An innocent man on Texas Death Row.

Federal appeals court turns down Houston death row inmate convicted of stabbing elderly woman


More than 25 years after the killing that put him on death row, Charles Raby could be one step closer to an execution date after Wednesday’s ruling from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We’re disappointed,” said attorney Sarah Frazier, highlighting concerns about the unscientific expert testimony used in his case and laying out plans for more appeals moving forward.

Now 48, Raby was a young parolee with a violent history when he was sentenced to die in 1994 for the murder of Edna Franklin – his friends’ grandmother.

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On the night of her killing, the 72-year-old’s two grandsons found her dead on the living room floor, according to court records. She’d been beaten and stabbed, then left half-naked with her throat slit. Her purse was emptied out in the bedroom, and it looked like the killer had come in through a window.

Days later, Raby confessed while high and no physical evidence ever linked him to the crime. But, his current legal team argued, it was early bad lawyering that landed him on death row.

“The record is replete with trial counsel’s errors — lack of preparation, fundamental
misunderstanding of the law and facts, and fundamental incompetence,” his attorneys wrote last year. “His ineffectiveness all but ensured the outcome in the punishment phase.”

The defense neglected to put together any mitigation evidence to show Raby could have deserved a life sentence, and instead called a highly damaging witness – former prison psychiatrist Dr. Walter Quijano – who dubbed Raby a psychopath.

Last year, Quijano’s racially charged testimony in another case was at the center of a Supreme Court decision that led to the overturning of death row inmate Duane Buck’s death sentence. Although race wasn’t at issue in Raby’s case, Frazier expressed concerns about the unscientific methods used in both cases.

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“Walter Quijano’s methods are unsound whether he is making conclusions based on race or making other unscientific conclusions,” she said.

After Raby’s trial counsel apparently hurt his case by putting Quijano on the stand, another set of attorneys failed to launch appeals about the earlier ineffective counsel, thus compounding bad lawyering with more bad lawyering, according to court filings.

Despite all that, Raby was later able to convince the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2005 to allow for more DNA testing on certain evidence, including underwear, a bloody nightshirt, and fingernail scrapings. Although the lab turned up DNA material, none of it was Raby’s.

While the courts sorted out the new testing results, prosecutors asked for a delay – then filed an expert report casting doubt on a Houston police crime lab worker’s findings presented at trial more than a decade earlier. At the time, the lab worker had described results from testing on the fingernail scrapings as “inconclusive” – but, in fact, testing showed conclusively that it wasn’t Raby’s DNA under the slain woman’s fingers, which meant that the lab worker’s trial testimony was false.

With claims of a coerced confession, concerns about inconsistencies and allegations of withheld evidence, Raby’s attorneys hoped the new revelations would win him a new trial. But – citing other evidence against him – the courts didn’t agree to that.

Now that a federal court has rejected his bad lawyering claims as well, Frazier said she plans to take the case up to the Supreme Court. At the same time, Raby’s defense is working on another federal appeal raising broader concerns surrounding the DNA evidence.

Raby does not currently have an execution date. So far, the Lone Star State has executed 10 men this year, and another six are scheduled to die in the coming months.