By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In a December 2009 affidavit given by Alejandra in support of her son's habeas application, she states, "Juan wanted to be born at about six months." She saw no doctors during her pregnancy and had no prenatal care. Alejandra took unspecified herbs known as malvas, common among women in her culture, to halt his premature birth. Stopping work was not an option, Alejandra said. "I had to be both mother and father to my children."
Alejandra awoke at three every morning to grind corn for tortillas before venturing into the nearby hills to harvest agave plants. She would carry the 20-kilo bag of lechuguilla down from the hills on her back and scrape out the fibers to sell.
Juan was her smallest baby, she said, besides her daughter Lucia—and Alejandra sometimes had no milk with which to breastfeed him. She and her children would sometimes eat just one meal a day; she would feed each of them a tortilla before bed. Alejandra said she tried not to cry in front of her children, though she was deeply depressed. "My children suffered very much. And I suffered watching them."
Gossip was rampant on the rancho, because Alejandra's children were not all fathered by her husband Sabino. Juan and his sister Lucia were the children of Sabino's first cousin, Alberto. Alejandra tried not to let the gossip affect her family, saying "Que hablen," or "let them talk," when the gossip would make Juan cry.
Her children went to school without meals. When they were very hungry, they would kill mice to eat. At school and at home, Juan struggled to learn basic skills. His elementary school teacher, Aleida Reyes Lucio, said in an affidavit that Juan was "slow." He copied his homework from the other children in class. Lucio finally promoted Lizcano from the sixth grade when he was 15, two years after the elementary school age limit of 13. Juan was simply too old to be in her class.
On the rancho, Juan's older brother Jose tried to teach Juan how to help with their animals, but he was unable to measure medicine for injections or to put a plow on a horse. "Juan would forget how to do it," Jose stated in his affidavit. It was "too complicated" for his brother to learn. Bicycles, the family's main transportation, would go unrepaired because Juan was incapable of fixing them.
Despite their poverty, Alejandra did not want her son to go to the United States to try and earn more money. When she asked him not to leave, she said he told her, "I am going so you won't be hungry."
In 2000, when Lizcano left Nuevo Leon at age 24, he left behind him in Mexico many close and extended family members who showed signs of intellectual disability and developmental disorders. According to habeas documentation, there was "Juan Loco," a cousin, who would get lost and disappear for days. Family members described another cousin, Petra, as "not all there." Juan's aunt's children are referred to by those on the rancho back home as "crazies," and several of his cousins are mute.
But what began as a hard life in Mexico grew more complicated when Lizcano came to the United States. He had no family support, no skills, no coping mechanisms, and seemed child-like and vulnerable to suggestion. In Mexico, he never drank or had a criminal record, but by the time he was 33 and living in Dallas, he was drinking every day, pressured to do so by his uncle and brother with whom he lived. He would work all week long at landscaping jobs and then on the weekends go to nightclubs with friends and drink beers.
In Dallas County, his drinking got him into trouble with the law on several occasions, with arrests on his record for driving while intoxicated and public drunkenness. Once, he showed up at Marta Cruz's house after a drinking binge and started waving around one of her kitchen knives. But when Lizcano wasn't drinking, Cruz swore in an affidavit, he was very quiet and reserved. Alcohol seemed to turn him into a very different, very volatile person. But nothing in his past suggested Lizcano might be a killer—not until he got drunk and angry, and met Officer Brian Jackson in an alley outside his ex-girlfriend's house, taking the officer's life with a single gunshot.
If any defendant was primed to get the death penalty, it was Juan Lizcano. Cop killer, illegal immigrant, fallen hero—loaded words like these don't make for fair and impartial juries. The police, the media, and the community cry out for justice, and by that they mean the full measure of it. Rarely has a cop killer escaped the death penalty in Dallas County, and everything seemed in place to ensure that Lizcano would be no exception, mental retardation or not.
After Officer Jackson's death in 2005, a massive billboard rose above the street across from the Frank Crowley Criminal Courts Building, depicting a photo of Jackson wearing his favorite cowboy hat. Honoring Jackson for his five-year service to the city, the billboard served as a reminder of the "thin blue line" of police officers that prosecutors would argue in trial "stands between the public and chaos."