requested to
see a doctor. She was taken to Ben Taub Hospital at 6:50 p.m. and
again treated for heroin withdrawal, this time receiving twenty-five
milligrams of Librium at 10:07 p.m. Appellant was discharged at 11:00
p.m. and escorted back to police headquarters in downtown Houston.
A final video-taped interrogation commenced at
11:38 p.m. During this interview, appellant stated that Snider forced
her into the house on the return trip, making her hold one of his two
guns. Although she denied aiming at any of the complainants, she
stated that Snider pulled the trigger a number of times while she held
the gun in her hand. The interrogation ended at 1:39 a.m. on July 21.
Appellant was then returned to her jail cell. The record does not show
that she complained of illness following the interview.
The Suppression Hearing
In a pretrial hearing, appellant moved to suppress
all three recorded statements. Although advised of her Fifth Amendment
rights before each interview, appellant complained that her statements
were rendered involuntary because of medications she ingested and
because she was suffering from acute opioid withdrawal.
Appellant called a single expert witness, Dr.
George S. Glass, a physician board certified in psychiatry and
addiction medicine. Dr. Glass testified that appellant was a heroin
addict with a very high tolerance for narcotics. He stated that heroin
has a short half-life, meaning that it breaks down in the body
relatively quickly. If the addiction is not sustained, an abuser can
suffer from withdrawal between four and eight hours after her last
injection. The physical symptoms of withdrawal, he said, include
chills, fever, shaking, nausea, vomiting, and seizing.
Dr. Glass assumed that appellant's last use of the
drug prior to her arrest occurred between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. on
July 19. Based on that time frame, he supposed that appellant would
have entered serious opioid withdrawal between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
that evening. Dr. Glass observed the first video-taped interrogation,
which ended just before 4:00 p.m., and opined that appellant was in
acute withdrawal because she was wrapped in a thin blanket and
Dr. Glass also described the drug treatment
appellant received following her arrest. He said that six milligrams
of morphine was a significant dosage normally reserved for intense
pain, similar to the type of pain experienced by an adult male during
a heart attack. Methadone, however, is commonly used when treating
opioid dependence. The drug has a much longer half-life than heroin,
and patients who take Methadone will not usually enter maximum
withdrawal until twenty-four hours after it was last ingested. Dr.
Glass also stated that the high dosage of Methadone demonstrated the
extent of appellant's heroin addiction—the average person would have
been comatose on that dosage if not similarly tolerant to the drug.
Dr. Glass explained that Librium is a minor
tranquilizer also used in treating addictions. The drug removes the
anxiety of withdrawal, but it does nothing for the cravings or for
certain physiological symptoms, such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhea,
and bone aches. According to Dr. Glass, appellant's dosage of Librium
was the equivalent of consuming three to five shots of alcohol.
Dr. Glass testified that appellant was not
intoxicated during her third interview in Houston. However, he opined
that she did exhibit certain withdrawal symptoms, referencing a moment
where she mentioned a desire to throw up. Dr. Glass observed shaking
and anxiety, testifying that appellant's posture was “a little
bizarre,” as though her muscles were in spasm. Because appellant
received her last dosage of Methadone more than twenty-six hours
before this interview, Dr. Glass found her symptoms consistent with a
person entering the peak of withdrawal.
The State produced testimony from three police
officers. Sergeant Brian Harris executed the arrest warrant and
conducted the two recorded interviews in San Antonio. He testified
that he has been a certified peace officer for twenty-one years.
During his tenure on the police force, he personally observed the
effects of heroin on users, which he claimed are typically marked by
irrational behavior and slurred and incoherent speech. He has also
observed the physical breakdown of a person entering withdrawal.
According to Sergeant Harris, appellant did not
appear to be under the influence of narcotics at the time of her
arrest. During the first recorded interview, he stated that appellant
was clear and calm, and her tone suggested an inquisitive demeanor. He
testified that appellant did shake occasionally, but only when she was
crying, which occurred during the interview's more sensitive
discussion of the complainants, who appellant revealed were her
friends and classmates. Sergeant Harris denied seeing any signs of
intoxication. When questioned whether appellant deliberated before
giving her answers, he described her responses as “calculated.”
Sergeant Harris accompanied appellant on her
transfer to Santa Rosa Hospital. He testified that appellant was
relaxed and conversational during the hospital interview. He described
her answers as clear and concise. Despite her treatments of morphine
and Methadone, Sergeant Harris testified that appellant did not appear
to be under the influence of any sort of intoxicant. Rather, he stated
she was conscious and alert, and she made appropriate hand gestures
when communicating her story.
Officer Connie Park managed the intake desk at the
Houston Police Department on the night of July 20, 2006. Officer Park
testified to having twelve years of experience with the police
department, four of which were spent on the Gang Task Force. During
those four years, she encountered a number of people who were impaired
by the influence of drugs.
Sometime between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on July
20, Officer Park was asked to escort appellant to the bathroom, where
they had a casual conversation. Officer Park testified that during
their brief discussion, she observed none of the signs of impairment
that typically accompany drug abuse. Officer Park described
appellant's speech as “clearly coherent” and “matter of fact.” In her
view, appellant appeared to be oriented to time and place, and neither
upset nor distraught. She also testified that appellant made no
complaints about withdrawing from heroin.
Sergeant Breck C. McDaniel conducted the
video-taped interview in Houston. He testified to having thirteen
years of experience with the Houston Police Department. In that time,
his work has involved some exposure with heroin addicts. He stated
that heroin is a depressant, and addicts tend to appear tired or
lethargic. He also testified that he has witnessed the symptoms of
withdrawal, which primarily include vomiting, seizing, sweating, and
Sergeant McDaniel testified that appellant
displayed none of these symptoms during her interview. Occasionally,
appellant did seem upset. When she recounted the shootings, for
instance, her hands shook and she began to cry. Sergeant McDaniel
allowed her frequent breaks to compose herself, even permitting her to
smoke and drink a soda. According to him, she appeared physically fine
and lucid throughout the interview.
The trial court denied appellant's motion to
suppress. The court later issued findings of facts, which stated that
the testimony from Sergeant Harris, Officer Park, and Sergeant
McDaniel was credible and reliable. In the findings, the court also
concluded that appellant was not intoxicated or suffering from
withdrawal symptoms, and that during all three interviews, she was
“lucid and capable of understanding the warnings given to her and the
nature of her statements.” Furthermore, the court specifically found
that Dr. Glass's opinions were “not supported by the evidence and
therefore not reliable.” Because the court determined that appellant
voluntarily waived her rights in supplying her statements, all three
recordings were later published for the jury's consideration.
Two eyewitnesses placed appellant at the scene of
the crime. Michelle and Craig Lackner lived next door to Tiffany
Rowell. The Lackners testified that on the day of the offense, they
both observed a young man and woman casually walk down the street and
approach Rowell's house. In court, the Lackners identified appellant
as the girl they had witnessed. They denied seeing her with a gun, but
they each said that she was carrying a purse. Using a six-person photo
spread, the Lackners also identified Snider as the accompanying male.
Rott was called as a witness for the prosecution as
well. He testified to calling in the tip to Crime Stoppers after
learning of the offense from his wife. Rott said that he met appellant
at a drug treatment center in Kerrville around November 2004, more
than a year after the murders. The two were married about four months
later. During their courtship, appellant vaguely told him of an
incident with her former boyfriend that resulted in the deaths of four
people. On a later occasion, she elaborated that she and Snider went
to Rowell's house in Clear Lake. Just before entering the house,
Snider handed her a gun, which she carried in her purse. The intention
was to take some drugs and money, but not hurt anyone, she stressed.
According to Rott, appellant mentioned that she and
Snider were invited into Rowell's house, where they eventually started
shooting at the four people inside. After leaving, appellant told
Snider that she needed to make sure they were really dead. Appellant
then returned to find Koloroutis choking on her own blood. Rott
testified that appellant admitted to beating Koloroutis with her gun
until she was dead.
Bullets from two separate weapons were recovered at
the scene. Kim Downs, the State's firearms examiner, testified that
bullets from both sets of guns were found in the bodies of Rowell and
Precella. The bullets were later traced to two handguns found in
Louisville, Kentucky, in a safe stored at the home of Snider's
stepfather. Dr. Morna Gonsoulin, the State's medical examiner,
testified that in addition to several gunshot wounds, Koloroutis
suffered skull fractures consistent with blunt force trauma to the
Part of appellant's defensive strategy was to
attack Rott's credibility. In his opening statement, defense counsel
suggested that Rott reported his wife to Crime Stoppers in order to
claim a substantial reward. Defense counsel further argued that Rott
made a deal with the State to testify falsely against appellant so
that he might avoid prosecution for the heroin recovered in the San
Antonio hotel. Defense counsel attempted to elicit testimony regarding
this deal from Thomas Pardue and his daughter, Lane, a woman whom Rott
began to date following appellant's arrest. Much of the Pardues'
testimony was interrupted by various objections from the State.
During closing argument, defense counsel again
referred to Rott's alleged deal with the prosecution and his
relationship with the Pardues. The trial court sustained the
prosecutor's objection to these arguments as being outside the record.
The prosecutor then responded to these exact arguments in his own
closing statement. The prosecutor told the jury:
Mr. Pardue. I feel sorry for that man, I truly do.
I mean, he has gone through hell for his daughter, but you don't get
to know everything. You probably figured out by now you cannot know
all the facts and circumstances of a case. You hear us making
objections, you've got to go outside the room, come back inside the
room. You don't know the whole truth about everything that happened in
this case. When it's all over, we will tell you the whole truth.
Appellant objected that this argument improperly
encouraged the jury to convict her on facts not admitted in evidence.
The objection was sustained, and the trial court instructed the jury
to disregard the statement. The trial court further admonished that
“the only thing you can base your verdict on is the evidence that you
have in front of you.” Appellant also moved for a mistrial, but that
The jury returned a verdict of guilty after
receiving the trial court's instruction on the law of parties.
Appellant was then sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment.
In her first issue, appellant contends a mandatory
life sentence violates the Eighth Amendment's proscription against
cruel and unusual punishment when imposed on a juvenile offender. In
her second issue, she contends the trial court abused its discretion
by denying her motion for mistrial. In issues three through six, she
contends the trial court erred in dismissing the opinions of Dr. Glass
and in denying her motion to suppress. We examine these issues
slightly out of order, considering her second issue last.
CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT
At the time of the offense, section 12.31 of the
Texas Penal Code stated that “[a]n individual adjudged guilty of a
capital felony in a case in which the state does not seek the death
penalty shall be punished by imprisonment in the institutional
division for life.” Act approved June 19, 1993, 73d Leg., R.S., ch.
900, § 1.01, 1993 Tex. Gen. Laws 3586, 3602 (amended 2009). Appellant
contends this automatic sentence is grossly disproportionate as
applied to juveniles because it forecloses the opportunity of
producing evidence of mitigating circumstances.
We have previously held that a mandatory life
sentence does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment, even when
applied to juvenile offenders. See Laird v. State, 933 S.W.2d 707, 714
(Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1996, pet. ref'd) (“Presumably, the law
statutorily considers youth in mitigation of the death penalty and
thereby mandates the lesser of the two possible punishments for
capital murder.”). Appellant now urges us to reach the opposite
conclusion in light of recent Supreme Court decisions. In particular,
appellant relies on Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010), and
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), two cases which recognized that
juvenile offenders should not be punished as harshly as their adult
In Graham, the Supreme Court determined that the
Eighth Amendment proscribes a sentence of life without parole for a
juvenile offender convicted of a non-homicide crime. Graham, 130 S.Ct.
at 2034. In Roper, the Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment similarly
prohibits the imposition of capital punishment on juveniles. Roper,
543 U.S. at 578. Both cases observe that juveniles are inherently
different from adults, and because of their innate differences, the
Court reasoned that a punishment that is permissible for adults may
occasionally be disproportionate when applied to younger offenders.
See Graham, 130 S.Ct. at 2026 (noting that juveniles have an objective
lack of maturity, underdeveloped sense of responsibility,
vulnerability to negative influences, and unformed characters); Roper,
543 U.S. at 569–70 (same). Because the Texas capital murder statute
did not distinguish between adults and juvenile offenders at the time
of her offense, appellant contends her mandatory sentence is likewise
Appellant raises an issue not directly addressed by
either Graham or Roper: whether a mandatory sentence of life with the
possibility of parole may be imposed on a juvenile convicted of a
capital offense. When faced with a categorical challenge to a
term-of-years sentence, the reviewing court must first consider the
“objective indicia of society's standards, as expressed in legislative
enactments and state practice.” Roper, 543 U.S. at 563; see also
Graham, 130 S.Ct. at 2022–23 (applying Roper's categorical rules where
“a threshold comparison between the severity of the penalty and the
gravity of the crime does not advance the analysis”). The court
examines this objective evidence to determine whether a national
consensus exists against the sentencing practice at issue. See Roper,
543 U.S. at 563. Although “entitled to great weight,” evidence of
national consensus is not itself determinative of whether a punishment
is cruel and unusual. Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407, 434 (2008).
Because the task of interpreting the Eighth Amendment remains a
judicial responsibility, the court must still exercise its independent
judgment to determine whether the punishment violates the
Constitution. Roper, 543 U.S. at 575. This judgment is guided by
consideration of the moral culpability of the offenders at issue in
light of their crimes and characteristics, the severity of the
punishment, and whether the punishment serves legitimate penological
goals. Graham, 130 S.Ct. at 2026; cf. Meadoux v. State, 325 S.W.3d
189, 194 (Tex.Crim.App.2010) (applying the same factors to a challenge
involving a juvenile capital offender who was sentenced to life
without the possibility of parole).
Balancing all of these factors, we cannot conclude
that appellant's mandatory sentence amounts to cruel and unusual
punishment. Appellant has not produced any evidence of a national
consensus against the sentence imposed. Even though a juvenile's
culpability may be diminished when compared to an adult, the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals has recently recognized that the moral
culpability of a juvenile capital offender is still substantial. See
Meadoux, 325 S.W.3d at 195.
In Meadoux, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed
a juvenile capital offender's mandatory sentence of life without
parole. See id. at 195–96 (finding that the punishment served
legitimate penological goals). Following Meadoux, we cannot conclude
that appellant's lesser sentence is grossly disproportionate simply
because the capital murder statute did not distinguish between
juveniles and adults at the time of the offense. Appellant's first
issue is overruled.
MOTION TO SUPPRESS
In issues three through six, appellant contends the
trial court should have suppressed her three recorded statements.
The recording of an interrogation may not be
introduced into evidence unless the defendant knowingly,
intelligently, and voluntarily waives her Fifth Amendment rights.
Tex.Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.22, § 3(a) (West 2005); Miranda v.
Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 474–75 (1966). Appellant argues that
waiver was involuntary in this case because her recorded statements
were procured as she was either withdrawing from heroin or under the
influence of morphine, Methadone, and Librium.
We examine a trial court's ruling on a motion to
suppress using a bifurcated standard of review. Wilson v. State, 311
S.W.3d 452, 457–58 (Tex.Crim.App.2010). We afford “almost total
deference to a trial court's determination of historical facts,”
especially when the trial court's findings are based on an evaluation
of the credibility and demeanor of the witnesses. Guzman v. State, 955
S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex.Crim.App.1997). If supported by the record, the
trial court's ruling will not be disturbed. Romero v. State, 800
S.W.2d 539 (Tex.Crim.App.1990). The only question we review de novo is
whether the trial court properly applied the law to the facts
presented. Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323, 327 (Tex.Crim.App
The voluntariness of a statement is assessed by
considering the totality of the circumstances under which the
statement was obtained. Creager v. State, 952 S.W.2d 852, 855
(Tex.Crim.App.1997). Of principal concern are the characteristics of
the accused and the details of the interrogation. Davis v. State, 313
S.W.3d 317, 337 (Tex.Crim.App.2010). Although relevant, evidence of
intoxication does not necessarily render a statement involuntary.
Jones v. State, 944 S.W.2d 642, 651 (Tex.Crim.App.1996); King v.
State, 585 S.W.2d 720, 722 (Tex.Crim.App. [Panel Op.] 1979). When the
record reflects evidence of narcotics, medications, or other
mind-altering agents, the question becomes whether those intoxicants
prevented the defendant from making an informed and independent
decision to waive her rights. See Jones, 944 S.W.2d at 651; see also
Nichols v. State, 754 S.W.2d 185, 190 (Tex.Crim .App.1988) (“The
central question is the extent to which appellant was deprived of his
faculties due to the intoxication.”), overruled on other grounds by
Green v. State, 764 S.W.2d 242 (Tex.Crim.App.1989).
We recognize that appellant's drug abuse was
significant, and her medical treatment considerable. Nevertheless, the
record supports the trial court's ruling that appellant was capable of
making an informed decision to waive her rights. Appellant did not
appear intoxicated at any stage of her three recorded interrogations.
Sergeant Harris testified that appellant spoke clearly and concisely
during both interviews in San Antonio. During her first interview,
appellant's responses were described as “calculated.” At the hospital,
Sergeant Harris said she was conscious and alert. Officer Park
testified that appellant was oriented to her surroundings, and
Sergeant McDaniel testified that she was physically fine and lucid
during her Houston interview. All three officers testified to having
experience dealing with heroin addicts, and each denied witnessing any
signs that appellant was withdrawing from heroin or under the
influence of any sort of intoxicant. The court, as trier of fact
during the suppression hearing, was free to believe the officers over
the testimony of the expert. See McGalliard v. Kuhlmann, 722 S.W.2d
694, 697 (Tex.1986).
Although we defer to the trial court's finding that
Dr. Glass's opinions were not credible, Guzman, 955 S.W.2d at 89, we
do observe that Dr. Glass similarly testified that appellant was not
intoxicated from any of the drugs she received. Even if appellant was
further suffering from the effects of withdrawal, as Dr. Glass
claimed, the evidence does not support appellant's argument that she
was unable to make an informed decision to waive her rights. Cf.
Davis, 313 S.W.3d at 337–38 (finding waiver voluntary despite
confessor's testimony that he was “coming off” drugs where confessor
was calm and exhibiting a rational understanding of the questioning);
United States v. Kelley, 953 F.2d 562, 565 (9th Cir.1992) (finding
waiver voluntary despite symptoms of withdrawal where confessor was
coherent, responsive, and displaying an ability to think rationally),
disapproved on other grounds by United States v. Kim, 105 F.3d 1579
(9th Cir.1997). We find support for the testimony of the officers in
our own review of the recordings. We therefore conclude that the
record supports the trial court's conclusion that appellant
voluntarily waived her rights.
Appellant still argues that her statements should
have been suppressed under the authority of Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S.
293 (1963), overruled on other grounds by Keeney v. Tamayo–Reyes, 504
U.S. 1 (1992). In Townsend, a heroin addict confessed to murder after
receiving treatment with a drug having the properties of a “truth
serum.” Id. at 297–98. The drug was administered because the addict
was entering opioid withdrawal. Id. The Supreme Court held that a
“coherency” standard was not the appropriate test for determining
whether a drug-induced statement was voluntarily made. Id. at 320.
Rather, the appropriate inquiry is whether the individual's will was
overborne, or whether his statement was the product of a rational
intellect and a free will. Id. at 307. Appellant argues that the trial
judge's findings should be disregarded because he used the wrong
We do not find that appellant's recorded statements
were admitted in violation of Townsend. Appellant may have very likely
been under the influence of heroin during her first interrogation, yet
no one, including Dr. Glass, actually testified that she appeared
intoxicated. Moreover, Dr. Glass never testified that heroin by itself
was sufficient to abrogate appellant's free will. See King, 585 S.W.2d
at 722 (holding that heroin taken on day of confessing did not render
Dr. Glass also failed to explain how any of the
medications appellant received acted in the nature of a “truth serum.”
He merely testified that appellant was treated with morphine and
Methadone to begin her detox and to stabilize her condition before her
transfer to Houston. Although appellant received potent dosages of
each drug, no one testified that either morphine or Methadone would
render appellant incapable of understanding her rights. After
receiving this treatment, appellant did not slur her words during the
second interview. She did not pause inappropriately before answering a
question, nor did she seem confused. Nothing on the audio recording
indicated that appellant was incompetent to testify. Likewise, there
was no testimony that the combined effect of morphine and Methadone
had overcome appellant's free will, making her appear competent when,
in fact, she was not.
Before her third recorded interview in Houston,
appellant received Librium to treat the anxiety associated with her
heroin withdrawal. Dr. Glass testified that the amount of Librium
administered was the equivalent of several shots of alcohol, and that
it did nothing for the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Dr. Glass
agreed with the officers, however, that appellant was not intoxicated
when she offered her statements. Moreover, Dr. Glass never testified
that Librium would prevent appellant from waiving her rights freely
The record supports the trial court's finding that
appellant's statements were not induced from either the medications
she received or the effects of withdrawal. Because her recorded
statements were not admitted in violation of Townsend, we overrule
issues three through six.
MOTION FOR MISTRIAL
In her last remaining issue, appellant challenges
the trial court's refusal to grant a mistrial after the prosecutor's
improper closing argument.
We review a trial court's ruling on a motion for
mistrial for an abuse of discretion. Hawkins v. State, 135 S.W.3d 72,
77 (Tex.Crim.App.2004). When the refusal to grant a mistrial follows
an objection for improper jury argument, we evaluate the trial court's
decision using the following factors: (1) the severity of the
misconduct; (2) the measures adopted to cure the misconduct; and (3)
the certainty of conviction absent the misconduct. Id. (citing Mosley
v. State, 983 S.W.2d 249, 259 (Tex.Crim.App.1998)). Balancing these
factors in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling, we
conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying
appellant's motion for mistrial.
When assessing the severity of an improper jury
argument, our primary focus is the prejudicial effect of the
misconduct. Id. In deciding whether prejudice was incited, we examine
the statement “in light of the facts adduced at trial and in the
context of the entire argument.” See McGee v. State, 774 S.W.2d 229,
239 (Tex .Crim.App.1989); Gaddis v. State, 753 S.W.2d 396, 398
(Tex.Crim.App.1988); see also Wood v. State, 18 S.W.3d 642, 648
(Tex.Crim.App.2000) (“The determination of whether a given error
necessitates a mistrial must be made by examining the particular facts
of the case.”).
Argument that places the jury outside the record
has always been held to be improper. See Everett v. State, 707 S.W.2d
638, 641 (Tex.Crim.App.1986). The prosecutor's remarks in this case
are no exception. But despite being highly inappropriate, we cannot
conclude that the argument was clearly prejudicial when taken in
context. The argument followed defense counsel's own closing statement
where he claimed that Rott made a deal with the State to testify
falsely against appellant. Testimony of this side deal was limited
during trial because of various objections from the State. The
prosecutor referenced these very objections just before his remark
that the jury cannot know “the whole truth about everything that
happened in this case.” The immediate discussion was focused entirely
on the questions surrounding Rott's alleged deal, not appellant's
involvement in the murders. Viewed in this context, even though the
prosecutor did venture outside the record, his argument did not
introduce a risk that the jury would convict appellant on facts not in
evidence. At most, the argument suggested that an agreement did exist
between Rott and the State. As this could only damage Rott's
credibility, we do not believe that the prosecutor's argument was so
prejudicial as to warrant a mistrial.
In considering the second factor, we generally
presume that a prompt instruction to disregard will cure any error
associated with improper jury argument. Phillips v. State, 130 S.W.3d
343, 356 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2004, pet. ref'd). “Only
offensive or flagrant error warrants reversal when there has been an
instruction to disregard․” Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 116
(Tex.Crim.App.2000). In this case, the trial court promptly instructed
the jury to disregard the prosecutor's statement, adding further that
the jury should only consider evidence that has actually been
admitted. The prosecutor's argument was not extreme or in violation of
a mandatory statute, and it did not inject any new facts into the case
that were harmful to appellant. Cf. Thompson v. State, 89 S.W.3d 843,
850–51 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2002, pet. ref'd) (holding
prosecutor's argument was improper where it encouraged the jury to
speculate on “a very important reason” he could not legally disclose).
Accordingly, we do not believe that the argument was so blatant as to
render the curative instruction ineffective. See Wesbrook, 29 S.W.3d
Finally, even if the prosecutor's argument did
encourage the jury to speculate on facts not in the record, evidence
of appellant's participation in the murders was already
well-substantiated. For instance, the Lackners witnessed appellant
casually approaching Rowell's house on the day of the murders. In her
third recorded statement, appellant herself admitted to being inside
the home and holding a gun as her boyfriend pulled the trigger.
Bullets from both guns used in the murders ultimately struck two of
the complainants. Although this evidence may not be suggestive of
direct guilt, we cannot say that the prosecutor's argument affected
the likelihood of appellant's conviction as a party to the murders.
Having considered each of the factors adopted in
Hawkins, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion by
denying appellant's motion for mistrial. Appellant's second issue is
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
TRACY CHRISTOPHER, Justice.