Capital murder is the most serious charge that can be brought in Texas. Generally speaking, the penalty for capital murder is death or life in prison without parole.
This month a jury in Houston convicted a teenager of capital murder in the death of a girl who prosecutors say was killed as part of a satanic ritual.
Jurors took just over an hour to convict Jose E. Reyes, 18, of the February death of 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes in a vacant apartment in Houston. Reyes will receive an automatic life sentence, according to media reports.
During closing arguments Prosecutor Martina Longoria told jurors Reyes committed “so many horrible, heinous and inhumane things,” according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.
Defense attorneys acting for Reyes’ argued for the lesser sentence of murder.
In order to secure a conviction for capital murder, prosecutors have to prove an intentional killing took place during the commission of an underlying felony. In this case the underlying felony was either a kidnapping or a sexual assault.
Reyes was accused with a 16-year-old, of bludgeoning, strangling and stabbing Cervantes to death in a vacant apartment in Clear Lake on Feb. 4. The case against the 16-year-old is pending.
Prosecutors said during the trial they believe the three teens left a party to go to a vacant apartment to have consensual sex, but at some point in the evening Reyes told the younger teen he had sold his soul to the devil and they should kill Cervantes. The jury heard the victim was struck with an ashtray, a window blind rod and a toilet tank lid before being strangled and stabbed in the face with a screwdriver. Prosecutors said in their closing arguments that Reyes’ own words proved he killed Cervantes because he wanted to sell his soul to the devil.
Texas treats teens aged 10 through 16 who break the law as juveniles and they are dealt with by juvenile courts. Children under 10 may not be prosecuted for any criminal activity.
However, under Texas law, juveniles as young as 14 may be certified to be tried as adults, meaning they may face adult sentencing and adult prison for crimes committed as a juvenile. This occurs where juveniles commit particularly violent or terrible crimes. However, a juvenile who is certified as an adult cannot receive the death penalty.