Robert Roberson's evidentiary hearing was placed in continuance Tuesday, after District Clerk Teresia Coker found 15-year-old evidence in the Anderson County Courthouse basement.
The high-profile hearing for Roberson, convicted in 2003 of the murder of his daughter, Nikki Curtis, will be delayed indefinitely. Roberson, 51, a Death Row prisoner, is asking for a new trial.
The stunning announcement by defense attorney Gretchen Sween elicited audible gasps in the courtroom.
“Evidence was recently discovered in the basement of the courthouse,” Sween told roughly 30 people in attendance, including several out-of-town reporters. “It includes radiology slides and evidence critical to the trial.”
The discovery was announced after Anderson County District Attorney Allyson Mitchell's cross-examination of witness Kelley Gurganus, a nurse from Palestine Regional Medical Center. Gurganus was on duty the night Roberson brought Curtis to the emergency room.
After Gurganus' testimony concluded, Sween, an attorney with the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, asked the court for a continuance.
District Attorney Allyson Mitchel concurred with the request for a continuance. Sween told the court she did not believe the district attorney's office had hidden the evidence.
“It was a total surprise,” Mitchell told the court. “The district clerk, Theresa Coker, found the box with the slides and the evidence. The state joins the motion.”
The specific contents of the box have not been disclosed, pending an official inventory.
Mitchell said could not speculate how the evidence ended up in the basement.
“That would be a question for the district clerk's office,” she said.
Some legal experts have argued the evidence should be inventoried by an out-of-area Texas Ranger, or perhaps the FBI, to avoid any appearance of impropriety or collusion with local authorities.
Experts further argued if the evidence had not been previously introduced, a writ should be immediately issued for a new trial, as Roberson's life is at stake.
Judge Deborah Evans of the 87th District Court said the court was equally surprised by the appearance of the evidence.
“I know this is frustrating,” Evans said, granting the continuance. “Everything will be copied, the x-rays will be sent out for copying, and everything will be provided to both parties.”
Evans ordered the attorneys to contact the court for a new hearing, once their experts have studied the new evidence.
Roberson, convicted in 2003 of the Jan. 31, 2002, murder of Curtis, was scheduled for execution in June 2016. He was granted a stay of execution, after Sween and her legal team, including lawyers from the Texas Defender Service, argued the conviction was based on 'junk science.'
Roberson, cuffed, wearing glasses and dressed in a grey-striped prison jumper, appeared pensive and concerned as the hearing began.
His look changed to one of surprise at the news of the discovered evidence. Roberson even smiled while speaking with his legal team after the continuance was granted.
Court was placed in indefinite recess. There is no word as to how long it will take to duplicate and examine the new evidence.
Calls by the Herald-Press to the Anderson County District Clerks Office, and to former Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe were not returned.