Shannon Miles, the man who fatally shot Harris County sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth, pleaded guilty Wednesday to capital murder in exchange for life without parole, escaping the death penalty.
Miles, 32, ambushed Goforth at a gas station in August 2015.
Law enforcement officers of every stripe filled the ceremonial courtroom of the civil courthouse as Miles appeared in a bright yellow jail uniform before state District Judge Susan Brown.
Miles said little except that he was guilty and that he understood he would be sentenced to life without parole after Brown admonished him of his rights.
The plea, expected to upset members of the law enforcement community, came in part because of Miles' lengthy history of mental health issues has stymied the case. He has been in and out of state mental hospitals since being arrested days after the shooting. He also spent several months in a mental health facility in 2012.
Police investigate the death of Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth. Residents hold vigils at the scene of the shooting and show their support for law enforcement. (Jon Shapley)
Media: Houston Chronicle
In April, Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon was appointed as the special prosecutor after Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg recused her office because at least one of her top lieutenants had represented witnesses in the case.
After the brief hearing, county officials weighed in on the decision.
"He will always be remembered for his service, his bravery, and his sacrifice," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said about Goforth in a release. "Today, the Goforth family and the Harris County Sheriff's Office family are pleased to learn that justice will be served upon Deputy Goforth's killer.
We are grateful to special prosecutor Brett Ligon and his team for their hard work to bring this terrible case to a fair resolution. To the Goforth family, you will always be part of our family and our thoughts and prayers remain with you."
Ligon, with assistant district attorneys from his office and Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady, appeared in court for the hearing before state District Judge Susan Brown.
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Defense attorney Anthony Osso declined to comment before the plea.
Plans for a plea deal were tenuous because of worldwide publicity and outrage about the ambush, which was captured on surveillance video. Prosecutors were expected to seek the death penalty under Texas law that allows for execution if a peace officer is intentionally killed in the line of duty.
Several issues, in addition to mental health, have arisen as the case has progressed.
Although Goforth was in uniform at a gas station in his patrol car, Osso has argued that he was not working, because the married deputy was apparently meeting his mistress. A sheriff's office investigator who was working on the case apparently also had an affair with the woman, leading to his firing.
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If the case went to trial, Osso was expected to delve deeply into the personal lives of the woman, deputy Goforth and the disgraced detective who was investigating the crime.
The mechanics of a plea deal Wednesday were also problematic because the main criminal courthouse, which has secure access for defendants, is closed because of record flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
Sheriff's deputies had to securely move Miles from the Harris County jail to the top floor of the Harris County Civil Courthouse....Read more