For the first time in five years, Travis County prosecutors failed to secure a conviction in a first-degree murder trial this week when Bryan Juarez was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in a 2015 deadly shooting in East Austin.
Juarez’s attorney, Steven Brand, says he argued with prosecutors for months that the evidence in the case didn’t merit the murder charge, and they should have reduced it because a jury could find Juarez acted in self-defense.
“I could have seen it going probation to manslaughter out of the gate,” Brand said.
Instead, a jury on Monday returned a not-guilty verdict in the death of gang member Christopher Burton. Prosecutors argued Juarez was in a drunken rage on Aug. 3 when he shot Burton after Burton called him a gay slur outside of an East Austin apartment complex. The defense told a different story, portraying Burton as a menace who on more than 50 instances berated Juarez, a college student who wore a suit and tie to work at the Capitol.
With no wiggle room to convict on a lesser charge, a jury of six men and six women was confronted with an all-or-nothing choice and deliberated for more than 10 hours over two days before freeing Juarez, 23, and sparing him a possible life sentence. This was the county’s first acquittal in a first-degree murder trial since August 2011, when Marvin Thruston was found not guilty in the shooting death of Michael Carmicle.
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