Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Colloff recounts CCA oral arguments on Hannah Overton writ

Pam Colloff at Texas Monthly has posted an item describing oral arguments regarding the habeas corpus writ for Hannah Overton, a Corpus Christi mother of five who was prosecuted for capital murder for the alleged poisoning of her four-year old foster child. This detail jumped out: Remarkably, [Nueces ADA Doug Norman] distanced himself from the most damaging charge that prosecutors had made against Hannah at her murder trial: that she had pinched Andrew’s nose, gripped him around his neck, and forced a lethal slurry of salt and water down his throat."

Instead, prosecutors are hanging their hats on the theory that Overton delayed taking her child to the emergency room. Wrote Colloff, “Technically, Norman was right; according to the unusual wording of the jury charge at Hannah’s trial, jurors had only needed to believe one of two scenarios to find her guilty: that she deliberately made Andrew ingest a lethal amount of salt, or that she purposely neglected to get timely medical attention, knowing that this would kill him. In fact, as the polling of jurors showed after the guilty verdict was handed down, not one of the twelve jurors believed that Hannah had poisoned Andrew, but they had still found her guilty of capital murder 'by omission,' or by failure to act.”

The idea of capital murder by omission ranks as one of the stranger legal theories Grits has run across. I always thought that's what manslaughter charges were for. See Colloff's earlier coverage of the case.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Omission does not involve the mental state; Mental State is the difference b/t murder/manslaughter. Omission v. affirmative act is a manner/means issue. Omission requires a duty. That is generally why parents get prosecuted for omissions. They have a statutory duty of care/to protect under the Family Code.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Perhaps. I've seen that theory used in instances where parents stood by tolerating child abuse. But I can't recall another capital case prosecuted along these lines. You?

Jennifer Laurin said...

2:09 is right as a legal matter. I don't know a direct answer to the "ever before?" question. But at the risk of getting a little too metaphysical, there's a way of understanding capital murder charges based on the law of parties as at least partly premised on an omission-type theory.

rodsmith said...

guess this means we can now lock up the gov't officials who failed to insure all those rape kits got tested for their

"OMISSION of making sure it was done"

assholes need to learn the laws apply to them as well.

SursumTX said...

The Overtons did what other reasonable, caring parents would do in terms of when they sought care for Andrew. He was logged in to the urgent care clinic just over an hour and a half from when he first threw up. His symptoms worsened and they took him for medical care. They did not realize he was suffering from salt poisoning. The fact that they did not understand what was wrong with him from the start is not omission in my opinion.

rodsmith said...

I agree 11:00 based on that bit of criminal stupidity. The doctor's at the first facility should also face the same charges.

Hell theirs should be worse. They unlike the family are TRAINED to see things like this! (sarcasm intended)