The Dallas County District Attorney will not seek the death penalty for the accused murderer of teen Zoe Hastings.
Defendant Antonio Cochran has been diagnosed with a mental illness, and the Supreme Court has said those diagnosed cannot be put to death.
It’s been two years since Hastings was found stabbed to death outside her minivan. The 18-year-old was abducted just blocks from her East Dallas home after returning a Redbox movie at Garland and Peavy roads.
Prosecutors had 3,000 potential jurors answered a 19-page questionnaire with more than 200 questions – one-fourth of those asking about views on capital punishment.
But Cochran's attorney filed documents claiming his client was mentally deficient. The state then conducted a psychological evaluation.
“After that evaluation we learned the defendant actually fit the current definition of intellectual disability, which is a higher standard,” said Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson.
That standard was reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court in March - blocking the execution of Houston man Bobby Moore, set to die for a 1980 robbery murder. He too was diagnosed with intellectual disability, which is marked by three standards:
-Significant limitations of intellectual function
-Below average cognitive ability
-Onset before age 18
In 2009, the nation’s highest court issued a ruling that executions of people with this diagnosis was cruel and unusual punishment.
“Under the law, I cannot seek and I will not seek the death penalty based on the current definition of intellectual disability,” Johnson said.
Hastings’ family has been informed of the decision not to seek death, but life in prison for Cochran.
“We've already talked to them,” Johnson said. “They're on board. They support our decision and they know that we are still zealously and vigorously prosecuting on her behalf.”
Through a spokesperson, Hastings’ family said they appreciate the Dallas County District Attorney's office for helping them understand the decision.
"We seek justice, not vengeance. It is our hope and prayer that justice is done and that Antonio Cochran receives the maximum penalty that is supported by the justice system. Appreciate the Dallas County District Attorney's Office for informing the family of each step of the process in this case,” the family said.
Johnson said the trial for Cochran is set for early January 2018.