NEWS (3/11/20): The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) has rejected the recommendation of an El Paso County trial court that death-row prisoner Rigoberto Avila should be granted a new trial as a result of the prosecution’s reliance on false and outdated scientific evidence.

Avila was sentenced to death for the alleged murder of a 19-month-old infant based upon what he contended was false expert testimony that he had abused the child. The TCCA stayed Avila’s execution in January 2014 based on a new law giving prisoners access to the courts to litigate new evidence that their convictions had been based on false or misleading forensic evidence. His was one of the first cases sent back to a lower court for reconsideration under the 2013 junk-science law.

In his 2001 trial, prosecutors argued that Avila had killed his girlfriend’s infant son. “There’s no other way the kid could have died,” they told the jury. New evidence showed, however, that the infant could have died from injuries caused by his four-year-old brother. New evidence indicated that the child’s fatal injuries were the result of an accident. In an October 9, 2020 ruling, Judge Annabell Perez wrote that this new evidence “probably would have led jurors to harbor reasonable doubt about [Avila’s] guilt” if it had been available at trial.

The Texas appeals court rejected the trial court’s findings in an unsigned opinion issued on March 11, 2020. The court wrote that Avila had failed to meet the “’Herculean’ burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would have convicted him based on the new evidence.”


Read the Texas Court of Appeals deci­sion in Ex Parte Rigoberto Avila, No. WR-59,662 – 02 (Tx. Crim. App. Mar. 11, 2020) (per curiam).