Appeal from the 42nd District Court Callahan County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 7138
consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J.
M. BAILEY CHIEF JUSTICE
conclusion of a joint trial, the jury convicted Appellant,
Phillip Jay Walter, Jr., and his wife, Violet Maree Walter,
of murder, robbery, and theft of a firearm. See Tex.
Penal Code Ann. §§ 19.02, 29.02, 31.03 (West 2019).
The trial court assessed Appellant's punishment at
confinement in the Institutional Division of the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice for forty years for the murder
conviction and for twenty years for the robbery conviction.
The trial court also assessed Appellant's punishment at
confinement in the State Jail Division of the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice for a term of two years for
the conviction for theft of a firearm. Additionally, the
trial court ordered that the sentences are to run
concurrently. Appellant challenges his convictions in a
single issue on appeal. We affirm.
Allen, a police officer with the Abilene Police Department,
was found dead at his home in Clyde on August 31, 2015.
Approximately one week before his death, Allen placed an
advertisement on Craigslist seeking an unconventional sexual
encounter. Walter responded to Allen's post on August 29,
2015, writing: "Still looking? Sexy couple in their 20s.
. . . Down for anything." For the next couple of days,
Walter and Allen e-mailed each other about the prospect of a
sexual encounter between Appellant, Allen, and Walter.
Eventually, Allen invited Appellant and Walter to his home in
Clyde on the afternoon of August 31.
evening, Allen's fiancée found Allen dead in their
bedroom, lying facedown on the floor. Allen was wearing only
a T-shirt and socks; he was otherwise naked. His hands and
ankles had been bound by USB cords, with his hands tied
behind his back. Another USB cord, along with Allen's
shorts, was loosely wrapped around Allen's face and neck.
There was no evidence of forced entry or a struggle inside
Allen's neighbors told investigators that he saw a male
and a female arrive at Allen's home that afternoon.
Another one of Allen's neighbors saw a vehicle near
Allen's home. The neighbor provided the police with the
vehicle's make, color, and model. Investigators
discovered that Appellant owned a vehicle similar to the
vehicle seen near Allen's home.
surveillance from a pawn shop in Abilene showed Appellant,
accompanied by Walter, pawning four video games and a
woman's bracelet on the evening of August 31. The same
four video games had been recently played on Allen's
video game console, and Allen's fiancée identified
the pawned bracelet as her bracelet. Investigators also
identified Appellant's fingerprint on a water bottle at
and Walter were subsequently arrested. Police officers
searched their apartment pursuant to a search warrant. In the
apartment, the police found an Abilene Police Department
badge, a taser, handcuffs, and an ASP case that had been
issued to Allen as an Abilene Police Officer. Allen's
firearm was returned to police by a confidential informant,
and Allen's police radio was found on the side of a
highway, two miles east of Clyde.
the search of the apartment, the police also found
Appellant's and Walter's cell phones. The police
searched the phones pursuant to additional search warrants.
Walter's text messages to Appellant revealed that they
were experiencing financial difficulties at the time and were
in the process of being evicted from their apartment. Walter
sent Appellant several text messages on the day of
Allen's death, urging Appellant to do something to remedy
their dire financial situation. For example, Walter sent
Appellant the following text messages on August 31: "Go
f--k someone else and restore our s--t," "Hurry up
and fix this," "DO SOMETHING NOW," and
"You NEED to do this. Your fear of a police report
versus LOSING us should be bigger. Your need to feed and
house your CHILDREN should be bigger tha[n] ANYTHING."
Walter set up the meeting with Allen at Allen's home in
Clyde, Walter texted Appellant that "[w]e have that
Clyde lick," "[w]e MUST do it and do it hard,"
and "[t]he lick is waiting." The State presented
evidence that a "lick" refers to robbery or
Tasha Greenberg, a deputy medical examiner at the Tarrant
County Medical Examiner's Office, performed an autopsy on
Allen's body. Dr. Greenberg testified that she observed
multiple areas of bleeding "into the muscles of the
front of the neck," along with a fracture of the thyroid
cartilage, specifically the right cornu. There were also
lacerations of the lower lip. Dr. Greenberg determined that
the cause of death was asphyxia, which she described as a
lack of oxygen to the brain. The evidence of injury to the
neck indicated to her that there was a "compression of
the vessels in the neck." Dr. Greenberg also testified
that there was a likelihood that pressure was applied to
Allen's chest or back.
Greenberg did not see any evidence that the USB cord that was
found around Allen's neck was used as a ligature. In this
regard, this cord was somewhat loose around Allen's neck.
Dr. Greenberg testified that the lack of an imprint on