Friends, teachers of Hollis Daniels testify in capital murder case
Friends, teachers of Hollis Daniels testify in capital murder case
Seguin High School was not a fun place for teenagers like Callen Carter, who didn’t fit the mold of the other students, he recalled.
“I was bullied all the time,” he told jurors on Tuesday. “I was too feminine and that wasn’t accepted in that town.”
It wasn’t until Hollis Daniels III, known as Reid by his friends, began attending Seguin High School for his junior year that things started getting better, Carter said.
“It was a positive for me,” he said. “It absolutely was … It was nice to have someone to hangout with in school.”
Carter was one of more than a dozen character witnesses who testified in Daniels’ capital murder trial in which he faces life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
The witnesses, who included former classmates, teachers and church officials, described Daniels as a sweet, kind and compassionate boy, who made every effort to make people feel included. While some believed he was troubled and had drug issues, he was nothing like the man who jurors saw on video shoot and kill 48-year-old Floyd East Jr., a Texas Tech Police Department Officer who arrested Daniels on Oct. 9, 2017, for a drug charge.
Evidence at the trial indicated that Daniels shot East with a gun he stole from a friend the night before and smuggled into the Texas Tech Police Department briefing room where East was completing Daniels’ arrest paperwork for a drug charge.
Daniels, 24, entered an open plea of guilty to the capital murder charge at the beginning of his trial, which began Feb. 6. He is expected to be the last witness called to testify in the trial.
To spare their client the death penalty, Daniels’ defense team, led by Houston attorney Chip Lewis, seek to convince jurors there were mitigating circumstances that warrant a life sentence without parole.
Describing Hollis Daniels
Lewis told jurors in his opening statement that in the weeks leading up to the shooting his client was spiraling out of control as he struggled with years of depression that was compounded by the death of a close family friend months before the shooting. He said Daniels was also addicted to Xanax, and was high on an anti-anxiety drug at the time of the shooting.
The day before Carter was called to the witness stand, prosecutors rested their case in chief.
Carter told jurors he met Daniels when he began working in the concession stand of theater the Daniels family owned in downtown Seguin.
He remembered that Daniels who crack jokes as he showed him the ropes and soon the two became quick friends. At the time Daniels attended New Braunfels Christian Academy.
Ruthie Koltermann, who attended the private school with Daniels, remembers him as the class clown. However, she said Daniels was also kind and offered friendship to many students considered outcasts.
She remembered a new student who Daniels took under his wing when he saw him struggling to fit into the school.
Koltermann said she and Daniels were themselves outcasts at the school and smoked cigarettes and later used synthetic marijuana. She said the two preferred smoking the synthetic cannabinoid because it provided an intense, but short, high, so they could hide it from their parents.
However, Koltermann’s mother, who was a teacher at the school, found out about their drug use and reported it to school administrators. Koltermann said she and Daniels were reprimanded, placed on two weeks suspension and required to write a paper about the dangers of synthetic marijuana.
Koltermann said Daniels left the private school in their junior year after he was arrested for possessing synthetic marijuana.
She said after that she had very little contact with Daniels when he left but had noticed, when she did see him, that he’d become more withdrawn.
“He was much more quiet, more serious,” she said. “He seemed more sad, too.”
She said she was in disbelief when she learned of East’s shooting and Daniels’ involvement.
“I thought, ‘No way,'” she said. “‘No way Reid would do that.’ I thought they were searching for the wrong guy.”
Nysa Gonzales, who briefly dated Daniels at the private school, told jurors she remembered the defendant as a carefree, calm and collected person.
After he left the private school she said she noticed Daniels was different. She described him as less happy and more serious.
She said she called Daniels when she heard about the shooting and his possible involvement. She said Daniels answered her call and sounded out of breath, rushed and frantic. However, he denied knowing anything about the shooting.
Gonzales said she was shocked after hearing about Daniels’ arrest.
“I couldn’t believe that he could do something like that,” she said. “The way he was when I knew him, or how I know him, he was never violent. He would never hurt anybody, he was a very calm and collected person.”
Carter told jurors that at Seguin High School Daniels was a bright light for him. The two were part of school theater group with Daniels working on the technical side of the operation.
He said Daniels was well liked at school.
“I knew him to be friends with a good deal of people,” he said.
However, he said that light Carter saw in his friend began to dim. It started with self-deprecating jokes that gave way to off handed comments about death, he said.
At one point Carter said Daniels confided that he was passively suicidal, saying that he had no plans to kill himself but he didn’t want to be alive either.
He said he later learned and witnessed that Daniels had begun using Xanax. While under the drug’s influence, Daniels exhibited a “weird, calm energy.”
“But not a relaxed calm,” Carter said.
He said he was heartbroken that his friend was abusing the drug but didn’t tell his parents because he didn’t want to get his friend in trouble.
He said he believed Daniels was struggling with depression, saying he saw the same signs in other friends. He tried talking to Daniels about it and learned his friend was struggling with feelings of inadequacy.
Daniels often worried about getting in trouble and disappointing his parents, he said.
“He didn’t feel like he could do it or do it good enough,” he said. “I don’t feel like the way he felt about himself was accurate.”
Carter said he’d never seen Daniels get violent or aggressive in the years he’d known him.
“He was helpful, kind – he was someone who just wanted to make people smile,” he said.
Defense attorneys also called on Daniels’ former teachers who described him as smart but inattentive.
Lydia Robles, the drama director at Seguin High School said recalled a time Daniels was upset. But she said he never lashed out.
However, she told jurors of a time she believed Daniels smoked marijuana on campus during rehearsals.
“It was nothing you could ignore,” she said. “and the entire company recognized (the smell). “
She said she told Daniels’ mother about it and said Janis Daniels didn’t appear to take the situation seriously
Robles, whose husband is a police officer, told jurors she cried when she learned about her former student’s involvement in the shooting.
“I couldn’t believe that Reid would take the life of another person,” she said. “That was really hard to understand. I felt in that moment maybe I should have tried a little harder, done something.”
Ariel Otterstad, who ran the youth ministry at the church the Daniels family attended, described the defendant to jurors as a quiet, almost nerdy child.
“He was really polite,” she said. “He was very quick to please, quick to volunteer but not very chatty.”
She said she’d never seen Daniels get mad or display any violent behavior.
As news of the shooting at Tech spread on social media, Otterstad said she was in disbelief
“I was so shocked. It was not the kid I knew,” she said. “It was just mind boggling to me that that could be a reality.”
Daniels enrolled at Texas Tech as a probationary student, through the school’s transfer program where Mary Norman is the assistant director.
Norman told jurors she also believed Daniels was smart, even intelligent, though not studious.
“He didn’t see him as someone who didn’t really want to go to college,” she said.
She said she also suspected Daniels smoked marijuana but it didn’t concern her since that was a typical college student behavior.
However, Daniels wrote her a letter asking to return to the program his sophomore year and she accepted it.
“We did like Reid a lot,” she said. “He came across as a really good kid.”
Norman said she was devastated when she learned about Daniels’ involvement in the shooting and the tragedy has weighed on her in the years since.
At the end of her testimony she read Daniels a letter telling him and his family that they have their support regardless of the horrible crime he committed.
“You were a student who meant a lot to us,” she said. “I believe you are still a good person.”
She told Daniels that she hoped he would find something positive out of his situation.
During the trial, the court heard that Daniels’ Xanax use escalated in college to the point that he was kicked out of a group of a friends he made during his first year at Tech.
Two of those friends Daniels made at Tech were also called by defense attorneys to testify. Connor Berry and Samuel Huston said they met Daniels in his freshman year at Tech.
Berry told jurors Daniels didn’t appear to have drug abuse issues when he first met him, apart from casual pot smoking.
However, he said he could later see signs that Daniels was abusing harder drugs, which he discovered was Xanax, near then end of the year. And things would get worse when Daniels returned the next year.
Berry told jurors that when Daniels was on Xanax, he was lethargic, uncoordinated, forgetful and unemotional.
Huston said Daniels was typically withdrawn when he was high on the anti-anxiety medication.
“He was just quiet and cold and if you wanted to talk to him he didn’t want to talk back,” he said.
In police body-camera videos of Daniels’ encounter with officers leading up to the shooting, Daniels appeared lucid, calm and coordinated as he spoke with them in his dorm room while trying to conceal the firearm he would later use to shoot and kill East.
Huston told jurors that he was living at the house where Daniels stole the murder weapon. He said he believed Daniels manipulated him and other friends into going to the backyard to smoke cigarettes so he can sneak into a bedroom to steal the firearm from his roommate.
Both men told jurors that Daniels often expressed derogatory views toward police.
Huston recalled an instance when Daniels said, “—- the police” when they were driving around and a police vehicle passed them.
Dr. Wilkie Wilson, a neuropharmacologist, told jurors he examined a lab report of Daniels’ urine taken about three days after the shooting. He said the levels of Xanax in Daniels at the time were strikingly high, saying it was higher than a person prescribed the maximum dosage of the drug.
“He had a boatload of Xanax in him at some point,” he said.
Wilson told jurors about the mental and physical effects of the drugs, which can have a sedative effect.
He said a person abusing the drug for a long time can develop a tolerance to the physical impacts of the drug. However, the drug can still affect the person’s mind.
Wilson said he reviewed video of Daniels’ actions before, during and after the shooting, and believed the defendant was not functioning properly at the time because of the drug.
However, he said he wouldn’t be able to tell from the lab report when exactly Daniels took the drugs and at what point his behavior was influenced by it.
Dr. Shawn Roberson, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Daniels and reviewed the evidence in the case, told jurors he didn’t believe the defendant presented a future danger to people he would interact with in prison.
Roberson said his conclusion of Daniels, who he described as having an above-average IQ, was remorseful and tested low for psychopathy.
However, Roberson said his evaluation was also based on self-admissions from Daniels, who has been waiting for trial the last five years, knowing that he faced the death penalty.
Prosecutors pointed out to Roberson that Daniels showed he was able to be manipulative to the point of placating officers arresting him for having drugs in his dorm room as he was smuggled a firearm into the Texas Tech Police headquarters where he would shoot and kill East.
Roberson said his assessment of Daniels’ remorse was a subjective one and he wouldn’t be able to objectively prove the defendant’s sincerity.
“Anybody can lie to me,” he said. “I’m not a human lie detector.”
The trial continues Tuesday.
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Friends, teachers of Hollis Daniels testify in capital murder case
#Friends #teachers #Hollis #Daniels #testify #capital #murder #case