A man who had been sentenced to die for murdering a Dallas police officer in 2005 will instead spend the rest of his life in prison because he is intellectually disabled, Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday.
Juan Lizcano, 43, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2007 for shooting Dallas officer Brian Jackson. The 28-year-old officer had been responding to a domestic disturbance in Old East Dallas about Lizcano and his ex-girlfriend.
The appeals court had denied an appeal from Lizcano in 2015 that argued he was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty.
But the court said in its opinion dated Wednesday that it decided to revisit the case “on our own initiative” after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2017.
That ruling said the method Texas used to determine whether a death-row inmate is intellectually disabled went against the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” by allowing such inmates to be executed.
Jackson’s widow, JoAnn Jackson, said she may never feel closure in her husband’s death. Rather, the new punishment for Lizcano means a “new reality” for her — one with less anxiety over updates in the case. But she’ll never stop missing her husband.
Jackson said she felt the jury gave Lizcano the punishment he deserved during his trial. The silver lining to the appeals court’s ruling, she said, is that the man who killed her husband won’t be able to hurt anyone else.
The lengthy appeals process hasn’t been easy on her. Over the years, Jackson said, she knew when she saw a prosecutor’s name on an incoming call that there would be news of an update, a discovery, a meeting to attend.
“It’s very hard because it’s all about — it’s not about Brian. It’s like he’s gotten lost in all of this,” she said. “And I’m struggling to keep his name and his memory alive — to know that there was a person attached to this. A husband. A good man.”
Jackson said she cherished the six years she had with her husband, whom she met because they both worked as volunteer EMTs. They had only been married two months when he was killed.
She said he was a polite, funny man, who garnered the respect even of those he arrested during his five years as a police officer.
“He got shortchanged. We all got shortchanged,” she said. “Brian and I got robbed of our family and our future together, and children — and his parents of grandchildren, my parents of grandchildren.”
Defense attorneys for Lizcano had argued during his trial that he was ineligible for the death penalty, presenting evidence that he scored low on IQ tests and was promoted to sixth grade at the age of 15 only because he was too old to stay in elementary school.
Juan Sanchez, an attorney who represented Lizcano, said Wednesday that he recalled the trial was more emotional than most. The courtroom was packed with police officers, Sanchez said.
He said that from the first day he met Lizcano, he believed the man was intellectually disabled.
“I think it’s the correct outcome. It’s a tragic situation — nobody wanted a police officer to die,” he said. “… [Lizcano is] going to spend the rest of his natural life in prison.”
After Lizcano was sentenced to death, Sanchez kept an eye on related Supreme Court cases, hoping the court would one day force Texas to change its standards on determining intellectual disability in death-row cases.
“We just knew eventually that they would come around to Texas, but we were just afraid that he may be put to death before the Supreme Court changed those standards,” Sanchez said. “Luckily, that didn’t happen.”
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said Wednesday that he expected the court’s decision in Lizcano’s case. He had said last year that he didn’t think Lizcano should die for his crime. The district attorney came to that conclusion based on psychiatric and psychological testimony in the case, he said.
Josh Healy, one of the prosecutors on the case against Lizcano who now works as a criminal defense attorney, said Wednesday that he was disappointed to learn of the court’s ruling.
“All you can do is move on, and he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Healy said. “I know the family wanted more.”
“Brian was her world,” he said. “I know she was with us every step of the way.”
Dana Branham, Breaking news reporter. Dana is a reporter at The Dallas Morning News covering crime and breaking news. She graduated in 2017 from the University of Oklahoma, where she studied journalism. Before coming to The News in 2018, Dana interned at the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Tulsa World.
Capital punishment, Texas, Appellate court, Police officer, Sentence, Commutation
World news – CA – Man on death row for murdering Dallas cop will instead spend life in prison, court rules