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Court: Man on death row for murdering cop to instead get life in prison

The man is ineligible for the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled, an appeals court ruled


Photo/Andy Jacobsohn/Staff Photographer

By Dana Branham
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — A man who had been sentenced to die for murdering a Dallas police officer in 2005 will instead spend the rest of his life in prison because he is intellectually disabled, Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday.

Juan Lizcano, 43, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2007 for shooting Dallas officer Brian Jackson. The 28-year-old officer had been responding to a domestic disturbance in Old East Dallas about Lizcano and his ex-girlfriend.

The appeals court had denied an appeal from Lizcano in 2015 that argued he was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty.

But the court said in its opinion dated Wednesday that it decided to revisit the case “on our own initiative” after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2017.

That ruling said the method Texas used to determine whether a death-row inmate is intellectually disabled went against the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” by allowing such inmates to be executed.

Lizcano will not be allowed parole.

Defense attorneys for Lizcano had argued during his trial that he was ineligible for the death penalty, presenting evidence that he scored low on IQ tests and was promoted to sixth grade at the age of 15 only because he was too old to stay in elementary school.

Juan Sanchez, an attorney who represented Lizcano, said Wednesday that he recalled the trial was more emotional than most. The courtroom was packed with police officers, Sanchez said.

He said that from the first day he met Lizcano, he believed the man was intellectually disabled.

“I think it’s the correct outcome. It’s a tragic situation — nobody wanted a police officer to die,” he said. “... [Lizcano is] going to spend the rest of his natural life in prison.”

After Lizcano was sentenced to death, Sanchez kept an eye on related Supreme Court cases, hoping the court would one day force Texas to change its standards on determining intellectual disability in death-row cases.

“We just knew eventually that they would come around to Texas, but we were just afraid that he may be put to death before the Supreme Court changed those standards,” Sanchez said. “Luckily, that didn’t happen.”

The Dallas County district attorney’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment. District Attorney John Creuzot said last year that he didn’t think Lizcano should be executed for his crime.

Josh Healy, one of the prosecutors on the case against Lizcano who now works as a criminal defense attorney, said Wednesday that he was disappointed to learn of the court’s ruling.

“All you can do is move on, and he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Healy said. “I know the family wanted more.”

Healy said he was heartbroken for Jackson’s loved ones, especially his widow.

“Brian was her world,” he said. “I know she was with us every step of the way.”

Jo-Ann Jackson wasn’t immediately available for a phone call Wednesday morning.

©2020 The Dallas Morning News