Death row inmate presses for new trial
By Craig Kapitan
Updated 1:20 a.m., Saturday, November 17, 2012
Death row inmate Joe Michael Luna, whose 2006 murder trial was cut short when he opted to plead guilty and then testified that he wanted to be executed, returned to a Bexar County courtroom Friday to ask for a new punishment hearing.
Former 379th state District Judge Bert Richardson, who oversaw the trial and now is a visiting judge, also returned to entertain the request. He's expected to send a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in December or January after both sides file additional briefs.
Luna, 33, was arrested in 2005 in the slaying of neighbor Michael Paul Andrade, 21, while burglarizing the St. Mary's University student's Potranco Road apartment.
Luna confirmed to jurors six years ago that he tied up Andrade at gunpoint after he was caught in the act of the burglary and strangled him, then set the apartment on fire in an attempt to cover his tracks.
He also admitted to dozens of other crimes, some of which prosecutors said they hadn't known about.
Despite Luna's admissions, the outcome might have been different if his lawyers had been better at presenting mitigating evidence and selecting jurors, appellate attorney Michael Gross suggested.
For instance, he said, evidence never was presented that Luna was molested and physically abused as a child.
According to state law at the time of the offense, jurors would have had two options: the death penalty or life in prison with the possibility of parole.
“Frankly, I would have hoped my mitigation expert would have done a better job,” Mario Treviño, Luna's former attorney, acknowledged at the hearing. Had he known about the molestation allegation, he said: “I would have never allowed that not to come in.”
But he and co-counsel Michael Granados had tried multiple death penalty cases and were more than competent, replied Rico Valdez, chief of the district attorney's appellate division.
Luna's defense team had a tough job but responded adequately to their client's surprise revelations to the jury, Valdez suggested.
Psychologist Jack Ferrell, who interviewed Luna in 2009 for the appeal, testified that jurors should have learned more about the defendant's “chaotic” childhood, his mental issues and about how he slipped through the cracks at school.
“From a literary perspective, he was a lost boy,” Ferrell said.http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Death-row-inmate-presses-for-new-trial-4045219.php