Two years after gunning down Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth in a gas station parking lot, the killer, Shannon Miles, has pleaded guilty to capital murder and has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Miles was accused of the ambush-style killing in August 2015, when sheriff's investigators said he shot Goforth upwards of 15 times in the back while he was filling up gas in his patrol car at a Chevron in broad daylight. Miles, who is schizophrenic, was spared the death penalty largely due to his mental illness, said his defense attorney, Anthony Osso. Osso, in fact, said that Miles did not even remember the day he killed Goforth, making the investigation difficult for the defense — but that Miles decided to accept responsibility for the crime after reviewing all the evidence, including video footage from the gas station.
Special prosecutor Brett Ligon, who is the Montgomery County district attorney, said seeking the death penalty would have been useless given Miles likely would have been found incompetent due to his mental illness and never could have been executed. Ligon said Goforth's family agreed that life without parole was a just punishment.
"When nobody gives a good goddamn about you and die in a pauper's grave, that is the beat down that's life without parole," Ligon said. "I've executed people, and I've put 'em on life without parole, and I will tell you, neither one of those are good options. Neither one of them. They both suck. And that's what I want, is the ultimate suck — and he got the ultimate suck."
Since the day that the former administrations of the Harris County District Attorney's Office and Harris County Sheriff's Office even announced Goforth's murder, the case has run a tumultuous course, with repeated misconduct among investigators assigned to the case and heated accusations running amok.
At the very first press conference, former district attorney Devon Anderson and former sheriff Ron Hickman faced mounting criticism after appearing to suggest that Black Lives Matter rhetoric had inspired Miles to kill Goforth simply because he was wearing a uniform. While the motive is still unknown even today and the attack is largely believed to have been senseless, Miles's mental illness quickly became a central part of the case. He was found incompetent to stand trial in February 2016 and ordered to a state mental hospital for several months to restore competency.
Meanwhile, multiple HCSO deputies and investigators had been fired for having inappropriate relationships with the same eyewitness to Goforth's murder — a woman who was reportedly Goforth's mistress. Two months after Miles's arrest, former HCSO homicide investigator Craig Clopton was fired after he admitted to having "consensual sexual conduct" with the same eyewitness. Then, in February 2016, Hickman had to fire another deputy, Marc Leon, for lying to investigators about his inappropriate "involvement" with the same witness. And then, two days later, a third deputy was fired for "inappropriate communication" with the same witness, leading Hickman to describe what he called "a never-ending cycle of conduct that's embarrassing to every professional peace officer."
It was around that time that HCSO updated its department policy to clarify that deputies aren't allowed to have sex with witnesses or other people in custody.
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Current Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez declined to address the misconduct at a press conference after Miles's sentencing hearing, saying that has been covered in the past. Miles's attorney, Anthony Osso, also demurred when asked to discuss his opinion on the investigation of Goforth's murder, saying that the plea deal reached today among all the parties involved revolved primarily around Miles's mental illness.
He was firm that Miles was ultimately declared competent to stand trial, and that even when he returned from the mental hospital, defense attorneys spent months making absolutely sure Miles understood the case against him. Osso commended Montgomery County DA Ligon for agreeing Miles's severe mental illness precluded prosecution from seeking the death penalty. (Ligon was appointed to the case after the Harris County District Attorney's Office recused itself, given a new staff member previously had small role in the case)
"The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has said that you cannot force medicate someone for the purpose of executing them. Someone like Shannon Miles who has a history of not being able to stay med-compliant—we know that from when he was found incompetent in 2012 and restored to competency, and now he was found incompetent again and restored to competency. He did not stay med-compliant. The likelihood would be that he would not take his medication on death row, and for the next 30 years, the state of Texas would be litigating over whether he could be executed. It was always our position that that would be traumatic for both families involved."
Osso and Ligon said Miles's punishment today has brought closure to both families — and Ligon said Goforth's wife, Kathleen, hoped today would be the last time she and her children would ever been mentioned in the same breath as Shannon Miles.