How a lost tape of a Jeff Ross comedy special could send a Texas man to the execution chamber

((Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Waterkeeper Alliance))

In June of 2015, the insult comic Jeff Ross appeared Conan to promote his latest controversial comedy special, this one filmed inside a Texas prison earlier that year. The comedian explained that the special, Jeff Ross roasts criminals: he lives in the Brazos County Jailit was an attempt to “give a human face to the convict in America”.

“If you can laugh at yourself, you are one step closer to freedom,” Mr. Ross told presenter Conan O’Brien.

For one inmate, Gabriel Paul Hall, who participated in the special, it was quite the opposite. Unless the Supreme Court chooses to appeal next month on appeal, the unedited tape of the play could end up being the evidence ensuring its execution.

“He does not express disgust at his actions”

On October 20, 2011 in the town of College Station, Hall — then an 18-year-old high school student — killed an elderly Navy veteran Ed Shaar, who had Parkinson’s disease. Hall also seriously injured Mr Shaar’s wife Linda, who was in a wheelchair and had lost a leg from a previous illness, it was reported. court files.

Gabriel Paul Hall, Texas death row inmate (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Gabriel Paul Hall, Texas death row inmate (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

The teenager later told police he had chosen the house at random and evidence reveals Ed Shaar was scratched, stabbed, cut and shot in the head at close range, while Ms Shaar was injured with a dull knife .

After turning himself in, Hall “expressed no disgust at his actions; he stared into space and seemed happy to explain what he had done,” according to the police.

Mrs Shaar, who survived, rejected the option to send Hall to prison for life without parole, the Houston Chronicle relationships. The attacker was eventually sentenced to death in 2015.

A ‘fucking scary dude’

Before going on trial, Hall was incarcerated in a jail in Brazos County, northwest of Houston.

In February of 2015, prison officials agreed to let Ross, known for his celebrity roasts and fellow comedians, film a special inside the facility.

Prison officials, often wary of press attention, seemed eager at the prospect, posting flyers encouraging inmates to sign up, according to Hall’s team brief with the Supreme Court. They also allegedly failed to warn those inside the prison of any potential legal ramifications for participating in a television comedy special that would later air on Comedy Central.

Room spent 17 minutes talking to Ross on tape, in which the comedian commented on the man’s mental state and character, alternating between taunting him for being a “fucking scary dude” and appearing “very fucking zen” about the prospect of being in prison for murder.

As the baiting continues, Hall seems to be trying to play along.

“Oh come on, I wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she says.

“Really, how about a human being?” Ross answers.

“Ah, they’re annoying,” says Hall.

The swap never made it to the televised version of the special, but Hall and his attorney argue it still caused massive damage to his case and may have tipped the scales toward a death sentence.

A “highly injurious” tape.

In an August filing to the Supreme Court, Hall’s attorney argues that prison officials violated his rights by allowing the interrogation, and state officials compounded that violation by requiring the tape as evidence in the capital punishment trial that is followed in 2015.

They argue that the Brazos County jailers committed the first offense, violating a “no contact” order for Hall that barred strangers from contacting the man without consulting his attorneys. What’s more, according to the appealprison officials then failed to warn inmates of the impact of talking to Ross on camera, a situation that left at least one prison supervisor so “instantly uncomfortable” that they asked the film crew for a copy of the tape and said which should not be used in the final special.

Ultimately, the defense argues, these fears were well founded. the videotape was “highly injurious”.

“The Comedy Central video took on special significance, because the State could present it as a special insight into the Actor’s state of mind about the crime four years after the fact, that is, if he were reflective and remorseful,” they said. wrote Hall’s lawyers.

They also state Hall’s background growing up “a desperately impoverished childhood in a seedy Filipino slum, followed by adolescence in the United States as one of several children adopted into a home marked by dramatic verbal and physical abuse at the hands of his adoptive parents” should be considered, along with evidence of brain damage and developmental trauma.

The independent reached out to Ross and Comedy Central for comment.

“Vast” evidence of a brutal crime

The state of Texas he claims in its own Supreme Court brief that the Comedy Central tape is far less consequential than Hall is imagining, and that his own actions were what secured a death sentence.

At trial in 2015, an inmate testified that Hall spoke about killing Shaar as “practice for his adoptive parents.” Another inmate told the jury that Hall bragged about using a dull knife “so they’d feel it and it wouldn’t cut them like butter.”

The trial also included taped excerpts of Hall’s confession to police, in which he described enjoying the stabbings and how he killed Mr. Shaar with a smile.

On a more technical level, the state also argues that Hall’s Sixth Amendment rights to attorney and due process were not violated by the comedy special because Ross was not a member of the state seeking incriminating information when they spoke together.

Hall is trying to “create a new sixth amendment violation out of a pretrial inmate’s voluntary prison discussion with a visiting comedian with whom he knowingly conversed on film,” Texas wrote in its brief, adding, “[t]his Court has never held that a defendant’s right to counsel requires the state to prevent a detainee from knowingly communicating with a disinterested third party.

An uninterrupted string of executions in Texas

Lower courts have so far rejected Hall’s arguments and the Supreme Court will hear them in January. The majority conservative court has often been reluctant to overturn death sentences.

During his Conan In the interview, Ross spoke about his desire to treat those in the criminal justice system as more than just a number or a problem.

“Ninety percent of the people in prison right now are going to get out someday,” Ross said. “So you have to give them some hope, make them laugh. We have to humanize the criminals. We treat them like dust. Many of these prisons are essentially mental health facilities.”

Since the special aired, the state of Texas has executed 41 people, according to a Death Penalty Information Center databaseand still maintains one of the busiest death chambers in the country, reducing the pace of killings only slightly during the pandemic.

It’s clear that comedy alone can’t do much to change the criminal justice system, but soon the High Court will decide whether it had the power to seal one man’s fate.

The independent and the non-profit Responsible business initiative for justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Statement by Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent last on the list. We join high-profile executives such as Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are committed to highlighting the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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