Inmate indicted in Nagle murder
BEEVILLE A Bee County grand jury on March 21
indicted inmate Robert Lynn Pruett on two counts of capital murder
in the Dec. 17 stabbing death of Officer Daniel Nagle at the
McConnell Unit near Beeville.
Pruett, 20, is serving a life sentence for a
1995 Harris County murder.
One count of the indictment charges him with
capital murder of a prison guard; the other charges him with
capital murder while incarcerated for murder.
Nagle, 37, was found in a pool of blood near a
multipurpose room around 3:45 p.m.
An 8-inch steel shank was found nearby.
Pruett apparently had planned the attack on
Nagle, according to TDCJ.
We believe this is an isolated case whereby
Pruett had planned the assault on Officer Nagle, spokesman Larry
Todd told the Huntsville Item.
He said the attack may have been retaliation
over a disciplinary issue.
Todd told the newspaper the investigation
continues and additional information could be presented to the
The case will be prosecuted by 156th Judicial
District Attorney George Morill III, assisted by special
prosecutors Herbert Hancock and Alfred Hernandez.
In the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
Robert Lynn Pruett, Appellant
State of Texas
On direct appeal from Bee County
PRICE, J., delivered the
opinion for a unanimous Court.
O P I N I O N
A Bee County
Jury convicted the appellant, Robert Lynn Pruett, of killing
Correction Officer Daniel Nagle while the appellant was
incarcerated at McConnell prison unit in Beeville, Texas.
(1) Pursuant to the jury's answers to the special issues
set forth in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 37.071, §§
2(b) and 2(e), the trial judge sentenced the appellant to death.
(2) Direct appeal to this Court is automatic.
appellant raises four points of error challenging his conviction
and sentence. In three of the points of error, he claims that the
trial court erred by improperly denying him the fundamental
constitutional right to present a meaningful defense by excluding
the testimony of one witness and limiting the cross-examination of
two other witnesses. The appellant also claims that the trial
court erred in admitting a "Case Summary" of his previous
conviction during the punishment phase of his trial, which he
claims was prepared in anticipation of litigation. We reject each
of his contentions and affirm the trial court's judgment.
TO PRESENT A MEANINGFUL DEFENSE
second point of error, the appellant challenges the trial court's
refusal to allow witness Damont Jackson to testify during the
guilt phase of the trial. The appellant contends that the trial
court's erroneous evidentiary ruling denied him the fundamental
constitutional right to present a meaningful defense.
that he has a fundamental right to present evidence of his defense
so long as the evidence is relevant and is not excluded by an
established evidentiary rule. (4)
Evidence is relevant if it has been shown to be material to a fact
in issue and if it makes that fact more probable than it would be
without the evidence. (5) We review
the trial court's decision to bar the admission of evidence under
an abuse of discretion standard. (6)
appellant was charged with the December 17, 1999, murder of
correctional officer Daniel Nagle, which occurred in the McConnell
prison unit in Beeville, Texas. State's witness Anthony Casey, an
inmate who was housed in the same unit as the appellant at the
time of the offense, testified that on the day of the murder he
heard the appellant talking to an inmate named Flash about a
weapon. The appellant also told Casey that "something was going to
happen." Casey later saw that the appellant was inside the locked
multipurpose room that was connected to Nagle's office. The
appellant told Casey not to come into the multipurpose room. Casey
went outside to the "rec yard" and through a glass window he saw
the appellant standing near Nagle's desk. He then saw the
appellant walking towards the "C-Pod" area of the prison. He later
saw the appellant in a hallway. While in the hallway, the
appellant took off his clothes, pushed them through a "gas port"
onto the rec yard, and changed into another set of clothes
provided by an inmate. Casey picked up the appellant's discarded
clothes and placed them in a box in the rec yard. Casey observed
blood on the appellant's discarded clothes.
State rested, defense counsel attempted to call witness Damont
Jackson to the stand. Defense counsel argued that Jackson's
testimony was necessary to show that Casey made a prior
inconsistent statement that was admissible under Texas Rule of
Evidence 801(e). Jackson initially testified outside the presence
of the jury that he overheard Casey and inmates Bill Spaulding and
Randy Burns say that the appellant did not murder Nagle, that "some
Mexican dude" did it, and that they were going to testify because
they had something to gain from the District Attorney. Jackson
later clarified what he heard:
Spaulding - - Spaulding told me the most - - he's the one that
told me the most stuff.
Yeah, but Spaulding hasn't testified to the jury. Okay?
THE COURT: I
am allowing - - see, the jury has heard Casey but they haven't
Now, if they
bring Spaulding to testify and he testifies, I may let you come
back and say if it's different than what he said in your presence,
but right now we're only dealing with Casey. Okay?
Well, Spaulding is the one who disclosed the most information, you
Casey didn't say - -
Casey didn't say all that Spaulding said, so - -
What did Casey say?
He says - - what, if anything, did Casey say in your presence?
just heard him talking to Burns in a holdover cage, you know, on a
block. And he said that he wished we would stay out of his
business because we were going to end up making him get a murder
case because we disclosed what he said; then, you know, he was
going to have to ride his own heat.
questioning, Jackson also stated that he never heard Casey say
that the appellant did not murder Nagle. Instead, Casey told
another inmate, Kevin Veschi, that "Pruett didn't stab the officer
but he was going to testify anyway to get a case off of him," and
Veschi relayed this information to Jackson.
hearing Jackson's testimony outside the presence of the jury, the
trial court refused to permit him to testify in front of the jury:
THE COURT: .
. . And if he is a witness to the incident, then, I'll let him
testify. But he is here to tell people that he is not supposed to
say something he never heard uttered in his presence.
COUNSEL]: He is here to tell people that a witness told him not to
say something that he knew that he did.
You have got it on the record. My ruling is that he doesn't get to
testify since - -
COUNSEL]: Okay, Judge.
THE COURT: -
- that is all he is being offered for.
You may step
court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to exclude
Jackson's testimony. Jackson never personally heard Casey make a
prior inconsistent statement. Even assuming that the appellant met
the requirements for the admission of a prior inconsistent, there
was no hearsay exception offered for Veschi's statement to Jackson.
Jackson's testimony was not admissible. Point of error two is
fourth point of error, the appellant again argues that the trial
court denied him the fundamental constitutional right to present a
meaningful defense. He specifically complains that the trial court
erroneously excluded evidence "that Nagle's death may have been
related to an investigation involving correctional officers
smuggling contraband into the prison."
counsel informed the trial court outside the presence of the jury
that he wanted to question Thomas J. Prasifka, the warden of the
McConnell prison unit, about "the fact that there were 30 or more
officers indicted for smuggling dope into the prison and that
Officer Nagle may have actually ratted some of them out."
counsel argued that this evidence was necessary to show that "[t]here
was a motive for the gang members who were getting the drugs to
kill Mr. Nagle, and there was a motive for corrupt guards to kill
Mr. Nagle." Defense counsel questioned Prasifka outside the jury's
presence to determine if Nagle had any involvement in the
investigation of the indicted correctional officers. Prasifka
testified that Nagle did not act as an informant and had no
involvement in the investigation. The trial court refused to
permit defense counsel to pursue this line of questioning with
Prasifka in front of the jury.
counsel failed to produce any evidence in support of his
speculative theory that Nagle was killed in retaliation for acting
as an informant against his fellow correctional officers. As this
court noted in Wiley v State, "The danger of 'confusion
of the issues' and 'misleading the jury' arises when
circumstantial evidence tends to sidetrack the jury into
consideration of factual disputes only tangentially related to
facts at issue in the current case." (7)
Prasifka denied that Nagle had any involvement in the
investigation. Allowing the appellant to explore this issue
without further evidence and in the face of Prasifka's denial of a
link between Nagle and the investigation would serve no purpose
but to "confus[e] the issues" and "mislead the jury."
(8) The trial court did not abuse its discretion in
refusing to permit defense counsel to question Prasifka about this
issue in front of the jury. Point of error four is overruled.
LIMITS ON CROSS-EXAMINATION
appellant contends in his third point of error that the trial
court improperly limited his cross-examination of Dr. Lloyd White,
the medical examiner who performed the victim's autopsy.
At the time
of the trial, Child Protective Services ("CPS") was investigating
White and his family regarding the welfare of his minor child. The
State requested "that any testimony about White's difficulty with
the Child Protective Services not be made a part of this testimony
and before this jury." After permitting defense counsel to
question White outside the presence of the jury to determine
whether or not he had a bias or expected any favors from the State
in return for his testimony, the trial court ruled that White
could not be asked about the CPS investigation.
of a witness's motivation to testify for or against the accused or
the State is a proper and important purpose of cross-examination.
(9) The burden of showing the relevance of particular
evidence to the issue of bias rests on its proponent.
(10) The parameters of cross-examination for a showing
of bias are within the sound discretion of the trial court.
(11) The trial court may impose reasonable limits on
cross-examination to avoid harassment, prejudice, confusion of the
issues, endangering the witness, and the injection of cumulative
or collateral evidence. (12) The
trial court's determination is not reversible unless the appellant
shows a clear abuse of discretion. (13)
party may impeach a witness by showing bias, a specific connection
between the witness's testimony and the cause must be shown that
discloses an actual bias or motive. (14)
To establish this connection, the witness should be asked about
any possible interest or bias he may have before there is an
attempt to prove interest or bias otherwise.
(15) Then the witness must first be informed about the
circumstances supporting a claim of bias or interest and must be
given an opportunity to explain or deny such circumstances.
testified outside the presence of the jury that he believed that
CPS was harassing him because they were dissatisfied with his
expert testimony on sudden death syndrome in other, unrelated
infant death cases. He stated that he was apprehensive about
testifying in the instant case because during the course of their
investigation CPS "listed the fact that [he] testified in court as
evidence that [he] was incompetent and mentally unbalanced and not
a fit parent because that testimony required [him] to miss some
meetings that they had scheduled." Despite his apprehension about
testifying, White clarified that he would "tell the truth and give
a full objective answer in every case." He further testified that
he did not have any deal with the State in exchange for his
testimony and that "[t]here would be no bias that would cause [him]
judge in this case assessed whether there was a potential for bias
based upon the testimony of White and found that the appellant
failed to demonstrate that White had any bias for or against the
State of Texas stemming from the pending CPS investigation. The
trial court did not abuse its discretion in limiting the cross-examination
of White. Point of error three is overruled.
ADMISSION OF EXHIBIT
In his first
point of error, the appellant asserts that the trial court erred
in admitting State's Exhibit 62 during the punishment phase of the
trial. State's Exhibit 62 is a packet comprising numerous records
from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The
appellant specifically complains about a portion of State's
Exhibit 62 entitled "Case Summary," which describes the murder for
which he was incarcerated when he committed the instant offense.
appellant first argues that the Case Summary does not purport to
be a "Classification Record" as referred to in the affidavit. He
next argues that the prison employee who produced the "Case
Summary" did not have knowledge of the events recorded. He also
argues that "the documents in SX-62 were not generated by prison
employees." The appellant, however, failed to object on these
bases at trial, so these particular complaints are not preserved
for our review. (17)
appellant also argues that State's Exhibit 62 was inadmissible
because the records contained therein "were compiled for the
purpose of litigation." (18) This
complaint is preserved for our review because the appellant
objected on this basis at trial. Barbara Trevino, the chief of
classification and the custodian of records at the John B.
Connally Unit of TDCJ, initially testified that the records were
compiled for the purpose of litigation when she was questioned by
defense counsel. However, upon further questioning by the
prosecutor, Trevino testified as follows:
You were asked if these were prepared for litigation. And I know
that you put them together at our request for this case, but you
didn't actually write out all these records so we could use them
in court, did you?
These records previously existed?
Some of them are six years old; is that correct?
So when you were asked if they were prepared for litigation, in
one sense they were, you put them together.
compiled them for you, yes, sir.
To make a packet for us, but you didn't actually create the
clarified that the records themselves were not actually created in
anticipation of litigation. The appellant has failed to establish
that the trial court erroneously admitted State's Exhibit 62.
Point of error one is overruled.
the judgment of the trial court.
September 22, 2004.
Tex. Pen. Code § 19.03(a).
2. Art. 37.071, § 2(g).
3. Art. 37.071, § 2(h).
4. See Miller v. State,
36 S.W.3d 503, 507 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001).
7. 74 S.W.3d 399, 407 n.21(Tex.
Crim. App. 2000).
9. Ibid.; Carpenter v.
State, 979 S.W.2d 633, 634 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).
10. Chambers v. State,
866 S.W.2d 9, 26-27 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993).
11. Id., at 27.
12. Lagrone, 942
S.W.2d at 613.
13. Chambers, 866
S.W.2d at 27.
14. Willingham v. State,
897 S.W.2d 351, 358 (Tex. Crim. App. 1995).
17. TEX. R. APP. P. 33.1.
18. See Cole v. State,
839 S.W.2d 798, 809 n.9 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)(noting that
reports prepared in contemplation of litigation are inherently
unreliable due to the maker's bias and motivation to make