Former Nueces County District Attorney takes stand in Overton case

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Date: 2012-04-25

Former Nueces County District Attorney takes stand in Overton case
Attorneys for Hannah Overton appealing her 2007 conviction of capital murder

By Michelle Villarreal
Posted April 25, 2012 at 8 a.m., updated April 25, 2012 at 8:01 p.m.

CORPUS CHRISTI — Former District Attorney Anna Jimenez testified Wednesday that she thought Sandra Eastwood, the lead prosecutor in Hannah Overton’s case, resorted to unethical behavior during the 2007 trial.

Overton, 35, was convicted of capital murder in 2007 in connection with the death of her foster child, Andrew Burd.

The boy, 4, died at a Corpus Christi hospital in 2006 from elevated sodium levels.

Overton’s appeal for an overturned conviction include two key claims: that her trial attorneys failed to properly represent her and that prosecutors withheld test results that showed low levels of sodium in the boy’s stomach contents.

Gerry Goldstein, one of Overton’s attorneys, showed Jimenez a section of a report that states an officer was given the vomit by an urgent care center and photos were taken.

Jimenez said the first time she saw the photos were about a week ago when Cynthia Orr, one of Overton’s lawyers, showed them to her and that the information would’ve been significant for the trial.

Jimenez said the defense attorneys asked for the vomit several time.

“They wanted the vomit, they wanted the vomit, they wanted the vomit,” she said.

Jimenez said the state told the defense there was no vomit and agreed with Overton’s attorneys that Overton had a constitutional right to have that evidence at her trial.

Jimenez said Eastwood told her that she didn’t want to call Dr. Edgar Cortes, a pediatrician who treated the boy, because he would testify that Andrew had behavioral problems.

She said there were several times that Eastwood violated courts orders, wasted the court’s time with delays and wanted the jury to feel sympathy for her.

Jimenez said Cortes kept thinking he was going to be called next because he was close by. She said he spent time in the hallway waiting to be called as a witness for the prosecution.

“As things progressed and she stated doing things I was not OK with then other prosecutors would come and spend time in the court,” Jimenez said.

Prosecutor Bill Ainsworth argued that Jimenez has no solid proof that Eastwood withheld any evidence from the defense. Jimenez agreed that she does not.

“From the beginning of this I thought the case was overcharged. Even in the middle of the trial I thought the case was overcharged. I don’t think it should’ve been capital murder back then or now,” she said.

Jimenez, who assisted Eastwood in the prosecution of Overton, later served as district attorney. Jimenez in 2010 fired Eastwood on unrelated issues and lost the election for district attorney that same year.

Jimenez now practices in Corpus Christi and works with capital murder cases.

Eastwood, who spent 13 years with the District Attorney’s Office, now practices criminal and family law.

She was subpoenaed by Overton’s lawyers, who accuse her of withholding evidence during the 2007 trial.

During Eastwood’s testimony, Goldstein asked her if she noticed that there was a discrepancy in some of the documents related to the contents of the boy’s stomach that were mislabeled.

“Did you notice when you were reviewing the evidence when someones life is on the line and it affects their family?,” he asked.

Eastwood said she was not aware of the mislabels and still is not aware of that.

She said she remembers wanting to test the vomit but could not find a credible lab to test the sodium and remembers talking with an officer at the police department about that.

She said she remembers getting the sodium level from Andrews blood and the doctors said it was more important than getting it from his vomit.

“I don’t remember why that was. I’m sorry. I don’t remember specifically,” she said.

Eastwood said she did not know that the defense counsel did not see the reports of the medical examiner’s experiment on the boy’s stomach contents or that photographs were taken of it.

She said she didn’t remember what she produced or when, but she knows she turned over what she had.

Goldstein asked if Eastwood recalled telling Orr, another Overton lawyer, that she wanted to make amends with Overton. Eastwood said no.

Goldstein asked if she remembered telling Orr that she was abusing prescription drugs and alcohol and that is why she does not recall the events. She said no.

Eastwood later said she remembered the conversation she had with Orr and told her that it was extremely stressful.

She said she told Orr that she was taking prescription diet pills but never said she abused them and in the evening she was drinking wine.

“I believe that I am an alcoholic and my sobriety date was January 2011,” she said.

Eastwood said she does recall many of the events and trial, but she does not remember specifics of the trial.

“I have trouble remembering phone numbers, I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday. I think that’s normal. I had hundreds of conversations and there were thousands of documents so I don’t remember specifics,” Eastwood said.

Orr, who also took the stand, said Eastwood met with her last March. She said Eastwood told her she had difficulty remembering the events of the trial because she was drinking to excess and using prescription diet pills, which clouded her memory.

The hearing will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday in 214th District Judge Jose Longoria’s court.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Longoria in February to hold the evidentiary hearing to look into the merits of Overton’s claims.

Longoria won’t rule in the case but will make a recommendation and report his findings to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The court will then determine if the evidence are grounds to set Overton free, order her a new trial, or have no merit.

Overton’s defense has long argued that the boy had emotional and medical problems and would eat odd food, including the salty seasoning.

Prosecutors say the defense claims of Overton’s wrongful conviction are unfounded and nothing new.


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