Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Harris County Jury Rejects Death Penalty for Quintero

The Harris County jury that rejected Juan Quintero's insanity defense and found him guilty of capital murder in the death of Officer Rodney Johnson has sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Some jurors cited the mitigating evidence presented by Quintero's defense attorneys in explaining their decision to spare his life.

Here are excerpts from an article that appears today in the Houston Chronicle ("Quintero's life sentence shocks victim's family," May 21, 2008):

"One juror said Juan Leonardo Quintero's life still has value.

Another said a convicted cop killer, even one in the country illegally, deserves mercy.

Neither sentiment offered much consolation to family members of murdered Houston police officer Rodney Johnson, who were stunned Tuesday when a jury spared Quintero and sent him to prison for life with no chance of parole.

Asked by state District Judge Joan Campbell if he had anything to say before he was sentenced, the 34-year-old Quintero replied, 'I'm sorry.'

Johnson arrested the landscaper from Mexico during a Sept. 21, 2006, traffic stop. The 12-year police veteran didn't notice Quintero was hiding a gun, which, while handcuffed in the patrol car's back seat, he used to shoot Johnson seven times.

Quintero's lawyers had argued unsuccessfully that he was criminally insane and incapable of knowing his actions were wrong.

'I believe he has value,' said juror Letty Burkholder, of Houston. 'He's loved by many of his family and friends, and that was number one. I felt like he has potential.'

The decision shocked Johnson's family. His sister collapsed in the lobby of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, his mother-in-law shouted in the street. Johnson's widow sobbed in disbelief.

'My husband's life meant nothing — that's what I felt,' said Joslyn Johnson, also an HPD officer.

'If any case ever warranted the death penalty, this certainly did," she said. "The city lost a hero. I lost my husband.'

In front of the courthouse, her mother blasted the jury's decision.

'We wanted the death penalty,' Lorraine Crawford said. 'He's not sorry. He would do it again.'

'Not a life without value'

The decision came in the second day of deliberations for the jury, which convicted Quintero of capital murder on May 8. His defense team praised jurors for careful consideration of 'all of the evidence.'

'This is not a life without value,' defense attorney Danalynn Recer said later. She also said a life sentence would help both families because it ends the case, rather than subjecting them to years of appeals.

She said Quintero's remorse, mental health and family relationships were mitigating factors with jurors, who discussed the case with her afterward.

Assistant District Attorney Denise Bradley called it a sad day for law officers.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Bradley said she was disappointed with the verdict but respected it.

'We take solace in the fact that Mr. Quintero will spend the rest of his life behind bars,' fellow prosecutor John Jordan said.

Most of the jurors chose not to comment. One of two who spoke to reporters agreed that Quintero deserves to live. She said there were sufficient mitigating circumstances to opt for life in prison.

'I still feel we came to the right decision,' said Tiffany Moore, a 38-year-old marketing director from Houston. 'We could never bring Rodney back. I feel very sad for the family, losing a loved one.'

She said she wept while Rodney Johnson's sister, Susan Johnson, read a victim impact statement after the verdict.

'You are a murderer, plain and simple,' Johnson told Quintero while staring at him. She also belittled the defense team, accusing them of manipulating the system, especially with the insanity defense.

She later collapsed on the floor in tears as the family left the courthouse.

The officer's brother, David Johnson, wanted to see Quintero sentenced to death.

'He shot him four times in the back, three times in the head,' Johnson said. 'I can't believe that.
What's mitigation?'..."
Additional coverage by the Houston Chronicle is available here. Earlier posts on the case are available here, here, and here.

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