Texas Inmate | Comedy Special Death Sentence


Jeff Ross's Comedy Special has been used against Gabriel Hall. | Image by Dave McDermand, Amanda Edwards, AP, Getty Images

The Supreme Court of the United States will review a bizarre case involving a Texas inmate who was sentenced to death after a comedy special was shown during the sentencing phase of his trial. Attorneys for College Station’s Gabriel Hall are asking the Supreme Court to reverse a death row sentence that came about after prosecutors showed footage from a Comedy Central video.

Hall was convicted of the 2011 fatal stabbing of Texas A&M University professor Edwin Shaar and his wife Linda in their College Station home. Linda survived the attack. At the time, Hall was only 18 and attended a local high school. In 2015, Hall confessed to the murder and was convicted and sentenced to death by a Texas state court.

Before his death row sentence, the Brazo County Jail authorized Comedy Central to host a comedy special with Jeff Ross. In the special, Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals: Live at Brazos County Jail, the comedian poked fun at various inmates. One exchange between Ross and Hall would later be a deciding factor in Hall’s death sentence, McKenzie Edwards, one of Hall’s attorneys, claimed.

The video shown in court began with Ross asking why Hall was in jail. At first, Hall refused to answer, stating that he could not “legally” speak about the matter. Later, when Ross asked him again, Hall answered that he had “used a machete on someone, someone’s screen, so.” Ross described Hall as “a scary dude,” after which Hall joked with Ross that while he would not hurt a fly, he would hurt “a human” because, “Eh, they’re annoying. We’ll leave ’em to their own devices, so.” Ross made fun of Hall’s ethnic background and claimed that since Hall is Asian, he “must’ve done something crazy” to be in jail.

Hall’s attorneys said that his sentence was not a certainty, as he “was a slightly-built eighteen-year-old with no history of violence or criminal record. If he were spared, he would spend the rest of his natural life in a maximum-security prison, and no strong evidence indicated he would pose a danger there.” Hall’s attorneys questioned the legality of using the comedy special as evidence, which was approved by the presiding judge in the 2015 case. They claimed that inmates who agreed to participate in the special did not have lawyers present, and at no time were they told the footage could be used against them later.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Hall’s original appeal, in which he argued that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated and that Ross purposefully portrayed him in a negative light. The court said no violation of the Sixth Amendment had occurred, and Hall’s comments showed that he lacked remorse for his actions.

In the appeal to the Supreme Court, Hall and his attorneys again argue that Hall was not given his right to counsel when agreeing to the comedy special. Hall’s attorneys also argue that they “were not advised of the interview, despite having previously sent the Sheriff a ‘no contact’ letter instructing him to give no one access to [Hall] without their consent.”

The Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the case in January and is expected to schedule oral arguments in the case.

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26 days ago

Regardless of the outcome at SCOTUS, the prosecutor who showed that video in court should be severely disciplined or even disbarred. That said, Hall’s attorneys basing their appeal on the VIth Amendment was pretty weak. Better they should have concentrated on the Vth Amendment and Ross being allowed to interview Hall without the presence of counsel and in spite of the “no contact” letter to the sheriff.