Mistrial motion rejected in Navarro murder trial

THOM HANRAHAN BROWNWOOD BULLETIN news@brownwoodbulletin.com

After 35th District Court judge Steve Ellis rejected a defense motion for a mistrial, Randall Philen entered his second day on the witness stand in the murder trial of a man accused of killing his brother.

Matthew Navarro of Brownwood is one of four men charged in the December 2009 shooting death of Ronald Philen. Navarro is the only one of the four with a case still pending.

Early in Wednesday’s proceedings, Navarro’s attorney, Evan Pierce-Jones, contended that a prosecution sketch of the home where the slaying took place was inaccurate and was a “false exhibit, whether (presented) maliciously or not.”

Brown County District Attorney Micheal Murray argued that the prosecution exhibit was a general diagram and during its use in the trial his team repeatedly made it clear to the jury that it was not drawn to scale and was in no way presented as 100 percent accurate.

“It is to give a general idea of the layout of the house,” Murray told Ellis. “It was not an effort to architecturally diagram the house.”

In denying the motion, Ellis granted that the exhibit had inaccuracies, but because the prosecution did not present it as completely accurate, the jury would be able to weigh that factor in its deliberations.

When Jones resumed his cross-examination of Randall Philen, he repeatedly questioned the accuracy of the witness’ memory of the events of the night of the murder.

Jones read excerpts from transcripts from the trial of Pedro Rocha Jr., who was found guilty in November of capital murder in the case and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Jones said that Philen’s testimony indicated that during the investigation he might have “filled in gaps” in his memory of the night of the murder with what he thought happened.

“I don’t recall filling in gaps,” Philen said. “I remember responding that it might be a possibility.”

Jones also questioned Philen about his memory of whether he had smoked marijuana with his brother the evening before the murder. Again, Jones referred to the possibility that Randall Philen was creating memories to fill blank spots.

“That is possible,” Randall Philen said. “It was stressful — terrible things were happening and I was best trying to describe what was going on.”

Jones asked him if “the possibility was there that you filled in some blanks.”

“Yes, sir,” Philen said.

During redirect examination, Murray asked Philen to clarify for the jury what he meant. Murray established that Randall Philen was on the floor of his kitchen with a gun to his head and could not see what was happening in his brother’s bedroom.

“You told them what you thought you heard?” Murray asked him. “That you believed these things were happening based on what you were hearing?”

“Yes, sir,” Philen said.

Jones pointed out that at no time did Randall Philen identify Navarro by name or face as one of the men who invaded the Philen home on the night of the crime.

“You are not here to point a finger at Matthew Navarro and say that he is one of those men, are you?” Jones asked.

“No,” Philen said.