Advances in bite-mark science were cited by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday in halting a Rusk County man’s execution that had been set for today.
Blaine Keith Milam, 29, was to have been the first execution in Texas this year. He was convicted in May 2010 of the beating death of his girlfriend’s 13-month-old daughter, Amora Bain Carson.
The child’s mother, Jessica Carson, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2011 to life without the possibility of parole.
Milam’s death was postponed after his attorney, Jennae Swiergula of the Texas Defender Service, filed a writ of habeas corpus arguing new understanding of bite-mark science shows a state expert could not accurately say any of the 24 bite marks on Amora were Milam’s.
“(T)he state’s problem, even today, is that it does not know who caused the child’s death or even what any individual did in relationship to that,” Swiergula wrote in her writ of habeas corpus.
She also argued her client has an intellectual disability, placing his IQ at 74, so his execution would violate his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
“Because of recent changes in the science pertaining to bite-mark comparisons and recent changes in the law pertaining to the issue of intellectual disability, we find that applicant has met ... his first two allegations,” the court’s Monday opinion reads. “We therefore stay his execution and remand these claims to the trial court for a review of the merits of these claims.”
Those questions, on bite mark science and intellectual disability, now go back to 4th District Judge Clay Gossett’s courtroom in Henderson.
“It comes back for findings on the quality of the bite-mark science and the intellectual disability issue,” Rusk County Attorney Micheal Jimerson said Monday.
“There will be findings requested by Judge Gossett, and then it will go back up to the Court of Criminal Appeals.”
Jimerson said he could not estimate a timeline for the case to come back to Henderson. He declined to comment further on the now-pending criminal hearing.
Milam and Carson were convicted of killing Amora in December 2008 in what they described as an attempt to exorcise a demon from the child. In addition to the bites, the child was beaten 20 times with a hammer.
The 2011 trial was held in Conroe, north of Houston, because of extensive pretrial publicity.