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Texas plans to execute Kosoul Chanthakoummane on Wednesday for the 2006 murder of a real estate agent at a model home in Collin County. It would be the second execution this year in a state that typically kills more people than any other.
Chanthakoummane, now 41, is on the verge of death for the murder of Sarah Walker, who was brutally beaten and stabbed to death as she showed a house in a McKinney housing estate. The 40-year-old’s Rolex watch and ring were missing when police arrived.
Witnesses placed Chanthakoummane in the model home, and a bite mark on Walker’s back and blood under his fingernails and places were linked to him, court records show. The condemned man has long claimed his innocence.
During his nearly 15 years on death row, the prisoner’s lawyers have cut corners on the reliability of the evidence against him. Forensic pathologists have largely demystified the ability to match bite marks to an individual. And the witnesses who said Chanthakoummane was the man they saw on the day of the murder had been previously hypnotized by police investigators, despite scientific evidence that practice can distort memories.
But analysts also determined his DNA was on Walker’s fingernails and elsewhere at the crime scene, and that evidence largely convinced the courts they had the right person. In his final appeals to Collin County and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals filed last week, Chanthakoummane’s attorneys argued that the DNA evidence was also questionable.
Under a 2013 Texas “junk science” law, courts can overturn a conviction when the scientific evidence presented at trial has since changed or been discredited.
“Critically, current scientific knowledge contradicts the trial court’s previous finding that the ‘only reasonable inference’ to be drawn from the DNA evidence is that Mr. Chanthakoummane violently attacked Ms. Walker,” lawyers Catherine Clare wrote. Bernhard and Eric J. Allen.
In a court filing, the Collin County prosecutor’s office responded that “Chanthakoummane does not present any new science in the field of DNA analysis, and even if there was something new, it does not demonstrate not that it would have prevented his conviction”.
After Walker’s death, police first looked at people close to her. Friends pointed the finger at her ex-husband or romantic partners, and others reported that foreign investors were upset with her for big losses in real estate deals, according to Chanthakoummane’s latest filing. Walker was also robbed and assaulted in her home several months earlier, while Chanthakoummane was jailed in North Carolina for an armed robbery when he was 16.
DNA from blood samples and another estate agent’s report shifted the focus of the investigation to Chanthakoummane. The other officer, who was selling a house near Walker’s model home, and her husband told police they saw an Asian man in a white Ford Mustang park opposite the model home at the time of the murder. The couple later agreed to hypnosis by a Texas Ranger to see if they could remember more, but the state said the controversial practice did not significantly alter their testimony.
At trial, another real estate agent testified that the day before Walker’s murder, Chanthakoummane came to her house and asked to use the phone, claiming her car had broken down, according to court documents. She called the police when he refused to leave.
Chanthakoummane initially denied ever having been to the model house, but during police questioning he said he entered the house to use the phone and drink water after having problems with his car. He said he saw no one inside and noted that previous wounds on his hands might have left blood behind.
Police and prosecutors have dismissed the claim, but Chanthakoummane’s lawyers say new scientific research shows her DNA could have been transferred to Walker’s fingernails without any direct contact between them – for example, if she touched an object on which he had left a mark of blood. The National Institute of Standards and Technology published a draft report last year, who said the possibility of such transfers could not be ignored in criminal investigations.
Chanthakoummane’s lawyers noted example of a man suspected of murder because his DNA was found on the fingernails of a homicide victim. It was later discovered that the suspect had been injured on the day of the murder and boarded the same ambulance as the homicide victim hours earlier, resulting in his DNA transfer.
Collin County Assistant Criminal District Attorney Lisa Braxton said the concept of DNA transfer, however, is not new.
“Contamination and transfer are and have always been taken into account in the interpretation of mixtures,” the prosecutor wrote in her file. “And even if the findings of the exam were ‘new’ science, Chanthakoummane presents no evidence that the lab misinterpreted the DNA mix on the victim’s fingernails – or any other mix, for that matter.”
Chanthakoummane’s latest appeal also attempts to discredit testimony that his car was outside the model home at the time of Walker’s murder. Her lawyers said a former deputy chief of the Richardson Police Department told homicide investigators he spoke to Walker in the model home for several minutes around the time she was allegedly killed. The deputy chief mentioned another car with a woman driving down the street, but not a white Mustang.
Lawyers for the prisoner also noted that new DNA tests carried out last year on samples from a factory stand, which prosecutors believe were used to fatally beat Walker, did not match Chanthakoummane and possibly implicated another person.
“Unsurprisingly, the defense failed to point out the flaws and inconsistencies in the state’s theory, including the inconsistent accounts regarding when the white Mustang was observed near the crime scene,” they said. writes Bernhard and Allen.
In 2019, Chanthakoummane pleaded for a new trial because his lawyer told jurors he was guilty against his will. The prisoner told the courts he insisted on maintaining his innocence, but instead his lawyer said in his opening statement that Chanthakoummane wanted to rob Walker and ended up killing her.
The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the prisoner’s requests for a new trial, saying he could have raised the issue sooner, despite the US Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a accused the right to insist that his lawyer refrain from admitting guilt.
Without court intervention on Wednesday, Chanthakoummane will be injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital in the state death chamber in Huntsville after 6 p.m.
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