Murder Trial Set for White Lawmen Acquitted of Civil Rights Violations
TYLER, Texas (AP) _ A judge Saturday ruled that three white lawmen acquitted of civil rights violations in the beating death of a black inmate can be tried on murder charges in the slaying.
State District Judge Joe Tunnell, denying a defense request to drop the murder charges, said a murder trial would not constitute double jeopardy, or prosecuting a defendant more than once for the same offense.
On Friday, a Sabine County jury with one black member acquitted Hemphill Police Chief Thomas Ladner, 41, and Sabine County deputies James ″Bo″ Hyde, 35, and Bill Horton, 58, of civil rights violations in the death of Loyal Garner Jr.
The 34-year-old truck driver from Florien, La., was jailed in Hemphill Christmas night on suspicion of drunken driving. Authorities said he was beaten unconscious that night. He died in a Tyler hospital two days later.
John Hannah, special prosecutor at the Sabine County trial, testified Saturday that the trial was unfair. ″I have never seen a trial conducted more unfairly to produce the results that were produced,″ he said.
Defense attorney Jeff Haas contended the state and federal constitutions precluded prosecution of the officers on murder charges.
But the judge said the Legislature intended that prosecution under the civil rights statute not prevent prosecution on other criminal offenses. ″I recall no other statute where I’ve read that,″ said Tunnell.
He set the case for trial Aug. 8.
Smith County District Attorney Jack Skeen said he would try the lawmen separately, beginning with Ladner. Tyler is about 100 miles from Hemphill.
″We’re very pleased with Judge Tunnell ruling that there is not double jeopardy and we will be able to try all three defendants,″ said Skeen.
The Hemphill jury’s verdicts Friday drew angry reactions from the East Texas town’s black community.
″If there’s justice for all in a free society, then it seems like there’s justice for whites only in this society,″ said Will Smith, a preacher from the Church of Christ. ″The message is to me that as black folks, we better be careful.″
An inquest jury in Tyler had ruled that Garner died of head injuries. A pathologist had testified that Garner suffered severe brain hemorrhaging after apparently being struck on the head at least twice.
Corrine Garner, the victim’s wife, said she was disappointed by the Hemphill verdicts, handed down after 11 hours of deliberations. ″I guess we’ll have to go to Tyler,″ she said, referring to the murder charges.
The lawmen took the stand during the two-week trial and denied they struck the fatal blows.
A conviction on the civil rights offenses could have meant life in prison for each of the lawmen.
Prosecutors relied on testimony by Alton Maxie, who was arrested and jailed along with his brother and Garner, that Ladner hit Garner in the head with a nightstick at least four times.
Ladner acknowledged hitting Garner once but said it was a glancing blow because Garner threw up his arms to defend himself.