James Calvert’s attorneys seek new punishment hearing amid claims of mental incompetence

Brief filed with Court of Appeals claims Calvert should not have been allowed to represent himself

James Calvert’s attorneys seek new punishment hearing amid claims of mental incompetence
James Calvert

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) -A Tyler man on death row who represented himself in a capital murder case is now asking justices to revisit his conviction and order a new punishment hearing, saying a Smith County judge shouldn’t have allowed him to act as his own attorney.

James Calvert and his attorneys filed a 78-page request with the Court of Criminal Appeals on Nov. 27, asking for a new sentencing hearing. The request comes after a death penalty appeal was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals earlier this fall.

Calvert’s attorneys say they want to argue this request in person because of “numerous and complex issues” that they believe involve federal law. In the brief, they refer to a U.S. Supreme Court case, Indiana vs Edwards, that says self-representation by persons with diminished capacity undercuts a fair trial.

It’s been just more than 4 years since Calvert was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death for the violent murder of Jelena Sririman, his estranged ex-wife. That night Calvert also abducted their child and fled across state lines to Louisiana, where he was captured.

Calvert was sentenced to death after a lengthy and somewhat bizarre trial in Smith County’s 241st District Court that involved incidents legal experts said could lead to a successful appeal, including the court’s use of a shock belt and Calvert’s decision to represent himself despite having no legal experience.

Judge Jack Skeen revoked Calvert’s right to self-representation partway through the trial and two attorneys were assigned to Calvert’s defense. Their subsequent request for a mistrial was denied.

Now, attorneys Douglas Parks and David DeBruin argue Skeen should have used the courts discretion and denied Calvert the right to self-representation before the trial ever began, noting Calvert was undergoing mental health treatment at the time of the trial.

In the brief, attorneys say they believe the trial court had a responsibility to determine if Calvert was competent to represent himself, noting differences between competency to stand trial and the competency to represent ones self at trial.

“The stakes are too high, the law too complex, and the need for both factual and perceived fairness too important to allow a defendant to be sentenced to death when the defendant has only himself for a lawyer and he is mentally incompetent to conduct a trial, even though legally competent to stand trial or to make a knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel,” the attorneys wrote in Part VI of the motion for rehearing.

“The final result was both predictable and disastrous: the death penalty for Appellant and a trail that was not in fact – and could not be perceived as – fair and reliable,” the brief states.

In addition, attorneys also ask the court for a new hearing based on shock belt use, saying in part that the use of such marks “the lack of an impartial trial judge.”

“And it is apparent that in threatening, and then allowing, use of a shock device to discipline and punish Appellant for failing to stand, the trial judge had lost any semblance of impartiality.”


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