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Why can't we have it both ways? Why is it so hard to have a death penalty and make sure only the guilty receive it? Because of cases like The State of Texas v. Delamora. On Feb. 15, 2001, Travis County sheriff's deputy Keith Ruiz was shot and killed while prying open the door to Edwin Delamora's trailer. Ruiz had gone with members of the Capital Area Narcotics Task Force to arrest Delamora on charges of selling methamphetamine. Frightened, Delamora fired his 9-mm pistol through a window in his front door. Prosecutors said the bullet hit Ruiz in the aorta, killing him. Delamora claimed he fired because he thought he, his wife and his two kids were being robbed.
For Earle, it was a difficult case from the start. Because Ruiz was a cop, people would expect a death-penalty prosecution. But Delamora did not have a criminally violent history, which weakened the argument for future dangerousness. On the other hand, a jury might be convinced that a meth dealer who had brazenly fired a pistol through his door had a propensity for violence. Earle remained undecided for months as staff prosecutors worked up the case. During that time, the narcotics task force conducted a second raid that ended in a fatality. And in yet another botched raid, members of the task force held several local residents at gunpoint while they searched their property for pot. They found only ragweed.
Earle has refused to speak publicly about the Delamora case, but associates in his office told me he knew what people were saying around town: those task-force guys were Rambo wannabes; it wasn't surprising that one of them had been shot. But no matter how aggressive the task force had been, it would be politically troublesome for Earle not to seek death for a cop killer. He looked forward to hearing what the death committee would recommend.
Formally called the Capital Murder Review Committee, the death committee is composed of 10 people from the D.A.'s office, most of them senior prosecutors, who hear the evidence in a case and then vote on whether Earle should seek the ultimate punishment. Their recommendation isn't binding--legally, only the D.A. can make the decision--but Earle always considers it carefully. "The amount of information in each case is enormous," says Case, the assistant D.A. "You're looking not only at the crime itself, the evidence there, but, in addition, a person's entire past life is opened for scrutiny ... Maybe the guy was torturing cats when he was a kid." The death committee distills that material for Earle.