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Texas executes man who said death sentence was based on false expert testimony

Brent Brewer on death row. he received the death penalty for the 1990 robbery and murder of Robert Doyle Laminack.
Attorneys for Brent Brewer
Brent Ray Brewer received the death penalty for the 1990 robbery and murder of Robert Doyle Laminack.

The state of Texas on Thursday executed Brent Ray Brewer for the 1990 robbery and murder of Robert Doyle Laminack in Amarillo.

As Brewer faced his execution, his final words expressed remorse for the murder: “I hope you find peace."

The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday afternoon rejected Brewer’s final appeal arguing the death sentence was the product of invalid testimony from a discredited psychiatrist.

“The main reason he was sentenced to death is because the state presented unreliable and false evidence from a guy named Dr. Richard Coons, who they have used in multiple cases in Texas. And Dr. Coons has basically been found by the courts to be an unreliable witness,” Attorney Shawn Nolan told TPR. “His testimony and his science has been found to be junk science.”

Nolan said Coons' testimony should have been ignored because Coons never met with Brewer to give him an examination.

The regulations for doctors to testify about somebody's mental health status require them to examine the person, and that did not happen in this case.

“Coons never met Brent, yet he got up on the stand and said that Brent had no conscience and that he would be a future danger to society, even in prison. That was just outrageous testimony.” Nolan said. “That should never have been presented to a court.”

Nolan also argued the death penalty was not justified because Brewer was not a threat to society. Brewer expressed remorse for his actions prior to his final words at his execution, including in a recent video provided by his attorneys.

“Even though it's 33 years ago, I don't even know where to begin. Now, how do you fix something that can't be fixed? The 53 year old guy you're looking at now is not the 19 year old I was in April of 90. I don't even know that kid. How do you explain stabbing somebody and then running off and you don't know what happened until later on?” Brewer said.

“When you're 19, 20 and you're confused, or you're on drugs, or you're drinking, or you're hanging around the wrong people, you have no real value system. I guess you'd call it a moral compass,” he said. “I sobered up in the county jail and realized that I had done something I can't undo, and I had to live with that every day.”

Brewer was given a second sentencing trial in 2009, where Coons testified for a second time. Randall County District Attorney James Farren sought the death penalty and for the second time, a jury agreed.

On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously against commuting Brewer's death sentence to a lesser crime or to grant a six month reprieve.

Brewer was the seventh inmate Texas has executed this year and he was the 21st person to be executed nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi