Fred Edwards to preside over Penry trial
Polk County Enterprise, May 2007
By VALERIE REDDELL
Special Sections Editor
LIVINGSTON -- District Judge Elizabeth Coker signed an order Friday transferring the capital murder case against Johnny Paul Penry to Conroe-based Judge Fred Edwards, who presides over the Ninth Judicial District.
“I thought in the interest of justice as well as the people of Polk County the case should be transferred to another judge,” Coker said Friday.
Penry faces a fourth punishment trial for the capital murder of Pamela Moseley Carpenter, 22, on Oct. 25, 1979.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in June 2006 that the word “other” in instructions to the jury may have prevented jurors from adequately considering mental impairment as a mitigating factor during deliberations at his third trial in 2002.
Penry’s defense team had indicated it would be rehashing many politically motivated attacks against Coker in its efforts to prolong Penry’s execution.
“The decision to transfer this case was made to avoid any appearance or potential for additional problems with the case that has already been tried three times, Coker said.
She first began hearing issues related to Penry’s case when his second capital murder conviction was overturned.
The case was retried in 2002 and Penry was again convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Coker was sworn in as 258th District Judge in 1999 after her predecessor Joe Ned Dean retired.
District Attorney Lee Hon said he was disappointed to see Coker off the case.
Hon assisted former 258th District Attorney Joe Price in the 2002 trial. He has been lead prosecutor since Price’s death.
“I thought she did a good job,” Hon said.
Hon said he believes Coker’s decision to transfer was in response to ongoing political ill-will from Coker’s opponent in the 2006 election.
The lawsuit by Mr. Burroughs, and the allegations raised as a consequence of that have muddied the water and I feel bad about that,” Hon said.
Penry’s fourth punishment trial was expected to get under way in July, but since the case is being moved to Judge Fred Edwards, Hon said he had no idea what the schedule would be.
An informal scheduling meeting is expected to take place with Judge Edwards in two weeks.
Hon added that the defense team has been discussing raising an obscure provision of Texas law that requires the defense to agree to the judge and clerk following a case that has been transferred.
“The defense is not agreeing to anything in this case, Hon said.
They maintain that Penry is not competent to stand trial and until that question is settled, again, they are not willing to agree to any other pretrial issue, according to Hon.
The district attorney’s office will vigorously resist efforts to change custody of the massive court records in this case out of the Polk County District Clerk’s custody, he said.
Hon said that he is pleased that Edwards will be the new presiding judge.
The Ninth Judicial District currently includes Waller and Montgomery counties, but also covered Polk and San Jacinto counties until the 411st Judicial District was created in 1997.
Coker is expected to act as a visiting judge in Edwards’ court while he is hearing the Penry case, county officials said.