By Libby Cluett
PALO PINTO – State and defense attorneys start meeting with a jury pool of 200 summoned Palo Pinto County citizens today to select 12 for the county's first capital murder case in many years.
Mark Emmons McLaughlan, 33, stands trial next week after he was charged with capital murder after the September 2005 death of 2-year-old Cayson Reese Mosley, of Perrin.
According to past Index reports, McLaughlin, the child's babysitter, told investigators the 2-year-old was injured in an accidental fall that occurred sometime on Sept. 19 at a residence in Tuck's Mobile Home Park on Farm-to-Market Road 1195. The child died days later at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death as “homicide by blunt force trauma.”
McLaughlin will face a jury in the 29th District Court presided by Judge Jerry Ray. In today's organizational meeting jurors will complete a questionnaire and will be instructed to not read or listen to news media until the trial ends. On Monday, they will return for the beginning of voir dire – the jury-selection process when prospective jurors are questioned about their backgrounds and potential biases.
Palo Pinto County District Attorney Mike Burns said he inherited the case when he became district attorney nearly two years ago. He said that when a forensic case like this comes up, which relies on scientific evidence and expert witnesses, it is not only costly but time consuming for this rural jurisdiction which “handles a huge caseload.”
“The [office of the] Attorney General is prosecuting because I asked them to,” he said, adding that the county is sharing trial costs with the state. “Capital cases [present] an enormous cost to a jurisdiction. This [AG] unit is designed to help rural counties. It's the kind of case that requires resources they have. It is beyond the resources of the county.”
“As a new prosecutor, I didn't have the contacts with renown experts as they do,” he added.
Burns said he expects next week's trial to be costly, but the state will help the county bear expenses.
Representing the state in first chair is Assistant Attorney General prosecutor Lisa Tanner. In September, Tanner served as lead prosecutor in the trial that found Darnell Hartsfield guilty of the the Sept. 23, 1983, abduction and killing of five people after a robbery at a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Kilgore, Texas. The victims were shot to death along an oilfield road. Jurors sentenced Hartsville to serve five consecutive life prison terms. Prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty.
Tanner also tried Hartsville's cousin, Romeo Pinkerton, in the fall of 2007, who pleaded guilty midway through his trial to five murder charges and accepted life in prison. The KFC killings were considered one of the state's longest unresolved mass murder cases, according to a Jan. 4 Kilgore News Herald article.
Defending McLaughlan are Fort Worth attorneys Jeff Kearney and William Reagan Wynn.
Past capital murder cases
This trial marks the county's first capital murder case since a series of trials occurring over the past decade. However, not all of these cases went to trial.
The January 2001 robbery and murder of a Mineral Wells EZ-Mart convenience store clerk with a machete led to a 2002 trial date for Brent Alan Bellah. Bellah pleaded guilty before the trial commenced and was sentenced to automatic life.
In 2000 Phillip A. Adams was found guilty of a December 1996 murder in the county. Prosecutors waived the death the penalty.
Adams' attorneys filed an appeal with the 11th Court of Appeals in March 2000 and Tanner sat as first chair for the state. The appellate court upheld his conviction of capital murder and affirmed his punishment at confinement for life.
In a 1983 cold case two Mineral Wells sisters, Emma London, 80, and Francis Hodges, 75, were murdered in their home while being burglarized. Four people were indicted over 20 years later, which resulted in the 2004 capital murder conviction of Willie Curtis Mayfield. The state elected not to seek the death penalty but Mayfield was sentenced to life in prison on each cause. Adrian Wright, also indicted for two counts of capital murder as an accessory to the crime, pleaded guilty in 2004 after testifying against Mayfield and received two 15-year concurrent terms in prison. In 2002 Kevin Lindsay Cross received two life sentences for his role in the deaths. In 2003, Gerald Taylor pleaded guilty to robbery and acting as a lookout during the crime and he received 15 years in prison.
In 1998, James Allen Rapp was tried for killing a baby in Palo Pinto. Prosecutors waived the death penalty and he was convicted and sentenced to automatic life.
In 1996, Helen Moore, then 41, pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty for drugging, killing and dismembering her 27-year-old boyfriend Casey Elliott, a rodeo cowboy. That case, which relied on forensic evidence, was featured on the HBO series “Autopsy.”
It seems more recently prosecutors have avoided costly and time-consuming death penalty trials. Some contend that one reason for the decline of death penalty trials in rural areas is the Legislature's increasing the length of time one is eligible for parole in life sentences, which is now 40 years, and adding life without parole as an option for jurors in capital murder cases.
In the mid 1980s, former DA Jimmy Ashby discovered the cost and toll of a capital murder with death penalty case, prosecuting the last one in Palo Pinto. With the assistance of Mac Smith, former Parker County DA, in June 1985 Ashby successfully convicted Robert Purtell, 25, of capital murder with the death penalty for the February 1984 murder of a Methodist preacher from Dublin, whose body was left in his van near a truck stop in Gordon, according to Ashby. Purtell's sentence was reduced to life in 1995 based on a change in the law, which was applied retroactively. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Purtell is currently serving out his time in a Bee County work program.
In April 1986, Purtell's accomplice, Robert Dale Carrasquillo, 23, was tried in Parker County for capital murder with a life sentence. He remains incarcerated at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, Texas.
Ashby said that the costs rose for witnesses, such as the Phoenix police who captured the two men, forensic evidence and experts. In this case, the county incurred the cost, including two court-appointed defense attorneys for each man's trial. According to Ashby, these were Tom Creighton and Ken Tarleton for Purtell and John Moore and Mike Smiddy for Carrasquillo.
Since the Purtell trial Palo Pinto County jurors have not had to consider a death-penalty case.