DALLAS –– Moments after a hearing where he asked a district judge to delay a convicted murderer’s execution from April to June, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said the misconduct accusation he’s fought in recent weeks “had no merit.”
Watkins spoke to the media Friday for the first time since early this month when he faced allegations of prosecutorial misconduct regarding whether his office indicted prominent oil heir Al Hill III for mortgage fraud as a favor to friend and campaign contributor Lisa Blue.
Watkins was held in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions about the issue after being subpoenaed. Speaking with reporters Friday, Watkins did not mention being held in contempt or possibly being investigated by the FBI –– he did, however, answer a question about why he was standing in front of the media after weeks of having assistants speak in his place.
“Obviously, the issues that other folks have been talking about that relate particular to me, I can’t talk about those issues. But I can talk about the responsibility of what it means to be the district attorney in Dallas County,” Watkins said.
He continued: “We are of a position that everything else you’ve been reporting on is smoke and mirrors, it has no merit. So that will be played out in court at some point. But as a district attorney, I have a job to do, and I can’t stop doing that job because of a defense attorney saying something was done nefariously with our office.”
Watkins’ First Assistant Heath Harris promptly ended his boss’s question and answer session after this statement and escorted him through a door away from the media throng.
At 9:30 a.m., Watkins appeared before Judge Larry Mitchell of the 292nd District Court to argue that Kimberly McCarthy be executed June 26 instead of April 3. McCarthy was convicted for killing her 71-year-old neighbor Dorothy Booth in her Lancaster home in 1997.
On Jan. 29, a day before her scheduled execution, Judge Mitchell delayed the execution until April 3. McCarthy’s attorneys argued that the conviction was based on race: The 51-year-old was convicted by a jury made up of 11 white people and one black person.
Watkins’ office maintains that McCarthy is guilty of her crime –– blood found at the victim’s home was proven to belong to her. Dallas investigators also said her blood was found at two other murder scenes, one of the victims was the best friend of McCarthy’s mother.
Watkins’ request to delay the execution date to June is an attempt to quell any sort of allegation of racial bias, said Harris, Watkins’ top assistant.
The Texas Legislature is currently considering six bills that could impact this case and others involving capital punishment. Watkins and his representatives virulently denied that he was seeking another stay because of any doubts regarding McCarthy’s guilt.
Rather, it’s an accountability issue, they repeatedly said, and should the Legislature pass a bill that would impact her case, Watkins wants her attorneys to have the chance to fairly appeal.
“What we’re saying is that because of those six bills that have been proposed, which may relate to this particular defendant, I don’t know that,” Watkins said. “And if they do, that defendant should have their day in court.”
District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Debbie Denmon said the bills address a range of possible inconsistencies in capital murder convictions. She said lawmakers are weighing whether those on death row can appeal based on someone “snitching” on them as well as the admissibility in court of interrogations that are not filmed. Other bills address the necessity of DNA evidence and whether race played a role in the conviction.
“He’s saying at least there should be no doubts in the public’s mind,” Denmon said. “If legislators are taking a serious look at whether or not the death penalty is imposed fairly, there should be no question, is what he’s saying.”
Judge Mitchell has the final order of whether to postpone the execution until June. In order for him to rule, though, the Court of Criminal Appeals must withdraw a previously filed motion to stay McCarthy’s execution. Assistant District Attorney Shelly Yeattes said she expects the appellate court to rule “shortly.”
Watkins previously disagreed with the appellate court’s postponement, but has since changed his mind.
“What we will not do is allow this defendant to become a martyr in that she was somehow wrongfully executed, we will let this process play itself out,” said Harris. “And that’s all Mr. Watkins has done and what we believe is by doing that it will give this office even more credibility every time we seek death.”