Update for November 20, 2014
Jury shows leniency in D’Hanis murder trial
By Lewis H. Mathews
On Friday, Nov. 14, Stacie Voigt Etzel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the first degree murder of her husband, Terry Lee Etzel. She also received a 10-year sentence for the third degree felony of tampering with evidence. The jury recommended that this sentence be suspended; 38th Judicial District Judge Camile G. DuBose allowed the sentences to run concurrently.
After the jury found her guilty on Monday, Nov. 10, the sentencing phase of the trial was set to begin Wednesday with testimony for the jury to consider when determining punishment. The prosecution only called one witness, Etzel’s first husband. The defense then called to the stand family and friends that had volunteered to speak on her behalf and request that the jury show leniency in this case due to extenuating circumstances.
Judge DuBose instructed the jury to determine if Etzel had committed the murder “under the immediate influence of a sudden passion arising from an adequate cause.” If a murder is found to be the result of sudden passion, then the punishment range for a conviction is reduced under the Texas Penal Code from a first degree felony, which carries 5 to 99 years, or life in prison, to that of a second degree felony, or 2 to 20 years.
The jury began to deliberate on the sentence at approximately 4 p.m., Wednesday, after all testimony had been heard. Their discussions behind closed doors continued until nearly 9 p.m. when they sent a note to Judge DuBose saying that they could not come to a decision that evening. They were released and instructed to return Friday morning to continue.
After reconvening, they continued their discussions and watched portions of the taped interrogation of Etzel again. At 11:30 a.m., they informed the Court that a decision had been reached.
After stating that while her “heart goes out to everyone in the courtroom,” Judge DuBose admonished those in attendance to contain any intense emotional outbursts until after they had exited the courtroom. She then called the jury back to their seats. Etzel, along with her defense counsel, stood stoically as the judge read the decision of the jury.
The jury declared that they did not find that the mitigating factor of being “under the immediate influence of a sudden passion” applied to this case. Nevertheless, they still returned a sentence for Etzel’s murder conviction that would have been the maximum allowed, 20 years, if they had found “adequate cause” for such a passion existed.
Before dismissing the jury a final time, Judge DuBose expressed the appreciation of the court, saying, “Many men and women have given their lives in order to maintain our freedom and the privileges we enjoy as an American society. By your service here today, you have helped to honor that sacrifice, and I thank you on behalf of the citizens of Medina County.”
When asked if she would like to make a statement, Etzel first thanked Judge DuBose personally and then asked for permission to address her family. It was given, and she turned around to face them. She said, “For everyone who is here today, who has been here the whole time, I want to thank you all for being so supportive, for your love and care.
“I have been through a lot for years already so you know I will be o.k.”
She was then lead away to custody. Medina County Sheriff Randy Brown allowed her family immediate visitation rights.
Lead council for the defense, Roy R. Barrera, Jr. expressed the devastating grief felt by those closest to her. He said, “The family and friends of my client, Stacie Etzel, are frankly, ‘shocked’ at the jury’s ‘guilty’ verdict and especially the 20 year sentence. They know she is ‘innocent’ and did what she ‘had to do’ to save herself and her family. They are all ‘broken hearted’ and in ‘disbelief’.”
Daniel J. Kindred, the district attorney for the 38th Judicial District, commented of the final disposition of the case: “The jury rejected sudden passion, but clearly found evidence that reduced Stacie Etzel’s punishment. The jury has the most important job in the courtroom and the most difficult. There were three weeks of evidence and testimony to consider when assessing a punishment.
“The jury was the only group of people who heard all of the facts regarding this case presented by the district attorney’s office and by defense counsel. The district attorney’s office does not ask for vengeance, we ask for justice. And this verdict, and punishment, was just.”
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