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Parlin v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

November 21, 2019


          On Appeal from the 331st District Court Travis County, Texas [1] Trial Court Case No. D-1-DC-15-900075

          Panel consists of Justices Radack, Landau, and Hightower.


          Sarah Beth Landau Justice.

         The State charged Timothy Scott Parlin with five counts of capital murder.[2]Parlin pleaded not guilty to all five counts and "not true" to both enhancement paragraphs. The case was tried to a jury, and the jury convicted Parlin of capital murder. At sentencing, the State waived three counts, leaving two counts of capital murder. See Tex. Penal Code § 19.03(a)(2), (a)(7)(A). The trial court sentenced Parlin to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. See id. § 12.31. In two issues, Parlin contends the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress custodial statements and admitting the testimony of a witness. We affirm.

         A. Murder of Kathy Blair

         Kathy Blair rented a home on Tamarack Trail from James Willett. Willett hired Timothy Scott Parlin and his brother to perform yardwork and landscaping. Although apologetic, Willett fired Parlin when it took too long to complete the tasks.

         Lieutenant Joseph Hargis is Blair's son. He temporarily resided with his mother beginning in November 2014. On December 6, 2014, Lieutenant Hargis discovered his mother's body on her bedroom floor covered in a dark red substance. Lieutenant Hargis called 911, and a paramedic later determined that Blair was deceased. The medical examiner concluded Blair's cause of death was multiple sharp force injuries with asphyxiation. The investigators saw "Shoes For Crews"-brand shoeprints tracked throughout Blair's home in her blood and in dust. The investigators also found blood in her jewelry boxes and concluded that the suspect had stolen jewelry after Blair's murder. The investigators spoke with Blair's neighbor, Robert Leef, who lived a couple blocks from Blair. In the early morning hours of December 6, 2014, Leef, while using a FLIR[3] recording system, observed a vehicle parked in a "semi-unusual location." He could not recognize the vehicle's driver. Leef provided the FLIR video to the police as soon as he heard about the murder on Tamarack Trail.

         Leef's FLIR footage led officers to a green Toyota Camry owned by Parlin's sister, Edie. On January 1, 2015, officers visited Edie to question her about Parlin. According to Edie, Parlin gave all of the family members jewelry for Christmas that year. Edie testified that she loaned her car to Parlin around the middle of November 2014 because someone had stolen his van. Parlin returned the car to Edie on December 26, 2014. Edie signed a written consent form authorizing officers to seize and search her car. Officers discovered bloodstains on the passenger side of the car. The bloodstains in the car matched Blair's blood.

         B. Murders of Sidney Shelton and Billie Shelton

         Sidney Shelton and Billie Shelton were around 80 years old. Dow Kotrla, a home health nurse, was responsible for caring for Mr. Shelton for various health issues. On December 15, 2014, Kotrla arrived at the Sheltons' home for a scheduled appointment and noticed the front door was open. Kotrla went through the house and found Mr. Shelton's unresponsive body on the bed. She called the police. When the police arrived, they noticed Mr. Shelton's body was cold to the touch and he did not have a pulse. The officers also noticed Ms. Shelton was next to Mr. Shelton and covered in a blanket. They observed a silver-colored handle protruding from her right eye. The Sheltons were pronounced dead. The cause of Mr. Shelton's death was homicide by strangulation and blunt-force injuries. Ms. Shelton died from sharp and blunt-force injuries and by strangulation. Ms. Shelton's death was also ruled a homicide.

         The investigators discovered a shoeprint in the carpet near a guest bedroom door. The investigators also observed an empty blood-stained jewelry box and an empty ring holder in the Sheltons' bedroom. The Sheltons' rings were also missing from their fingers.

         The investigation revealed connections between Parlin and both murder cases. The Sheltons were members of the church where Parlin married his wife. Parlin's brother, a deacon at the church, had done handiwork for the Sheltons, and Parlin assisted him at times. Edie, Parlin, and their brother had all lived on the same street as the Sheltons.

         During the investigation, police learned that Parlin and his wife resided at InTown Suites, an extended stay hotel. On December 30, 2014, Parlin's wife voluntarily authorized the police to search their residence. The officers found a pawn slip for a piece of women's jewelry that had been pawned on the day of Blair's murder, along with other items that raised suspicion about Parlin's involvement in the murders of Blair and the Sheltons. On the same day, December 30, 2014, Parlin was in police custody because he had been arrested for driving without a valid license. Officers questioned Parlin about the murders of Blair and the Sheltons, and he denied knowledge of the murders. Parlin was issued a citation and released from custody. Later, after further investigation of the murders, Parlin made statements implicating himself as a party to the murders.

         C. Suppression hearing

         Parlin moved to suppress certain incriminating statements. Detective Israel was the only witness at the suppression hearing, and these details are based on his sole testimony. Detective Israel investigated the murders of Blair and the Sheltons.

         On December 30, 2014, while Parlin was in police custody on the traffic violation, Detective Israel advised Parlin of his Article 38.22 rights.[4] Detective Israel then asked Parlin about the murders of Blair and the Sheltons, and Parlin denied knowledge of the murders. Parlin was issued a citation and released from custody. On January 1, 2015, Detective Israel discovered that the car loaned to Parlin by his sister contained unidentified bloodstains on the seat. The car appeared very similar to a car identified in the FLIR video.

         The next day, Parlin was arrested pursuant to a warrant for possession of a controlled substance and a parole violation hold. Detective Israel again advised Parlin of his Article 38.22 rights. Parlin stated that he understood his rights and agreed to waive them. Detective Israel confronted Parlin about the bloodstains in the car during the time he had it in his possession. When Detective Israel accused Parlin of murdering Kathy Blair and the Sheltons, Parlin "denied culpability" but eventually claimed that he knew a person named "Shawn Gant-Benalcazar" who committed the murders. According to Detective Israel, the conversation "got a little more heated" when Detective Israel started "accusing him of the crime." At that point, Parlin said, "Maybe we should terminate." Detective Israel testified that he did not interpret Parlin's remark as an unequivocal request to terminate the interview. Detective Israel explained that "it was a convenient time for me to-to end the interview because we really weren't progressing." When Detective Israel stopped asking Parlin questions and told him that "he knew how to get ahold" of him, Parlin told Detective Israel that he was "willing to talk" to him any time as long as Detective Israel was "nicer to him."

         On January 9, 2015, Gant-Benalcazar confessed to murdering Kathy Blair. Afterwards, Detective Israel investigated Gant-Benalcazar's confession for several days. Armed with Gant-Benalcazar's confession and the information obtained during the investigation, Detective Israel visited Parlin in jail on January 16, 2015, while he was still in custody for the parole violation.[5] Detective Israel apologized to Parlin, told him that Gant-Benalcazar had confessed to the murder, and asked him to accompany him to the Homicide Office.[6] When they reached the Homicide Office, Detective Israel read Parlin his Article 38.22 rights. Parlin agreed to show Detective Israel where Gant-Benalcazar had disposed of property after the murder of Blair. He also agreed to take Detective Israel to the scene of a prior burglary. Parlin signed a form consenting to accompany Detective Israel.

         Detective Israel and other officers drove Parlin to a bridge over Shoal Creek where Parlin claimed Gant-Benalcazar dumped some property in the creek. Parlin then made statements implicating himself as a party to the burglaries and murders of Blair and the Sheltons. They arrived at the bridge, and Parlin described the events of that day when he and Gant-Benalcazar were at the creek. Parlin stated that he parked on the side of the road and watched Gant-Benalcazar place clothes, shoes, and other items containing bloodstains in a red plastic grocery bag for disposal. Then Parlin recalled a conversation he had with Gant-Benalcazar. Parlin explained that when he tried to obtain additional details about what Gant-Benalcazar had done, Gant-Benalcazar told Parlin that he "put the knife to their face" or "in their face" and then he "went back to put his foot in her face." Parlin then contradicted himself. Parlin denied being present when Gant-Benalcazar committed murder of Blair but recalled that ...

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