Defense opens in Daniel sentencing phase



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Posted on February 26, 2014 at 9:26 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 26 at 8:04 PM

AUSTIN -- It's now the defense attorneys' turn to counter prosecutors' efforts to obtain a death sentence for a man convicted of capital murder in the slaying of Austin Senior Police Officer Jaime Padron.

Brandon Daniel's attorneys began presenting evidence to a Travis County jury on Wednesday morning, a day after prosecutors rested their case.

The first three witnesses to take the stand were current Travis County corrections officers who work at the Del Valle Jail.

The first told the jury that Daniel was always polite, that he followed directions and was compliant in conversation. On cross-examination prosecutors asked if the officer considered someone who made illegal alcohol or tracked jailers movements as compliant, considering they're breaking the rules. The officer said no. Both of those accusations were revealed in prior testimony.

The second witness has 23 years with the county and told the jury he's seen prisoners make hooch about 25 times. He testified that Daniel never gave hints that he was violent.

The state asked if he was aware that Daniel claimed he tried to commit suicide and had to be transferred to another building in the jail. The officer said, "Yes." He said Daniel told him he took a bunch of pills, but medical officials never found any evidence that was true.

The third corrections officer told the jury he heard Daniel had fashioned a noose in his cell and was transferred to a special suicide cell where he could not hurt himself.

Dr. James Ascough, a USDA scientist who hired Daniel to program code when he was a student at Colorado State University, also took the stand. He testified he thought Daniel was a "sharp kid" who was very easy to work with. He also told the jury he was pleased he had hired Daniel.

“He was a quiet, respectful kid who worked very hard. He wanted to come in; he wanted to earn money and he wanted to do well,” Ascough said.

Ascough said Daniel wrote computer code and built interfaces still used around the world. News of the shooting stunned him.

“I read through the article and I was shocked, horrified. Both that it was Brandon and that a police officer who was young with children like I have has lost his life," he said.

Psychologist Dr. Lee Carter also testified. He evaluated Daniel  and said Daniel started to experiment with drugs as early as 12 and became depressed after a breakup months before the shooting

“During that pre-adolescent age say 11,12,13 years of age is what he identified as a particularly pivotal part of his life that he fell into a pretty deep depression," Carter said.

He said Daniel started to experiment with drugs as early as 12 and became depressed after a breakup months before the shooting.

“I think he wishes that relationship had continued. I think the fact that she liked him was something of a novel experience for him. Most people didn’t like him, but she did," Carter said.

Daniel showed little emotion during the testimony about his promising future, but his sister sat behind him, her sobs heard around the courtroom.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Their last witness Tuesday was Padron's sister, Linda Diaz, who testified about his dedication to service, his family and the community.

Padron was shot to death on April 6, 2012 while answering a disturbance and shoplifting call at a North Austin Walmart.

Daniel has acknowledged that he was under the influence of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.