Elders sentenced to death

May 2—As he had throughout his three week trial, defendant Jerry Elders remained attentive but otherwise displayed no emotion as he received a death sentence on Thursday afternoon.

Jurors in the 413th District Court deliberated about seven hours before returning their verdict.

Elders, who was found guilty of capital murder last week, faced a sentence of life in prison without parole or death.

Jurors in deliberating his sentence where asked to consider whether they believed, based upon evidence presented, Elders posed a continuing threat. If they answered yes, which they did, they were asked to consider whether mitigating circumstances called for a life in prison over a death penalty verdict.

Elders on April 13, 2021 shot Burleson Police Officer Joshua Lott three times during a traffic stop Lott conducted on Elders' vehicle. Lott was rushed to the hospital and survived.

Elders fled the scene but fled on foot a short distance later after his car caught fire. Elders then wandered onto the nearby property of Burleson resident Robin Waddell.

Elders went on to kidnap Waddell and ordered her to drive him out of Johnson County in her truck. Waddell a short time later drove her truck through the gate of the Joshua Police Department's parking lot.

Elders shot Waddell twice, pushed her from her truck and fled the scene. Waddell made her way to the back door of the police station where she collapsed and died. Police located and arrested Elders later that same day in Gainesville.

Three of Waddell's family members gave emotional victim impact statements after Elders learned his sentence. Other than paying close attention to what they said, Elders displayed no outward emotion.

Waddell's daughter, Patricia Cooke, spoke of the damage Elders' actions visited upon her, her children and familly.

"I've been living with your decisions for years and I'll continue for the rest of my life," Cooke said.

Cooke said that every trip through Joshua reminds of her mother's murder at Elders' hands.

"Forces me to remember how she died right there," Cooke said. She was killed just like an animal. You shot a grandma in the back."

Waddell in driving into the police department parking lot died a hero, Cooke said, while Elders will now die a nobody.

Waddell's daughter in law, Lori Waddell sobbed through much of her short impact statement.

"My husband is in complete hell because of what you've done," Lori Waddell said. "You tore my family apart."

Elders' attorneys, Miles Brissette and Bob Gill, presented their defense on Wednesday by calling family members and acquaintances of Elders to the stand.

All characterized Elders as kind, funny, caring and sweet though they also, to varying degrees, acknowledged his longstanding drug addiction and previous criminal convictions.

Elders' stepfather, Lee Russell, said as much.

"He's pretty good when he's off his dope," Russell said. "But on the drugs he changes. I love my son. I hate what he did, but I love my son."

Renea Lewis, the aunt of Elders' girlfriend Samantha Collins, testified as a character witness for Elders as well. Collins was in the passenger seat when Elders shot Lott.

"Yes I do and there are extenuating circumstances to all that that the jury is not allowed to hear," Lewis said when asked by Assistant County Attorney Matthew Staton if she knew why Elders was on trial.

Staton asked Lewis is she is aware that Elders killed an innocent woman.

"That really wasn't his fault, but yes sir," Lewis said.

Staton pressed for clarification.

"Well I think we already know that he shot that woman, but he didn't shoot her to murder her," Lewis said. "Because he was on drugs and he had been out of the house all night and he was upset with that particular officer."

Staton objected to Lewis' explanation as nonresponsive and declined to continue inquiry into the matter.

Brissette and Gill called also to the stand a parade of Johnson County corrections officers who testified that Elders, during his stay at the county jail while awaiting trial, had caused no serious problems or trouble.

Several such witnesses in all reporting basically the same information, prosecutors stipulated that they would agree that Elders led a well-behaved jail stay.

Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Miller, in closing for the stage, urged jurors to return a death penalty verdict.

"He intentionally, selfishly and carelessly took the life of Robin Waddell," Miller said. "Killed her without hesitation, without care.

"He didn't know her. He shot her once to kill her and he shot her twice to make sure she died."

Miller argued that Elders ignored multiple offers of help from family, friends and the justice system to exit his life of crime and drugs. His past actions, Miller told jurors, render him a continuing danger to corrections officers and fellow inmates should he receive life without parole as opposed to the death penalty.

Brissette during closing argued that questions concerning the investigation of Elders' crimes and the evidence presented by the state called for a life in prison rather than a death penalty conviction for Elders.

Staton disagreed.

"This is a death penalty case," Staton told jurors. "To say anything otherwise would be ignoring the evidence and ignoring the truth. [Elders] earned every bit of the death penalty on April 14, 2021, in his murderous crime spree. Nothing changes those facts."