Guilty without pulling the trigger: Fort Worth police officer’s killer faces death penalty

·5 min read

A Tarrant County jury on Monday found Timothy Huff guilty of capital murder in the 2018 shooting death of Fort Worth police Officer Garrett Hull.

The man on trial did not shoot the officer, but in their closing arguments Monday, attorneys sought to prove whether he was still legally responsible for Hull’s death.

Court resumed Monday afternoon for the penalty phase of the trial, to determine Huff’s sentence, which will continue with more testimony Tuesday and Wednesday. Huff faces a sentence of either the death penalty or life in prison.

Huff was accused of capital murder for his involvement in Hull’s death in September 2018. Hull was one of a team of Fort Worth police officers tracking Huff and two other men suspected in a string of robberies targeting Hispanic-run businesses over the course of three months in 2018.

Huff’s defense attorneys and prosecuting attorneys made closing arguments before a packed courtroom and an attentive jury in Tarrant County’s 396th District Court on Monday at 9 a.m. The judge dismissed the jury to begin deliberating at about 10:30 a.m. and jurors returned with the guilty verdict about an hour later.

Timothy Huff is escorted back into the courtroom for the sentencing phase of the trial after being found guilty of capital murder in the 2018 shooting death of Fort Worth police Officer Garrett Hull on Monday, June 27, 2022, in Fort Worth.
Timothy Huff is escorted back into the courtroom for the sentencing phase of the trial after being found guilty of capital murder in the 2018 shooting death of Fort Worth police Officer Garrett Hull on Monday, June 27, 2022, in Fort Worth.

Three men were involved in the fateful robbery the night of Sept. 14, 2018, prosecutors said.

Samuel Mayfield, Dacion Steptoe, and Huff went into Los Vaqueros bar and robbed the patrons inside, according to police testimony at the trial. Hull and other Fort Worth officers on the criminal intelligence unit had been tracking the group and were surveilling the bar. When they realized the bar was being robbed, they called in backup and got ready to track the men down as soon as they left the business.

Huff, Steptoe and Mayfield fled from the bar and the officers began to chase them, according to testimony. Steptoe and Hull wound up in a driveway on May Street. Steptoe shot Hull, who died after being rushed to the hospital, authorities said. Another officer shot and killed Steptoe.

Fort Worth police officer Garrett Hull was killed in a shooting in the line of duty in September 2018.
Fort Worth police officer Garrett Hull was killed in a shooting in the line of duty in September 2018.

The question in the case, attorneys on both sides explained, was not about who shot Hull. The crux of the case rested on whether Huff was responsible for Hull’s death. Mayfield also faces a charge of capital murder and is awaiting trial.

If Huff reasonably should have anticipated the result of the robbery could cause someone’s death, prosecutor Lloyd Whelchel explained to the jury, he legally should be convicted of capital murder. Over four and a half days, the state prosecutors presented evidence they say shows Huff knew someone could die during the increasingly violent robberies.

In a robbery in August 2018, the group of men — dubbed “the Cantina Bandits” — robbed a group of people who were grilling outside, according to Fort Worth police and the person who was shot, Pascual Soria. Soria was shot in the back, he testified.

Timothy Huff, right, speaks to attorney Patrick Curran on Monday, June 27, 2022. Huff was found guilty of capital murder the 2018 shooting death of Fort Worth police Officer Garrett Hull.
Timothy Huff, right, speaks to attorney Patrick Curran on Monday, June 27, 2022. Huff was found guilty of capital murder the 2018 shooting death of Fort Worth police Officer Garrett Hull.

“This case is textbook for how someone is guilty of capital murder even when they didn’t pull the trigger,” prosecutor Timothy Rodgers said during closing arguments.

The state pointed out that Huff — who hid in a yard after the robbery and was arrested — was found with a gun, a stolen purse stuffed with cash and black gloves. Those items implicate him in the robbery, prosecutors said.

In an interrogation with police after the robbery, Huff told detectives he had instructed his partners before they robbed Los Vaqueros, “Whatever you gonna do, don’t shoot anybody.”

The state said this statement shows he knew someone could die during the robberies. Even Hull, Rodgers said, knew the potential dangers of the group of robbers, referring to testimony from Hull’s wife on the first day of the trial.

About a week before her husband was shot, Sabrina Hull said, the couple had talked for the first time about the possibility of him dying while on duty.

Sabrina Hull, wife of fallen Fort Worth police Officer Garrett Hull, leaves the courtroom on Monday, June 27, 2022. Timothy Huff was found guilty Monday of capital murder in the 2018 shooting death of her husband.
Sabrina Hull, wife of fallen Fort Worth police Officer Garrett Hull, leaves the courtroom on Monday, June 27, 2022. Timothy Huff was found guilty Monday of capital murder in the 2018 shooting death of her husband.

Sabrina Hull said her husband told her, “These guys are really dangerous, babe.” He told her he was worried, and he even told her what song to play at his funeral if anything happened to him.

Rodgers described the group of men as “a pack, hunting, finding their victims.”

Defense attorneys William Harris and Patrick Curran did not call any witnesses but focused their argument on conflicting testimony about the identity of the the robbers. They said Huff is not responsible for Steptoe’s actions.

“Garrett Hull should not be dead,” Curran said. “But Timothy didn’t do it.”

‘He’s always with us’

The punishment phase of the trial began after the court broke for lunch.

Fort Worth Officer Ryan Navarro testified about the night Hull was shot. The night of the shooting Navarro, who is a former paramedic, rushed toward the sound of gunfire after hearing the dreaded call on his radio of an officer down. As soon as he saw a man in plain clothes lying in the grass, he knew whoever had been shot was on the criminal intelligence unit — all the other officers at the scene wore their uniforms.

Navarro assessed Hull and knew the injury was serious when he saw the bullet had hit Hull in the head and had no exit wound. Navarro helped carry Hull to an unmarked police car, and held his friend’s head in his lap as they rushed to a Fort Worth hospital.

Hull was “the best cop you could think of,” Navarro said Monday.

Navarro, who worked on the criminal intelligence unit with Hull for five years, said Hull was like a big brother who everyone felt safe around. Hull’s death made Navarro think about his own family and what would happen to them if he died.

“It makes you think, ‘Is it worth it?’” Navarro said in his testimony. “Then you think of Garrett and that’s what keeps us going. He’s always with us.”

The criminal intelligence unit was renamed after Hull’s death, Navarro said. On paper, the team is called the Operation and Surveillance Team. But among the officers, it has a more meaningful name: GHOST — the Garrett Hull Operation and Surveillance Team.

This is a developing story. For the latest updates, sign up for breaking news alerts.