The Bell County court system faces a slew of capital murder cases halfway through the year, with several suspects who could get the death penalty as punishment.
Court records show at least six people are charged with the state’s most serious offense, including Kevin Lee Stafford, Fred Lee Williams II and Larry Donnel Boswell Jr., who are accused of the gang-related shooting of a 29-year-old man in July.
Christian Charlene Bohannon is charged with the bludgeoning death of elderly Bell County resident Jack Ray in October.
Marvin Louis Guy was indicted earlier this month in the May shooting death of Killeen Police Detective Charles Dinwiddie. And David Risner was charged with capital murder following the June 19 shooting death of Little River-Academy Police Chief Lee Dixon, though he has yet to be indicted, according to court records.
In Texas, a person can only be charged with a capital crime under specific circumstances, including multiple murders or killing someone while committing another felony offense such as robbery or kidnapping. Murder of a peace officer or other public servant also is a capital offense under Texas law. A capital murder conviction brings a possible sentence of life in prison without parole or death.
Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said this isn’t the first time his office has juggled so many serious cases at the same time.
“There have been times in the past where we’ve had homicides that occurred in a cluster within a short period,” Garza said. “There’s been two or three times where we saw a high instance of them occur in a span of six or 10 months.”
Time and resources
Capital murder cases can be taxing on county court systems. Aside from the monetary cost, potential death penalty cases also require additional time and resources, especially when prosecutors choose to seek the death penalty.
Kristin Houlé, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, estimated that a death penalty case costs, on average, two to three times more than other murder trials.
“The death penalty itself is vastly expensive, and those costs are borne by taxpayers at the county level,” Houlé said.
Jury selection and trials that last months, additional defense attorneys, expert witnesses and automatic appeals can all add to the growing tab counties must pay in capital cases. Houlé said that cost is making some Texas counties reconsider seeking the death penalty, opting to look at life imprisonment without parole instead.
“Small counties ... have been very frank about weighing the cost of a trial,” Houlé said. “Overall, it’s one factor in the decline of new death penalty cases, which have dropped 75 percent in the last decade.”
The decision to pursue the death penalty in any of Bell County’s capital cases is up to Garza. Late last week, his office had yet to announce plans to seek the death penalty in any of the six cases. Garza acknowledged death penalty cases can be challenging on resources but was confident his office could handle the task.
“The management of the cases with the staff available is, for me, always a serious concern,” Garza said. “Fortunately, we have some very experienced prosecutors who have handled these types of cases.”
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, three individuals have been executed for crimes committed in Bell County since 1982. A fourth man, Richard Tabler, is currently awaiting execution on death row in Huntsville.