HOUSTON – After a review of 58 pending capital murder cases, officials with the Harris County District Attorney's Office told KPRC they have decided to seek the death penalty against four defendants in six cases.
Many of the recently reviewed cases were filed under the previous administration.
One of the cases involves in the February 2015 death of Kella Bracken. The 22-year-old was found stabbed multiple times in the parking lot of a northwest Harris County pizzeria.
“She was like my other half. She was my best friend,” said Katelynn Schmidt, Bracken's sister. “We’re pretty much at a loss for words. This monster has taken everything from us.”
The man charged with murdering Bracken is Maytham Alsaedy. Recently, the DA’s Office decided it would seek the death penalty in Alsaedy’s case.
The head of the DA's trial bureau, David Mitcham, said the decision was reached after the case was examined by the office's capital review committee. Mitcham said the committee reviews every capital murder case filed in Harris County. Currently, the committee has reviewed 58 of these cases.
Mitcham said after all the evidence is gathered and grand jury indictments handed down, each case is presented to a committee of at least five and up to 12 high-level prosecutors. Mitcham said the prosecutors on the committee all have numerous years of experience handling capital cases.
“Eventually there’s a vote to determine which course of action we should pursue," Mitcham said.
Mitcham said after being presented with the facts, the committee then discusses evidence and circumstances before voting, by a show of hands, whether the death penalty will be sought.
The ultimate decision on whether to seek death rests with District Attorney Kim Ogg. However, Mitcham said Ogg has shown "great deference" to the committee's recommendations.
Mitcham also said these decisions "are not set in stone" and can change if new evidence comes to light. He added there is no set formula for making a decision in a capital murder cases.
“Where that crosses the line is determined by the evidence," Mitcham said.
The other cases where the death penalty will be sought involves accused killers David Conley, Lucky Ward and Steven Hobbs.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the number of executions and cases where a death sentence is sought have been dropping over the last several years.
According to the DPIC, the number of executions in the United States dropped from a high of 98 in the late 1990s to 20 in 2016. The DPIC also reported the number of death sentences dropped from a high of 295 in 1998 to 30 in 2016.