Death row inmate appeals sentence over Comedy Central footage

Death row inmate appeals sentence over Comedy Central footage


A Texas inmate filmed as part of a Comedy Central roast by comedian Jeff Ross while in prison is appealing his case to the US Supreme Court, arguing that the stand-up footage was used unfairly. wrong to sentence him to death for attacking an elderly married couple.

Gabriel Hall was awaiting trial on a high-profile capital murder charge when Ross, known as the “Roastmaster General” for his insult comedy, was invited to the Brazos County Jail and interviewed Hall and other inmates in 2015.

Although it was never aired, the video was later subpoenaed and presented to the jury by prosecutors, who argued that Hall showed no remorse four years after the 2011 murder. But Hall’s legal team has argued that the recording was made without the knowledge of his lawyers. his and violated the prisoner’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

The justices are unlikely to choose the case to hear at a Jan. 6 conference call, when the court could grab a few cases from among the hundreds presented for consideration, according to legal experts. However, experts also questioned the prison’s decision to allow film crews without the inmates’ lawyers present and prosecutors’ decision to use the tape during the sentencing.

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Hall’s lead attorney, Robert Owen, argues that the bench, the most conservative in decades, should take the case to investigate a gap in legal precedent in the Sixth Amendment, likening comedy roasting to using a prison informant.

“The issue is about when the state can interfere with the attorney-client relationship between an accused person and their attorney,” Owen told The Washington Post. “No one has addressed the question of whether the state violates an accused person’s right to defense by giving a third party access to the defendant.”

The case’s unusual circumstances make it less pressing for the highest court, where justices focus on high-impact legal cases, said Bruce Green, a Fordham law professor who specializes in legal ethics. Green appreciated the occasion when a colleague asked him if he would write a friendly review in support of Hall.

“That said, I think it’s pretty wild,” Green said. “To me, it would be highly inappropriate for the prison authorities to allow a reporter in without the permission of Hall’s lawyer. That’s basically what they did, but it was worse. It was an offensive comic whose job is to provoke people.”

The Texas Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Post. The state has argued that the use of the video of the comedy show did not violate the Sixth Amendment — which prohibits the government from knowingly eliciting incriminating information from defendants through a state agent — because Ross did not have that authority. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, dismissing Hall’s appeal.

Ross did not seek Hall’s prosecution as a state agent, and Hall could not have spoken to the comedian or shared anything that might implicate him, said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an organization which advocates the death penalty. . It’s also possible that the video isn’t what swayed the jury at sentencing, Scheidegger said.

On October 20, 2011, then 18-year-old Hall entered the garage of a College Station home in an attempted burglary, repeatedly stabbing one of the occupants, 68-year-old Edwin “Ed” Shaar Jr., a Navy veteran who had Parkinson’s disease. He then shot and killed Ed at point blank range. Hall also tried to shoot Ed’s wife, Linda, who was in a wheelchair, but the gun jammed, so he stabbed her while she was on the phone to 911. Hall got away, taking nothing, while Linda survived and described Hall to the police. He was arrested a short time later and charged.

Around the same time, Ross sought to produce a comedy roast set in a prison, he told an Entertainment Weekly reporter later that year. He said he wanted to humanize those behind bars. Comedy Central executives told Ross there would be too much red tape to make it happen, but Ross ran an ad in American Jails magazine. Wayne Dicky, then the jail administrator and now the Brazos County sheriff, called after seeing the ad, saying he was open to allowing the film crew if it provided additional security.

“I wanted to do something that would enlighten people, not about politics, but about people,” Ross said at the time. His representatives did not respond to requests for comment about the case. Since news of the case broke, Ross has liked tweets stating that he should not be blamed for how the video was used.

Dicky, who did not respond to a request for comment, promoted the show as a reward for good behavior and fliers posted around the prison encouraged participation.

After Hall was indicted, he was appointed trial counsel in November 2014. They sent the Brazos County Sheriff a “no contact” letter saying Hall’s legal team had to give written approval if officers wanted to talk to Hall.

Three months later, Ross spent several days interviewing inmates on camera for the show. At one point, Ross walked into one of the prison’s shelter rooms and up to a table where Hall and other inmates were sitting. The 17-minute conversation captured on video was never broadcast, but court documents filed by Hall’s legal team shed light on what was said.

The camera seems to focus on Hall for most of the conversation, while Ross comments on his intimidating demeanor and references his Asian heritage.

Ross asks Hall what he’s in jail for and suggests, “Hacking into someone’s computer?”

“Something like that, yes,” Hall replies.

“‘Hacking’ is the operative word,” says another inmate.

“Yes. Yeah, used a machete on somebody’s screen,” says Hall.

Elsewhere in the conversation, Ross talks to inmates about life behind bars and brings up Texas’ aggressive use of the death penalty. Texas kills more inmates than any other state.

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“Well … they’ll basically kidnap you, over more … ah, little s—,” Hall says.

When the jail administrator learned of the conversation, he contacted Comedy Central to request that the interview not be published, citing the high-profile case, according to court records. Dicky also asked the network to give him a digital copy. Weeks later, the state subpoenaed the footage and notified Hall that it intended to use it in its evidence during the penalty phase of the trial.

The prosecutor pointed to it as evidence that Hall felt little remorse for his crimes and little appreciation for human life.

The jury deliberated for more than seven hours and sentenced Hall to death. Hall, now 29, has spent more than seven years on death row.

Owen, Hall’s lead attorney, said that if the Supreme Court moves to hear the case, another federal court could still review his client’s conviction to determine whether he had a fair trial. Two other post-trial proceedings in Texas remain pending.

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