Diane Jennings, Dallas Morning News, March 10, 2010
The lawyer for a man accused of stabbing a 67-year-old woman to death during her morning walk sought to win leniency for his client this afternoon by acknowledging the man’s guilt.
Defense attorney Paul Johnson told a Dallas County jury in his closing argument that Theron Lacey, 28, did stab Dottie Reiter.
But, he said, Lacey didn’t mean to kill the woman.
“I’m willing to say, ‘Yes, this man did it,’ ” Johnson said, “but I’m not willing to say he did it with the intent to kill.”
Jurors were deliberating Lacey’s fate late this afternoon.
Reiter, a recent retiree, was killed in broad daylight on the morning of Oct. 28, 2008, as she walked near her Cedar Hill home.
Investigators said the motive was robbery. Her purse and cellphone were taken.
Lacey, who has a record of violent criminal behavior, is on trial for capital murder in her death. His girlfriend and other prosecution witnesses testified that he admitted stabbing Reiter.
If found guilty of capital murder, he would face an automatic sentence of life in prison. That’s because the Dallas County district attorney’s office chose not to seek the death penalty.
However, if found guilty of a lesser charge of murder, as his lawyer advocated, his sentence could range from 15 years to life.
“Is it really capital murder?” Johnson asked the jury. “I submit to you it is not. It is murder.”
Prosecutor Kate Pfeifle dismissed the notion that Lacey did not intend to kill his victim, whom he stabbed twice.
“He stabbed her with such force that it went through her jacket, her sweatshirt, her T-shirt, her bra, her skin, her bone, her lung,” Pfeifle told the jury.
“Then he took the knife out and did it again.”
Johnson did not call any witnesses on Lacey’s behalf.
But in his closing argument, he recalled testimony from Lacey’s girlfriend, LaShaunda Johnson. She said Lacey told her that when he left Reiter, the woman was sitting up on a curb, holding her back. The lawyer suggested that if Lacey had wanted the woman dead, he wouldn’t have left her upright and conscious.
LaShaunda Johnson, testifying for the state, told jurors that Lacey confessed to her. She testified that he claimed he killed Reiter when she resisted as he robbed her.
“He said the first time he stabbed her was because he was scared, and the second time was because he wanted her to feel his pain,” Johnson said.
She added: “I was in shock because it was hard to believe he could do something like that. Then I was scared. He said I looked at him like he was some kind of monster.”
When Pfeifle, the prosecutor, asked if Lacey showed any remorse, LaShaunda Johnson replied: “He said if it made me feel better, I could just think she was prejudiced.” She testified that according to her boyfriend, Reiter probably didn’t like black people, “and her family probably owned slaves.”
She said that when she saw Lacey on the day of the slaying, he had blood on his sleeve. He told her it came from a cut on her daughter’s foot, she testified, but she saw no such cut.
The girlfriend, who was facing other charges of credit card abuse and evidence tampering, acknowledged lying about the killing when initially questioned by police.
But she’s telling the truth now, she said, because “it was just time. It was the right thing to do. This wasn’t going to go away.”
She added, however, that she still loves Lacey.
“I see all the good in him even though he’s done so much wrong. And I think love is unconditional.”
Lacey was convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery in November 2009. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison on one of those convictions, and 30 years on the other. He also has a conviction for aggravated assault in 1999, which resulted in an eight-year prison sentence.
Matthew Bonner, an acquaintance, said Lacey told him he had killed Reiter. Bonner said he encouraged Lacey to turn himself in.
And Jatavius Bivins, a jail inmate incarcerated at the same time as Lacey, said he recalled that the person in the cell next to him admitted committing the crime. Prosecutors said jail paperwork showed Lacey was that adjacent inmate. But defense attorneys pointed out Bivins never saw the person who was talking and could not identify him in court.
After the jury left the courtroom in mid-afternoon to begin deliberating, Lacey made an obscene gesture at Pfeifle, the prosecutor claimed.
“Don’t do that to me,” she snapped at him.
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