Texas court halts the execution of Stephen Barbee to consider U.S. Supreme Court precedent

Texas Tribune News

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Stephen Barbee on Sept. 23, 2019.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Stephen Barbee on Sept. 23, 2019.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday temporarily stopped the execution of Stephen Barbee. He had been set to die Oct. 2.

Barbee, 52, was sentenced to death in Tarrant County in the 2005 murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Lisa Underwood, and her 7-year-old son, Jayden. According to court records, Barbee initially confessed during police interrogation to killing them because he feared Lisa would tell his wife that he was likely the father of her unborn child and that he would have to pay child support. He later recanted the confession, which his lawyer argues was “the product of fear and coercion,” and has since maintained his innocence.

The Texas court stopped next week’s execution because Barbee’s attorneys at his short, two-and-a-half day trial, admitted to his guilt, likely in an attempt to secure the more favorable sentence of life in prison without the opportunity for parole. Barbee has said this concession of guilt was against his wishes, that he repeatedly told his lawyers he wanted to maintain his innocence and that his lawyers’ statement was “a complete surprise.”

The concession, Barbee argues, is a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The argument was rejected earlier, but after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision out of Louisiana, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered further review of the case.

In McCoy v. Louisiana, the high court ruled that “a defendant has the right to insist that counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel’s experienced-based view is that confessing guilt offers the defendant the best chance to avoid the death penalty.”

Though the ruling has been raised unsuccessfully in other Texas death penalty appeals, the state appellate court decided Barbee’s case requires an opinion the case’s reach. The judges gave the state and Barbee 30 days to file briefs on issues involving the Supreme Court decision.