Temple sentenced to life for pregnant wife's murder
DeGuerin, who will request new trial, doesn't regret putting his client on stand
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Despite defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin's insistence that his client is innocent, jurors on Monday sentenced David Mark Temple to life in prison for killing his pregnant wife, Belinda Tracie Temple, in 1999.
Prosecutor Kelly Siegler had asked for a life sentence for a man she said was "heartless" and "selfish" enough to take away his son's mother. The couple's son was 3 when Belinda was shot to death.
"You realized that he really was guilty of killing his own wife while his own baby's heart was beating inside her body," Siegler told jurors. "He's capable of doing that. Why does he not deserve the most punishment we can give him — a life sentence?"
Temple, 39, was eligible for a penalty range that included probation.
In the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecution witnesses testified that Temple had a reputation for violence in the Katy community. Witnesses included a high school girlfriend, a cousin and Katy Police Chief Robert Frazier.
"He's had a bad reputation for a long time, to be honest," Frazier said.
Defense witnesses, including relatives, church members and an Alief schools deputy superintendent, described Temple as a devoted father, family man, teacher and coach.
The life sentence, announced after about 80 minutes of deliberation, brought no obvious reaction from Temple.
The five-week-long trial ended in a battle of wills.
In their last joint act, the seven men and five women returned to the jury box and sat quietly as the foreman read a brief statement that included the phrase: "We stand by our verdict."
Late Monday, DeGuerin said the jury's actions have made a bad situation worse.
"They are wrong. They based their guilty verdict on emotion and not evidence and I will say that until the cows come home. We will appeal this case. I will never give up," the defense lawyer said. "I think this is a tragedy for both of the families. The Lucas family: They are denied justice because the wrong man has been convicted. That means that the Sheriff's Office will quit looking (for the killer). ... Their grandson, Evan, is denied his father. It's as if the tragedy that is the murder of Belinda has been compounded."
What the jurors saidNone of the jurors reached at home late Monday would comment on the case, but lawyers on both sides shared what jurors told them.
Siegler said the jury was particularly influenced by the testimony of one of Temple's high-school classmates who said that he saw Temple on the day of the murder driving around near the Temple family property — a location the former high school football coach said he wasn't at that day.
DeGuerin said jurors told him that Temple and his relatives were poor witnesses. He blamed what he called Siegler's use of depositions from the Temple family as a "game of gotcha" to make them look untruthful. Still, DeGuerin said he doesn't regret allowing his client to testify.
"I think he made a very good witness, but what the jurors told me was that they based their verdict on the fact that David Temple and his family seemed like they were lying — but not a thing that they said put a gun in David's hand."
Exploiting seeds of doubtLegal experts were hesitant to criticize DeGuerin for his unconventional argument during the punishment phase, when he told the jury they were wrong to convict Temple.
"You're dealing with the concept of residual doubt," said South Texas College of Law professor Adam Gershowitz. "Essentially, you're telling jurors that maybe you should give him a lighter sentence to compensate for the doubt."
DeGuerin also defied common practice in allowing Temple to testify in his own defense.
"If a jury does not believe a testifying defendant, it doesn't matter what the rest of the evidence shows," said veteran defense attorney Jack Zimmermann.
Temple's parents and brothers showed little emotion after the sentence was announced. Their reaction was in stark contrast to visible shaking and a collapse last week when Temple was found guilty. Temple nodded to his family as he was led away. His wife, Heather, was not in court when the sentence was announced.
Without commenting to reporters, the Temples walked briskly down the courthouse steps and jumped into a sport utility vehicle.
Belinda's relatives made brief statements. Her older brother, Brian Lucas, thanked the jurors, prosecutors and detectives who worked on the case. He said his family now has closure, but will not forget Belinda or Temple's crime — and they will never forgive him.
Visiting State District Judge Doug Shaver agreed Monday to hear DeGuerin's arguments in January in support of a new trial. Until then, Temple will remain in the Harris County jail. If the life sentence stands, he will be eligible for parole in 30 years.
No misconductEarlier Monday, the judge ruled there was no juror misconduct after hearing testimony from a Houston Chronicle reader who suggested on the newspaper's Web site last week that a juror inappropriately spoke with people outside the jury room about deliberations.
The reader, Robert Fleming, used the screen name "REFster" to post a remark in the "reader comments" section about 9 a.m. Thursday, seven hours before the jury returned its guilty verdict.
"Psst ... My boss is on the jury. Thinks they'll have a verdict this afternoon," Fleming wrote, using the pseudonym.
Jurors are forbidden from discussing the case with anyone outside the jury room while the trial is still in progress. Attorneys for Temple on Friday issued a subpoena to the Houston Chronicle seeking information to help them identify the reader. The Chronicle did not release the identity of REFster.
"We showed up this morning and all of a sudden he was there with a lawyer," DeGuerin said late Monday.
Fleming, who works at CenterPoint Energy, testified that his boss did not say which jury he was serving on or discuss anything about deliberations. He said he surmised his boss was serving on the Temple jury because of the length of time the boss was out of the office.
Fleming said he stopped by his boss' office between 8:15 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. last Thursday. "I asked him how long he would be going through the deliberations," Fleming said.
His boss told him the jury could be through that day, he said, although he did not specifically reference the Temple trial. That was their only conversation about the trial, Fleming said. His comment on Chron.com was based on his assumptions, he said.
Chronicle reporters Mike Tolson and Dale Lezon contributed to this report.