Bastrop County

Mistrial declared in ex-deputy Daniel Willis' murder trial

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) -- After more than 20 hours of deliberating, a Bastrop County jury determined they could not come to decision regarding whether or not former Bastrop County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Willis was guilty or not guilty of murder. The jury foreman told Judge Albert McCaig the jurors were split 8-4 in favor of guilty, but each juror was polled and said their mind could not be changed. Verdicts must be unanimous for a conviction or acquittal.

The long wait for a decision left the family of Yvette Smith disappointed when they realized no decision would be made.

"I don't feel like it is fair," said friend Norman Tarver. "Right is right and wrong is wrong. How can you let someone loose when you have all the evidence?"

On Feb. 16, 2014, Willis was responding to a fight between two men. When he arrived to the house, authorities say he shot Yvette Smith twice when she walked onto the porch. The Bastrop County Sheriff's Office originally claimed Smith was armed, but later said she had no weapons on her. Four months later, Willis was charged with murder and fired from the force.

In an audio taped interview with Texas Rangers shortly after the shooting, Willis gave his version of the events leading up to the shooting. In that interview, Willis said he was getting information about the altercation between father and son when he heard dispatchers talking about someone inside the home loading a gun.

Defense attorney Robert McCabe said although the majority of jurors felt Willis was guilty, an 8-4 split is not enough to warrant a retrial.

"They had their shot, they didn't make it. We should be done with this case, we should move on. It does not belong in criminal court," said McCabe.

However, special prosecutor Forrest Sanderson said the case would be retried and they would not consider a lesser charge than murder.

"We are encouraged it is an 8-4 split in favor of the state," said Sanderson. "There is no chance at it being charged at anything other than murder because the facts don't fit anything else."

Sanderson said a retrial would likely have to wait until after the new year.

In April, the county reached a $1.2 million settlement with Smith's family. The family's lawsuit claimed Smith's death was caused by the negligent hiring of Willis. Previously an employee of Travis County Sheriff's Office for more than 8 years as a jailer, one evaluation noted that Willis needed "more development in handling explosive situations and the utilization of common sense."

An investigation following the shooting found that supervisors within the department had modified Willis' training records. A lieutenant and sergeant were both suspended and demoted for the modifications, but Sheriff Terry Pickering said the changes were made to make sure the records were completed accurately.

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