DALLAS — A federal appeals court Monday ordered a new sentencing trial for one of the longest-serving inmates on Texas death row.
The ruling by 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans leaves intact the capital murder conviction for 50-year-old Anthony Leroy Pierce but orders a new punishment trial. Pierce has been on Texas' death row for 32 years. Only three prisoners have been there longer.
Pierce has been tried three times for the Aug. 4, 1977, robbery and murder of Fred Johnson, a 40-year-old Houston fried chicken restaurant manager. Pierce's first two capital murder convictions were overturned on appeal.
The appeals court declined to consider Pierce's claims of ineffective trial counsel and mental retardation making him ineligible for execution. In a seven-page dissent, however, Circuit Judge James L. Dennis said he would have ordered an evidentiary hearing on Pierce's retardation claim.
In ordering a new sentencing trial, the three-judge federal panel said the Harris County jury in Pierce's third trial in 1986 was kept from considering mitigating evidence as required by law. Such evidence could have persuaded jurors he didn't deserve a death sentence.
A message left with a spokeswoman for the Harris County district attorney's office was not returned Monday night. Paul Mansur, one of Pierce's attorneys, said he had not finished reviewing the ruling the declined to comment Monday night.
An employee at the fast-food restaurant testified she recognized Pierce as the gunman. A 12-year-old boy walking by the restaurant testified Pierce was the gunman he saw inside the place and then running away. The robbery netted about $80.
A Texas Department of Criminal Justice summary of his case indicates that after the shooting, Pierce went to a bar and stabbed a man and that he was arrested in front of his apartment a few hours later while bragging about the attacks to friends.
The conviction from Pierce's first trial was thrown out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because of a jury selection problem. A similar jury problem got his second trial result tossed on appeal. He was tried a third time in 1986.
Besides his capital murder conviction, Pierce has been convicted of manslaughter for fatally stabbing a fellow death row inmate in August 1979. According to prison records, the victim in that killing was Edward King, 37, who had been condemned for the slaying of a Dallas police officer.
Read the opinion here. Houston Chronicle