The Ft. Bend County Double Murder Investigation
Attorney Katherine Scardino and Attorney Stephen Doggett tried a Death Penalty case in Ft. Bend County which lasted three months, ending in June. The Defendant, Cornelius Harper, was charged with the shooting death of his cousin and the stabbing death of his cousin’s fiancée, who was pregnant, a short time later at a second crime scene.
We had been working on this case since 2011 and had compiled quite a defense for Harper. The State had a lot of circumstantial evidence, while we had developed an alternate theory of who was responsible for the murders.
The State was going to present evidence that the killer was a cousin to the male victim. During the course of our investigation we identified two of the victim’s cousins, who are actively involved in the narcotic trade. One of the cousins, who had been in a number of incidents in The Valley, had admitted to the police investigators that the victim had assisted him in obtaining vehicles he used to transport narcotics.
The second cousin, when interviewed by Investigator Keith Kucifer while in custody, stated that his other cousin’s associates had threatened he and his family members with physical harm and death because he had ripped them off and had not repaid them.
Paul Price, from Beyond IT (Forensic Computer Specialist), was able to download thousands of text messages from the male victim’s phone. We were able to identify the participants of the text messages and interview a number of them. The information that was developed indicated that the victim was most likely involved in fraudulent activities and narcotics.
The Jailhouse Snitch
As usual, the State had a jailhouse witness who was in the Ft. Bend County Jail for a home invasion aggravated robbery. This “good citizen” came forward to tell the Prosecutors that our Defendant confessed to committing the murders to him. As a result, the jailhouse witness had his bond greatly reduced, securing his release from jail. Keith Kucifer, one of our lead Investigators, had interviewed other inmates who testified that Harper spoke to them in detail about his case, but never admitted guilt.
Chief Investigator J.J. Gradoni listened to the court testimony of the jailhouse snitch and as a result was able to produce three witnesses, who were located, interviewed and produced at trial, who would have told the jury, had the judge allowed them to testify, that portions of the snitch’s testimony to the jury were not true and he had committed perjury.
The Defendant Wants To Testify
The Defendant demanded to testify on his own behalf, which is somewhat unusual in this sort of trial. The Defendant tried to explain to the jury his use of the male victim’s cell phone an hour prior to his murder and to further explain to the jury he had no motive to commit the murders.
After a day and a half the jury came back with a Guilty verdict, setting the stage for the Death Penalty portion of the trial. Dr. Julie Brams gave the jury a very specific and detailed life history of the Defendant, pointing out all of the life and mental issues that put the Defendant in the position where he was unable to make good decisions.
The State did their best to prove to the jury that the Defendant was an imminent threat to society and would even be a threat to other prisoners if he was housed in general population. The jury came back with a Life sentence which, under the circumstances, is quite a victory.
There have been 8 Death Penalty trials in the State of Texas in the year 2014 and this is the only trial in which the jury awarded a Life sentence.
The Defense team of Katherine Scardino, Stephen Doggett and Attorney Jimmy Phillips Jr., who sat through the trial and assisted in helping to prepare the appellate record of the trial for the Defendant, worked tirelessly before and during the trial to defend their client.
RESULT BASED ON INVESTIGATION: Capital Murder Trial Nets Life Sentence, As Opposed to Death
Return to the February 2014 Investigator’s Newsletter