The first time Eddie Mae Dudley murdered, she stabbed a woman in a fight over a beer, says the Dallas Morning News in the second in a series. Then she shot one of her housemates – an elderly stroke victim who used a walker – when he wouldn’t get out of bed. Dudley served seven years in prison for No. 1. The only consequence for No. 2 was five years of probation. Many people with violent histories remain eligible for probation forever because of little-known quirks in Texas law. The News identified two more two-time killer who have served probation in Dallas County since 2000.
Juries couldn’t sentence these killers to probation, because they had felony records. Prosecutors and judges aren’t bound by that restriction if they use a special form of probation – off-limits to juries – called deferred adjudication. “You cannot get deferred adjudication for a DWI but you can for a murder – it just kind of blows your mind,” said Will Ramsay, a defense attorney and former prosecutor. Many states have some version of deferred adjudication. Most, unlike Texas, limit it to first-time or nonviolent offenders. Marc Miller, a University of Arizona law professor and sentencing expert, called deferred adjudication “a stunning outcome for any killing” and added: “The point is only more true for a repeat killer.” To get deferred adjudication, a defendant pleads guilty or no contest, usually in a deal with the district attorney’s office. The probation typically lasts 10 years, though Dudley’s was only for five. Margaret Love, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney, said the usual intent of such laws “is to give people a second chance.”