State’s highest criminal court vacates appeal

Decision on 2004 murder conviction sent back to lower court for analysis

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram Crime Reporter

Dec 12, 2007 - The state's highest criminal court has vacated a lower appellate court decision calling for a new trial for a Hopkins County man convicted of the 2004 murder of his brother.

John Arlin Walters was given a 32-year prison sentence after he was convicted in a Hopkins County court of murdering his brother, Russell Walters, on Jan. 16, 2004, by shooting him twice following a dispute in Tabernacle Baptist Church parking lot over a water bill.

Walters appealed the conviction to the 6th Court of  Appeals, claiming that “the trial judge erred in failing to instruct the jury that it could consider prior verbal threats in deciding the issue of self-defense,” and that the judge violated the “rule of optional completeness” when he allowed a 911 operator to testify about what happened, but excluded Walters’ response.

The 6th Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that "the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury concerning prior verbal threats was reversible error,” and reversed and remanded the case for a new trial.”

Following that ruling, the state's prosecuting attorney, Hopkins County District Attorney Martin Braddy, filed a petition with the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, asking that “the law concerning non-statutory jury instruction and Rule 107” on which the appeal was based be clarified.

On Dec. 5, the Court of Criminal Appeals issued its decision, vacating the judgment of the 6th Court of Appeals and sending the case back to that court for "further proceedings consistent with opinion,” the published report noted. 

The opinion stated that the “court of appeals mistakenly concluded that appellant [John Arlin Walters]  was entitled to a jury instruction on prior verbal threats. We also hold that, under the present facts, the trial court abused its discretion in excluding appellant’s response to the 911 operator’s question, but that the error was non-constitutional. We vacate the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case for further consideration.”

Braddy said he was "extremely pleased with the opinion."

"I feel extremely confident the court of appeals will affirm the conviction based on the Court of Criminal Appeal’s opinion, and that Mr. Walters will stay in prison," Braddy said. "If they don’t, we would welcome the opportunity to try the case again."

Braddy also said he felt Walters received a light sentence by Hopkins County jury standards.

"If we were to retry him again, I believe he’d get life in prison," he said. "For the family’s well being and the sake of closure and the sake of making bad case law like the court of appeals did, we want this to be over, but we want it to be correct."

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