The murderer convicted in Texas’ “sleeping lawyer” case is now eligible for parole because prosecutors misinterpreted sentencing laws, says the prison system’s attorney. Prosecutors had thought that a plea agreement would keep Calvin Burdine in prison for the rest of his life. Now the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has instead classified him as parole eligible, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Carl Reynolds, chief legal counsel for the prison system, said the Harris County district attorney’s office in Houston made a mistake in interpreting sentencing laws in effect in 1983. Prosecutors have asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to rule that they are correct and the state is wrong.
Burdine, 50, spent 18 years on death row for the murder of his roommate before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the sentence because the defense attorney had slept through portions of his trial. Harris County agreed not to seek another death sentence if Burdine pled guilty to new charges and accepted life sentences for each. Because the terms would be served consecutively, prosecutors believed he would be locked up for at least 20 more years before becoming eligible for parole.
Reynolds said the district attorney’s office did not understand that in 1983, it did not matter how many life sentences a prisoner had, they counted as just one life sentence. “The unfortunate reality is when these offenses were committed consecutive sentencing did not work very well,” he said.