(TEXAS TRIBUNE) – The state plans to execute Tracy Beatty on Wednesday evening for murdering his mother in East Texas in 2003.
Beatty, now 61, was found guilty of fatally strangling Carolyn Click, the end of a violent and tumultuous relationship. Though they acknowledge Beatty killed his mother, his attorneys have contended the crime doesn’t qualify for the death penalty.
To be sentenced to death in Texas, a person must be convicted of not just murder, but capital murder, a specific legal subset that includes killing a police officer or young child, killing multiple people, or killing someone while committing another felony like robbery or rape.
Though Beatty gave several versions of what happened in his 62-year-old mother’s death, according to court records, he ultimately told police that he came home drunk, the pair started fighting, and he choked her. He said he didn’t realize Click was dead until the next day.
But Beatty was found guilty of capital murder because prosecutors argued he killed his mother during a home burglary, entering without her consent, even though he lived with Click at the time. A neighbor testified that Click had told her the day she was last seen that she had told her son that day to move out after a fight.
“The evidence of entry without consent in this case is thin, and the evidence of intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault even thinner,” wrote former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cheryl Johnson in 2009, joined by two others in dissent of the 5-3 opinion upholding Beatty’’s death sentence. “There is no doubt that [Beatty] killed Click; the issue is whether the burglary was proven and thus whether the offense is capital murder or murder.”
The dissenting judges pointed to the testimony of Click’s other neighbor, Lieanna Wilkerson, who said the mother and son argued every day. Wilkerson also said Click had told Beatty to move out before, and each time the mother allowed him to stay or let him move back in shortly thereafter.
A majority of judges have affirmed Beatty’s death sentence, however, in part because of his violent relationship with his mother. In the 2009 majority opinion by the Court of Criminal Appeals, the judges noted Wilkerson had also testified that Beatty had previously beaten his mother, once so severely he had “left her for dead.”
The judges said Beatty, jobless and poor, was likely angry at his mother for controlling him, one time refusing to drive him to a job interview because “she just didn’t feel like it,” according to Wilkerson.
“A rational jury could infer that [Beatty] was angry after Click told him to get out and that he entered Click’’s house with intent to assault her again or kill her, or at least take some of her money or her possessions,” the court majority wrote.
Beatty had been released from prison on parole months before Click’s death. Prosecutors at trial listed a slew of his previous criminal charges, including injuring a prison guard and assaulting an 18-month-old child.
In recent attempts to stop his death, Beatty’s attorneys revealed that one of the trial jurors knew his mother and didn’t say anything. They argued this brought an unacceptable level of bias to his verdict and sentence.
The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the argument, stating it did not meet the state’s strict requirements for relief in a late appeal, including that the discovery could have been made earlier.
In another court fight, Beatty’s lawyers argued the state’s prison system did not allow them to properly evaluate the prisoner for possible cognitive defects or intellectual disabilities that would bar him from execution.
When Beatty’s lawyers sought psychological evaluations this year to weigh a possible intellectual disability claim or mental competency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s refused to unshackle him during the examinations. The decision was atypical, his lawyers claimed, and prevented mental health professionals from completing a full evaluation.
Amanda Hernandez with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said last week that the agency followed standard protocol to protect prisoners, staff, and visitors. Federal courts noted TDCJ began requiring court orders to unshackle prisoners during expert evaluations last year, though without an official policy change.
Federal defense attorneys said despite “significant red flags for mental impairments,” Beatty had never been psychologically evaluated by a professional hired by his lawyers in the appeal process. Such red flags included Beatty being sent this year to the psychiatric prison facility after experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations, the lawyers said.
They argued proper evaluations are critical to determine whether the prisoner is mentally incompetent or has an intellectual disability that would bar his execution on constitutional grounds. Federal courts declined to intervene, with judges from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals saying there was no justification the appeal was anything other than a delay tactic. A federal district judge echoed the sentiment, stating the claim Beatty had “a long history of mental illness” meant Beatty could have been evaluated much earlier. Beatty has appealed the rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Without intervention by the Supreme Court or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Beatty will be executed in Huntsville after 6 p.m. It will be the state’s fourth execution of the year. Seven others are scheduled in Texas through September.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.