Prosecutors Accept Life Plea by Severely Mentally Ill Man in Killing of Texas Sheriff's Deputy

Texas prosecutors have dropped their pursuit of the death penalty against a severely mentally ill capital defendant charged with what they characterized as the "ambush murder" of a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. Special prosecutor Brett Ligon (pictured, left)—the Montgomery County District Attorney who was handling the prosecution because Houston prosecutors had a conflict that prevented them from participating in the case—announced on September 13 that he had agreed to a plea deal in which Shannon Miles (pictured, right) would be sentenced to life without possibility of parole in the killing of Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth. Miles’s lawyers say that he has schizophrenia and episodic psychosis when he is not on psychiatric medication, that he has no memory of the murder, and that they intended to pursue an insanity defense in the case. In 2012, the trial court had declared Miles incompetent to be tried. In March of 2017, after treatment at a state mental hospital that had been delayed by a shortage of available beds, the court found Miles competent to stand trial. In explaining the plea deal, Ligon said "[t]he state's experts all came to the same conclusion, the likelihood of executing a mentally incompetent man was almost zero."  The victim’s widow, Kathleen Goforth, said she supported to deal because her two children “have been spared” the ordeal of extended death-penalty proceedings. She said, “They will not have the backdrop of their lives, for the next 10 to 25 years, being court dates, trials and appeals…. They won't have that inflicted upon them and that is merciful. It's compassionate and it's the right thing to do." Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Donald Cuevas, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, said justice had been served by the plea deal. The plea had been entered against the backdrop of an emerging sex scandal. The sole grounds on which prosecutors could seek the death penalty in the case was if Officer Goforth had been killed in the performance of his duties. However, evidence had come to light that Goforth was at the gas station to meet his mistress, who was a witness to the murder and would be called upon to testify in the case. Two sheriff’s officers—one who was assigned to investigate the case—had been fired for having sexual relations with the woman, and a third had been fired for sending her an email soliciting sex. The Goforth murder once again focused attention on the role of mental illness in premeditated murders of police officers. In July 2016, in unrelated incidents, mentally ill Gulf War veterans who exhibited symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder fatally shot five police officers in Dallas, Texas and three in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In July 2015, a Washington jury sentenced a mentally ill and delusional capital defendant, Christopher Monfort, to life without parole for the ambush murder of a Seattle police officer.

Comments by Ligon­ reported in The Houston Press suggested his pursuit of punishment against Miles was based on vengeance. "I've executed people, and I've put 'em on life without parole, and I will tell you, neither one of those are good options. Neither one of them. They both suck. And that's what I want, is the ultimate suck—and he got the ultimate suck," Ligons said. "When nobody gives a good goddamn about you and die in a pauper's grave, that is the beat down that's life without parole."

(C. Langford, ”Houston Cop Killer Sentenced to Life in Prison," Courthouse News Service, September 14, 2017; B. Rogers, "Accused killer in deputy Goforth case pleads guilty, avoids death penalty," Houston Chronicle, September 13, 2017; M. Flynn, “Shannon Miles Sentenced to Prison for Killing Deputy Goforth,” Houston Press, September 13, 2017; “Shannon Miles found incompetent to stand trial in Deputy Darren Goforth's murder,” KPRC2 News, February 9, 2016; “Gavin Long of KC, who ambushed Baton Rouge police last summer, left a suicide note,” Associated Press, June 30, 2017; K. Krause and S. Ambrose, “Dallas shooter showed signs of PTSD when he returned from Afghanistan, VA records show,” Dallas Morning News, August 24, 2016.) See Mental Illness and Life Without Parole