LUBBOCK, Texas – At the start of his long-awaited trial, Hollis Daniels pleaded guilty to shooting and killing Texas Tech Police Department (TTPD) Officer Floyd East Jr. back on Oct. 9, 2017.
The mandatory punishment for the offense of capital murder is either life in prison without parole or the death penalty. That decision is now in the hands of 12 jurors, who for the last two and half weeks have listened to hours of testimony, seen gruesome evidence and heard from Daniels himself.
Judge McClendon charged the jury Wednesday morning.
Special Issue #1: Is there a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society?
Special Issue #2: Whether, taking into consideration all of the evidence, including the circumstances of the offense, the defendant’s character and background, and the personal moral culpability of the defendant, there is sufficient mitigating circumstance or circumstances to warrant that a sentence of life imprisonment without parole rather than a death sentence be imposed.
For a conviction to be made, at least 10 jurors must agree on the verdict. To issue the death sentence, the jury must unanimously answer “yes” to the first special issue and “no” to the second special issue.
It was a three-month process to go from 250 potential jurors to the 12 who’ve been in the courtroom and are now deliberating on if Hollis Daniels should live or die.
For the emotional closing arguments Wednesday afternoon, the courtroom was so packed that Judge John “Trey” McClendon had to call for an overflow room where people could watch the proceedings by zoom.
Closing arguments mark the last opportunity for attorneys from both sides to get through to the jury.
Chief prosecuting attorney Barron Slack went first.
“It’s too little too late,” Slack said. “You chose to work on yourself after taking everything from that officer. Yes, it’s too late.”
Lubbock attorney Mark Snodgrass with the defense was up next.
“This is a senseless tragedy,” Snodgrass said. “Not one good thing is going to come out of this.”
Snodgrass asked what evidence prosecutors had to prove that Daniels is a future danger.
“They don’t have any,” Snodgrass said confidently.
Houston defense attorney Lauren Byrne said the death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst. She explained that what Daniels did was horrible, but he’s not beyond all repair.
Byrne shared that from their review of photos of the evidence that police collected, she believed Daniels had taken at least 12 Xanax pills prior to the murder.
“It’s not an excuse, but it’s absolutely an explanation about how we got here,” Byrne said.
Houston defense attorney Chip Lewis came next.
“Daniels will never step foot out of TDCJ until he’s in a coffin,” Lewis said. “Daniels didn’t get up and tell you that he didn’t want to die. He told you from the heart. He sees the death penalty as just. Fortunately, we don’t let the defense, state or judge decide.”
Lubbock County District Attorney K. Sunshine Stanek was the final voice for the prosecution.
“As a prosecutor, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, is ask you to kill this man,” Stanek said.
Stanek then played Officer East’s end-of-watch call.
“Tech badge #635. Thank you for your service. Godspeed,” the officer in the end-of-watch call said.
At that moment, tears filled the courtroom.
“Thank you for your service,” Stanek said.
The jury deliberated for a little over three hours Wednesday afternoon and will pick back up at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.