A Bad Place to Be Tried

Obscured by the headlines of floods and fires last week was the conclusion of the murder trial of 17-year-old Stanley Nicholas, who was accused of the July 1993 hatchet murder of young Robbie Bayley in northwest Harris County ("A Bad Place To Die," Houston Press, May 5). Bayley had been struck in the back of his head with a small ax and left to die in a wooded area near Bear Creek Park. His dismembered corpse lay rotting there for almost a month, during which time scores of comfortably numb suburban youths were drawn to the site to view the ghoulish attraction.

Nicholas and a friend, 16-year-old Matt Wells, were both implicated in the killing, which allegedly grew out of a dispute over some marijuana. Only Nicholas was charged. His case finally went to trial October 10.

After four-and-a-half hours of deliberations, a state district court jury last week found Nicholas guilty of criminally negligent homicide, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Nicholas was given the maximum sentence, but since he had been accruing "good time" while remaining in jail without bond since last December, he was set free the day after the verdict was returned. If he had been convicted of murder, Nicholas could have been sentenced to life in prison. The negligent homicide option was included in Judge Mary Bacon's charge to the jury at the request of Nicholas' defense lawyer. The prosecutor did not object out of fear that exclusion of that option would be grounds for a successful appeal on down the legal line.

The outcome was a bitter pill for Bayley's family. What made it even more difficult for them to swallow was their knowledge that one week before the trial, Nicholas' attorney had offered the district attorney's office a deal that would have resulted in a 15-year sentence for the defendant. In return, Nicholas' attorney said, his client was willing to testify against Wells, as well as possibly provide authorities with information about two other homicides. The offer was rejected by assistant district attorney Joe Owmby, who prosecuted Nicholas. Bayley's family supported Owmby's decision to not negotiate with Nicholas' lawyer, said Jeanne Bayley, the victim's stepmother.

"I asked [Owmby] if he was interested," says defense attorney Carlos Correa. "He said, 'I'd be interested if he wants to plead to 99 years. I will entertain that.' He was being very sarcastic.

"I told him that he had better think about it, that he was making a mistake. And he told me that it was my client that had made the mistake."

Owmby contends that Correa's offer was actually no offer at all.
"They knew it was ridiculous," he says angrily. "They knew we could not convict Matt Wells on the uncorroborated testimony of Stanley Nicholas. Mr. Correa is saying what he's saying for his own reasons." (Correa is a Democratic candidate for a district court judgeship in next month's election.)

During his trial, Nicholas testified that he had tried to prevent Bayley's murder. However, in an interview with the Press before the trial, Correa said that Nicholas admitted to having hit 18-year-old Bayley in the head with the hatchet. Despite the contradiction, Correa says Nicholas is still willing to testify against Wells, who has never been charged in connection with the Bayley killing. Although he's not optimistic that Wells will ever be prosecuted, Owmby says the case will remain open. Members of Bayley's family say they, too, will continue to search for ways to bring the second suspect in Robbie Bayley's murder to trial.

-- Steve McVicker

 
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