Wednesday, March 19, 2008

CLIENTS: Losing a Client

My client died the other day while in custody. His name was Donald Wayne Booth. He was charged in the August 2007 murder of a woman on the Southeast side of Austin. He was a caregiver by trade. She had been a former patient. I never thought my representation of this man would end amidst the confusion and indifference I was about to experience.

I met and talked to Mr. Booth periodically since I was first appointed to represent him last fall. His case investigation was ongoing by the Austin Police Department until sometime in December when I first received discovery. His case presented some interesting aspects. Among other things, this was the first case I had been appointed where the investigation relied, in part, of the tracing of Mr. Booth's whereabouts through the location of his cell phone calls on the night of the murder.

Booth was a large man. He stood approximately 5'5", hovering around 300 pounds. The last time I saw him, he was manuevering in a wheelchair at the Travis County Correctional Complex (TCCC). His health appeared to be deteriorating.

Since this last meeting, I had continued the discovery process, reading the various statements by witnesses and his statements to police. It was at this point that I needed some clarification of his story, along with a timeline of his whereabouts on that night. I never had that chance.

I had received word from his family toward the end of February that Mr. Booth had been transferred to the Austin State Hospital (ASH) mental facility. After receiving that information, I embarked on a mission to locate Mr. Booth and find out why I hadn't been notified and how the transfer could take place without an evaluation (that I knew of) or court order.

I contacted the medical staff at TCCC by telephone and email with no luck in finding Mr. Booth. My further inquiries led me to information that he in fact had gone to Brackenridge Hospital (medical facility). Upon contacting Brackenridge, I was told no patient by that name was admitted. I directed my legal assistant to follow up on this and try to find him. After a two hour search in which she called the various facilities associated with Brackenridge, she reported to me that all Brackenridge facilities denied to her Mr. Booth's whereabouts. The jail continued to say Booth was at Brackenridge. However, Booth was shown to be in the TCCC on the online search site of the Travis County Sherrif (TCSO).

I physically went to Brackenridge two weekends ago to find Mr. Booth. Again, I was told that he was not a patient at this facility. In the following days, I contacted admissions office at Brackenridge who directed me to the patient liason. I left a message and received no return call. I then contacted the medical staff at the Travis County Jail, and the personnel informed me that he was at Brackenridge under a fictious name. I was told not to worry because he was coming back that day (last Thursday). Until this moment, I was unaware of the policy to admit inmates under fictitious names.

I went to the Travis County Jail (TCJ) downtown that next day, only to be told he was sent to TCCC that morning. The next day, Saturday, I went to TCCC and was told he had been transferred yet again to the hospital. This time a guard at the complex gave me a telephone number to call and receive his assumed name. I received an email from his family that he died overnight before I could call or see him. He had never been to ASH as the jail had told his family.

For two weeks, my mission to merely locate my client was infected with deception, wrongful invocations of HIPPA, and a blatant disregard of my responsibilties as his counsel by officials charged with his care. A small consolation was that his brother saw him at TCCC the Thursday he came back. He reported to me that he had lost substantial weight and had tubes protruding from his chest.

I do not profess to know whether Mr. Booth was guilty or not of the crime charged. Because of the charge against him, he may not garner much sympathy from strangers. Additionally, I understand the arguments for security and certain restrictions in a public hospital. This is not the point. I don't believe there are ANY valid arguments for the kind of deception perpetrated on his family and attorney. He died alone in a hospital room under another name. For that, there are no excuses or legitimate policy considerations, and nobody should think otherwise.


Anonymous said...

there is a lot of question to be answered through travis county keith is there anyway we could open the case back up to prove his innonce he was a good man he would help anyone he could his wife left him for his cousin he has always help people i would pay whatever to open up his case and prove he is not the monster people say he is APD just arrested people and say its over but they are wrong for this one and i dont want to see my brother to go down in history as a murder when he didnt do it

Danielle said...

Don was my Brother in law..The hardest thing that I have been through in my life was his passing. Getting the phone call that he died was a moment in my life i will never forget. He was an amazing guy. He did NOT commit this crime. I know he didn't. And the way the jail would not communicate with anyone about his whereabouts or his health to me was disgusting. They basically told me husband that they would not call him about his health unless he died. Which is the one and only time that we received a phone call. His health got so bad when in jail. He was not given the treatment that he needed. Don wasn't in PERFECT health when he went in but one thing about him was he went to doctor when he needed to and got the treatment that he needed. I know that if he wouldn't have been in jail he wouldn't have died. My husband saw him the thursday before he died and he called me and said "Don is in such bad shape. He looks like he is dying." And Sunday morning we got a call that he had. I wish so badly for my husband, my father in law and my son's sake that there could be some way to resolve this situation to clear his name, to find out what REALLY happened to him in jail. Just to show you how much the jail didn't give a crap about Don or his family, the morning that he died and my husband talked to the hospital staff, he asked if he could please come and see his brother's body before being taken to the medical examnier, the lady told him "oh yes we will leave him the room until you get here." When we showed up he was gone and the hospital staff said the jail told them to send him. Was the hardest thing for my husband he was thinking he was going in to see his brother before he was cut completely open for the autospy. He never got that. The report from the medical examiner wasn't even correct. There were things said about Don's body that weren't true and there is proof they weren't true.

My wish before I live this earth is for someone to give closure to my husband, father in law and my son.I pray everyday we got a phone call that says "We found out who really did the murder and it's not Don." I know I will probably never ever get that but I hope I do.

Thank you Mr. Lauerman..I know you weren't given much time with Don but I thank you for what you were able to do for him.