Dallas DA's Office cites double jeopardy in declining to prosecute murder

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by TANYA EISERER

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on March 10, 2014 at 5:45 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 10 at 6:11 PM

DALLAS -- Did a Dallas woman’s killer get away with murder?

Authorities arrested Sharone Brown last year on a charge of murder in the death of his cancer-stricken girlfriend, Sherry Whitacre. But the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, citing the “double jeopardy” standard.

Documents recently obtained by News 8 show that Dallas police were aware that Whitacre’s injuries may potentially have caused her death. Even so, no one with the police department’s homicide unit notified the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office until it was too late to file a charge of murder against Brown.

Bill Wirskye, a former high-ranking prosecutor, said the double jeopardy standard is the concept that says a person can’t be tried for the same crime twice.

“The behavior that formed the basis of the assault charge and the behavior that actually caused the death are one and same,” he said. “It sounds like to me like it was a complete and total breakdown of communication, and because of that, a victim’s family and loved ones won’t get the justice or get to have their day in court.”

Dallas police officials declined an interview request and issued a statement saying that several changes were made “to prevent those circumstances from recurring.”

The chain of unfortunate events began in the early morning hours of April 10, 2013, when  Whitacre spoke with a Dallas 911 operator from Room 320 of the Lamplighter Inn on R.L. Thornton Freeway near South Buckner Boulevard.

“I got a drunk man on my hands,” Whitacre told the operator, according to an audio recording obtained by News 8. “He just put me out in the parking lot. I got knots on my head and broke my hip.”

Police soon arrived. They arrested Sharone Brown on a Class A misdemeanor assault charge.

“I was sitting in the corner chair and asked Sharone Brown to get me something,” Whitacre wrote in her assault victim statement. “He got mad at me and punched me on my head, picked me up and threw me outside on the sidewalk in my underwear. It hurt. My hip hurts. My head hurts."

Paramedics bandaged her head, but Whitacre refused to be taken to a hospital. Hours later, she called an ambulance. Whitacre spent seven days in the hospital before dying.

The next day, homicide detective Albert Layton notified homicide Sgt. Tedd Shinn.

“The [medical examiner] is not sure if the complainant died as a result of her injuries that stemmed the related offense or from Stage 4 Cancer,” Layton wrote.

No one notified prosecutors of Whitacre’s death, including the fact that her death may be a homicide.

“What should have happened was that somebody at the police department needed to pick up the phone and call the DA’s office and say, ‘Wait let me see whether the medical examiner rules it’s a homicide or not,'” said Bill Wirskye, a former high-ranking Dallas County prosecutor.

On April 24, Brown pled guilty to the Class A misdemeanor assault. He received a 60-day jail sentence. He served 20 days because he received good time credit.

Six days later, the Dallas County Medical Examiner ruled Whitacre’s death a homicide. The medical examiner found that “a major contributing factor in the complainant’s death were the injuries she sustained as a result of being assaulted,” according to police documents.

Police went looking for Brown. They found him under a bridge on May 1 and homicide detective Mark Ahearn interviewed him. Brown doesn’t appear to know Whitacre is dead.

In an interrogation video obtained by News 8, Brown adamantly denies assaulting Whitacre. He tells Ahearn that Whitacre was calling him racially-derogatory names and that’s why he put her outside. Brown said he heard a bump at the door and he opened it.

“She had fell up against the door,” Brown said. “She said she broke her hip.”

Ahearn then informs Brown that Whitare is dead, that her injuries caused her to die, and the medical examiner has ruled her death a homicide.

“As a result of her dying, I am going to charge you with her death,” Ahearn tells Brown.

Ahearn obtained a murder warrant on Brown and put him in the Dallas County jail. Bail was set at $500,000.

The case quickly fell apart.

On May 12, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bennett notified DPD that “there was going to be a legal issue […] about double jeopardy,” Ahearn wrote to supervisors. “Apparently, while the defendant was in custody after patrol arrested him, he plead guilty to the M/A Assault FV charge.”

Brown was released from jail several days later.

Whitacre’s sister still grieves the loss. She said that no that no one from the Dallas Police Department ever notified the family of problems with the murder case. Instead, she said prosecutors called relatives to a meeting where they were told that Brown would not be prosecuted in Whitacre’s death.

“He caused her death,” the sister said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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