Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Trials of Eroy Brown

Eroy Brown, a TDCJ prisoner serving time in a South Carolina prison to protect him from state retaliation, is up for parole, reports Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman ("Brown case highlights reluctance to parole long-time offenders," Jan. 18). "Brown is serving 90 years as a habitual criminal for robbing a Waco convenience store of $12 and some candy bars." His story is the subject of a recent book, which I've not yet read, but based on that account, Ward describes in broad strokes the incident that made Brown notorious:
Within the prison system, he is most noteworthy for what happened during a deadly struggle on April 4, 1981, alongside a drainage ditch called Turkey Creek in the farm fields at the Ellis Unit near Huntsville. When it was over, the farm manager, Billy Moore, lay dead from a gunshot from the warden's pistol and the warden,

Wallace Pack, was drowned. Brown claimed self-defense, saying that Moore had been stealing tires from the prison and was afraid Brown was about to snitch on him.

The trial transcript, detailed in a 2011 book about the case, "The Trials of Eroy Brown: The Case That Shook the Texas Prison System," details the events of that day:

Moore drove Brown to the ditch and called for Pack to join them.

"You ain't going to be able to tell a (expletive) thing on me. You ain't going to tell (expletive) on me," Brown testified Moore told him.

Pack pulled the pistol from his car's trunk, and with Brown handcuffed by his left wrist, threatened to shoot the convict, with the revolver cocked at his temple.

"Shut your (expletive) up, boy. I will splatter your brains all over this street here," Brown testified the warden told him.

Spread-eagled astride Pack's car, Brown struggled to wrest the gun from Pack.

The gun went off five times. Brown was shot in the foot. Moore was fatally shot in the head. A third shot grazed Pack's hand. Pack and Brown continued to fight for the gun, rolling into the water-filled ditch. Pack pushed Brown's face into the muddy water, trying to drown him. Brown rolled on top of the warden in the water.

"I laid on him and laid on him," Brown testified. "I don't know how long I laid on him. He stopped moving."
Prison officials insisted the deaths were murder, and prisons were later named for both Moore and Pack.
Brown went to trial three times. Each time, he was acquitted. The acquittal of a black convict in the deaths of two white prison officials never went over well in the hidebound world of Texas prisons, where prison farms were run like plantations and inmates often called their guard supervisors "boss."

By 1984, Texas had agreed to settle a separate federal civil rights case ensuring that Brown and about two dozen other convicts who had assisted in the investigation and other cases would never have to serve time in Texas prisons because it would be too dangerous for them.

That's why Brown has spent the past 26 years in federal prisons in California and South Carolina for the Waco robbery. His attorneys blamed the long sentence on publicity about the prison murders.
Go here for more on the book, The Trials of Eroy Brown, by Michael Berryhill from the University of Texas Press.


Alex Bunin said...

Scott, you need to read the book. It is great, and a wonderful tribute to the work of Craig Washington and Bill Habern.

Anonymous said...

Eroy Brown is a true hero. We should rename a few Texas buildings after him. And he should be set free immediately for what he was put through, after all, being forced to kill useless scumbags can be emotionally traumatizing.

Anonymous said...

A life of crime.

Brown has spent most of his adult life in prison. At 17, he was sent away for two years for a Waco burglary.

He was soon back with a six-year sentence for a burglary in nearby Bell County.

Paroled for that crime in 1976, he returned to prison just over a year later for a Fort Worth robbery that netted him a 12-year sentence.

In a report filed with federal prison officials in South Carolina, Habern said Brown "grew up under the worst possible circumstances" — his mother went to prison for murder; his father was absent during his childhood; he eventually got hooked on heroin and other drugs.

"Eroy has been a junkie almost since his childhood," the attorney said.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he was making his circuit - Waco, Bell County, Fort Worth.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hero is not the right word for Brown, for sure, but it's certainly an epic tale. Three trials, three acquittals - especially for THAT offense - indicates both an amazing piece of lawyering and, likely somewhere in the story, "bad facts," as the lawyers say, for the prosecution's case. I'll have to read the book and see, though the stack in front of it is pretty big.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of epic tales. Here's one about Craig Washington.

July 20, 2009 | JUAN A. LOZANO

HOUSTON — A former Houston congressman accused of firing a gun

A former Houston congressman accused of firing a gun at two teens in a car avoided going to trial Monday after working out a deal with prosecutors that would result in the charge against him being dropped at a later date.

Craig Washington agreed to settle his case through something known as pretrial diversion, which is similar to probation but does not involve him having to change his not guilty plea.

Under pretrial diversion, the case is postponed for two years and if he meets conditions set by the court, including finishing 60 hours of community service, the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon he faces is dropped.

The agreement came as jury selection in Washington's trial was to begin.

"You have to have faith in the system," Washington said. "I still believe in the system."

The two teens in the incident, Taylor Brooks and Evan McAnulty, said they were unhappy with the agreement and called it a slap on the wrist for Washington.

"The fact he is getting off without what I would see as justice is very unnerving," said McAnulty, 19.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this story.
-Clint Dolenz in Austin, Texas

David Davis said...

WE grew up together and went to school together. Growing up together.He never was a violent person. This is why I knew it had to be self defense when the incident occured. It was a miracle that he lived to tell his story,not along getting acquitted. Everyone knew that the last robbery he was convicted of was a set up.I'm quite sure that if he had'nt been in the prior incident. He never would have been still incarsirated.A true example of racial injustice.

Anonymous said...

Amazing. Read a book and that alone means the inmate is innocent. Two men dead and the third the only one alive to tell his tale. He makes a fortune off a book and society labels him a hero. Shame Shame Shame! Who should we murder next to be labeled a hero?

Anonymous said...

They said:
"Brown is serving 90 years as a habitual criminal for robbing a Waco convenience store of $12 and some candy bars."

Most of these stories are completely deceptive. They tell us only what they want us to know. Only the parts that support their spin.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:54, why don't you read the book before labeling its author "deceptive"? From what I've heard, actually, it's supposed to be a first-rate piece of reporting.

And to 9:03, you're so clueless you're hardly worth addressing, but just to say it, there are three acquittals to consider in addition to whatever is in the book - the jurors who looked at the case much more closely than you or me all said "not guilty."

Also, Brown is not profiting from this book to my knowledge. It was written by a journalist/academic and published by University of Texas Press.

7:42, I've never been one to lionize Craig Washington. Back when I was an associate editor at the Texas Observer, I had sigificant conflicts with the publishers (then still a for-profit, it was Ronnie Dugger and Geoff Ripps, at the time) for writing critical stories about Washington and his water carrying for American General insurance company. But his colorful history aside, you can't deny it was an impressive piece of lawyering. Washington's a fascinating figure in his own right - deeply flawed, but on his best days he has been a very talented lawyer and legislator. This has always been a state where our best and worst politicians are often the same people, and IMO Craig Washington fits that mold.

Anonymous said...

Chapter 1. McDuff.
Chapter 2. Brown.
Chapter 3. Galveston County Jurors.
Each chapter depicting criminal injustice at it's best!

Retired 2004