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Supreme Court Hears Appeal In Harris County Death Penalty Case

Carlos Ayestas’ appeal hinges on whether Texas denied his legal team the resources needed to argue mitigating factors during his sentencing hearing

Graphic by Todd Wiseman


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The U.S Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the appeal of Harris County death penalty inmate Carlos Ayestas. This is the third death penalty case out of Harris County to reach the high court in the past year.

This photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Carlos Ayesta.
This photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Carlos Ayestas.

Ayestas was found guilty of strangling a woman to death during a 1995 home invasion. Lee Kovarsky, who's conducting his appeal, said that during Ayestas' sentencing, his original attorney took only two minutes to argue why his life should be spared.

"And that reflects the fact that trial counsel hadn't done any of the things that trial counsel are supposed to do in investigating the background and mental health of the person that they're representing," said Kovarsky. Ayestas suffered from schizophrenia and cocaine addiction.

In his oral argument, Kovarsky said Texas made it too difficult for Ayestas' counsel to get the resources they needed at sentencing to make their case. "You've got to show some threshold to get experts and investigators to get your representation," said Kovarsky. "How high is that threshold?"

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued the state provided Ayestas' team ample resources. The state Attorney General's office declined to comment on the case before the court issues its ruling.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court invalidated the death sentences of Harris County inmates Duane Buck and Bobby Moore and sent both cases back to the lower courts. Buck has since been sentenced to life in prison, following a plea agreement with Harris County prosecutors.