HOUSTON – A death sentence has been reinstated for a man who brutally murdered a couple in Sunnyside.
It took three days of deliberations for a jury to sentence Daryl Wheatfall, 57, to death again. The verdict came down Wednesday.
Wheatfall murdered James Fitzgerald and his wife L.B. in their home over a $50 debt back in 1990. The double murder was investigated by the Houston Police Department.
The second punishment trial followed a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling in 2015 that found that Wheatfall’s case was among many several so-called “Penry Cases” where judges gave flawed jury instructions that prohibited jurors in capital murder trials from considering mitigating evidence.
“These are very difficult cases, they take a real emotional toll on everyone and I want to give our condolences again to the remaining and living family members of the Fitzgerald family,” Kim Ogg said to KPRC 2 after the verdict came down Wednesday.
According to investigators, the couple’s then-teenage son was also shot but survived and testified against Wheatfall in the retrial, which began two months ago and lasted four weeks for individual jury selection and then four weeks of testimony and deliberation.
While Ogg said Wheatfall’s guilt was not in question, jurors had to consider his punishment after he was granted a retrial because of the flawed jury instructions in his first trial. However, a punishment retrial means redoing the trial so that jurors understand the entire case.
“The jury had only two choices: whether he should again be sentenced to death or be granted a life sentence,” a news release from the DA’s office stated. “Because the law at the time of the slayings controls parole eligibility, Wheatfall would have automatically been eligible for parole if sentenced to life.”
The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Janna Oswald and ADA Sarah Seeley, who are both Division Chiefs, ADA Brett Batchelor, who is a chief in the DA’s trial bureau and ADA Savana Hooper. After the sentence, Oswald thanked the jury for their time and attention.
“They were a very attentive and diligent jury who took their duty seriously and didn’t make their decision lightly,” Oswald said.
Oswald also expressed that ensuring Wheatfall be sent back to death row was important because he continues to be “dangerous.”
“He is a danger and a continued threat, not just to the prison population, but to the community at large,” she said.
The judge says an execution date will be announced in the future.