“Represented” by a Disbarred Lawyer While on Death Row

I am not a person who is opposed entirely to capital punishment, but I am concerned about several things that often occur in the practice of capital punishment in the US, including poor legal defense. In the case of TaiChin Preyor, who is scheduled to be executed in Texas at the end of the month, he virtually had no representation during his appeals because, shockingly, one of his lawyers was disbarred.

Preyor was convicted of murdering a woman and injuring another man during a burglary to get drugs. Preyor had been buying and selling drugs from the victim. He claimed that it was a botched drug deal in which he fought back killing the woman and injuring another man who had attacked him. The prosecutor and the jury believed that Preyor was the guilty party in this altercation, and he was convicted of capital murder and then sentenced to be executed.

My concerns regard Preyor’s extraordinarily deficient legal defense. In the appeal phase following his conviction, Preyor’s family hired a lawyer who misrepresented his credentials, claiming to be retired at the time. The truth was he had been disbarred many years earlier. The disbarred attorney enlisted the help of another lawyer who practiced probate, estate planning, and real estate law in California to file papers with the appeals court. Needless to say, the attorneys — one disbarred and one who had no experience in capital litigation — did not provide the competent help to Preyor’s case he deserved. These two lawyers did manage though to charge the family $45,000 for their “supposed” legal expertise.

My hope would have been that the appeals court would have taken a more thorough examination of what had occurred in the whole legal process, including the incompetence of Preyor’s legal appeal defense. However, when you read the response of the appeals court, they were concerned about procedural issues, rather than if Preyor was competently represented during the trial and subsequently. More competent attorneys are now representing Preyor but they just joined the case after he received an execution date. The new legal team needs more time to develop the previously unknown facts about his remarkably incompetent (and disbarred) prior legal representation. However, for that to occur, the governor will need to postpone the execution.

I think before we execute an individual, we need to make sure that the entire judicial process was handled fairly and competently, which in Preyor’s case is clearly lacking. Therefore, I would urge the governor to postpone the execution until all the facts surrounding this case can be re-examined by the court and presented by lawyers who have valid law licenses and are qualified in capital punishment cases. We cannot expect the public to have confidence in the justice of our death penalty system if we allow a disbarred lawyer to be part of the process.

Rick McClatchy, Baptist Minister, San Antonio, TX