Timothy Huff sentenced to life in prison without parole in Fort Worth officer’s murder

·8 min read

The defendant convicted of capital murder in the death of a Fort Worth police officer was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday, hours after taking the witness stand in the punishment phase of a Tarrant County trial.

After deliberating for more than six hours, the jury announced its verdict shortly before 11 p.m., finding factors that weighed in favor of life in prison instead of the death penalty. While the jurors found that Timothy Huff could be a threat in the future and should have anticipated a life would be taken in the commission of a robbery, they found mitigating circumstances impacted Huff’s culpability.

Officer Garrett Hull’s widow, Sabrina Hull, took the stand for a final time Wednesday night and addressed a courtroom filled with tired jurors, family members and police colleagues. She addressed Huff, saying Huff “can never understand the depth of our sadness.”

She thanked the jurors — several of whom were crying.

“Thank you for doing this,” she said. “You sent a message to this city and its people that there are consequences. Consequences for the choices you make.”

She also thanked the attorneys and her husband’s police colleagues who “are out there fighting” for the city. Members of Hull’s unit — which was renamed in his honor — sat in the second row.

“You are the advocates for the victims,” Sabrina Hull said.

Sabrina Hull, widow of Fort Worth police officer Garrett Hull, leaves the courtroom on Monday, June 27, 2022. Timothy Huff was found guilty of capital murder in her husband’s death and was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday.
Sabrina Hull, widow of Fort Worth police officer Garrett Hull, leaves the courtroom on Monday, June 27, 2022. Timothy Huff was found guilty of capital murder in her husband’s death and was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday.

Lastly, she said her husband should still be here today.

“I don’t miss Garrett every day. I miss him every hour,” she said. “That’s all I have to say.”

The judge dismissed the jury at 10:55 pm.

On Monday, the jury found Huff, 36, guilty of capital murder for the death of Garrett Hull, an officer who was posthumously promoted to corporal after he was killed in September 2018. Huff did not shoot Hull, but according to prosecutors, was one of two accomplices in a robbery that preceded the shooting.

Timothy Huff testifies during sentencing on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Tim Curry Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth.
Timothy Huff testifies during sentencing on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Tim Curry Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth.

The trial entered the punishment phase Monday afternoon. Over the course of three days, defense and prosecuting attorneys called witnesses to testify about the impact of Hull’s death as well as Huff’s character, mental health history and background.

Before Huff’s testimony Wednesday morning, Judge George Gallagher ordered bailiffs to remove Huff’s shackles. Huff began testimony before the jury and courtroom — which was filled with Hull’s family and Fort Worth police colleagues as well as several of Huff’s family members — with a general apology about Hull’s death.

“I understand what it’s like to lose somebody. I lost somebody close to me recently too.” Huff said. “I hope the family can forgive.”

Huff was not aware that Hull was shot that night, Huff testified, and “didn’t intend for it to happen.”

Dacion Steptoe, one of Huff’s fellow robbers, was the one who fatally shot Hull, according to prosecutors. On the night of Sept. 13, 2018, authorities said, Steptoe, Samuel Mayfield and Huff robbed Los Vaqueros bar at gunpoint.

The criminal investigations unit, made up of Hull and several other officers, had been tracking the trio in multiple robberies across Fort Worth that were growing increasingly violent, according to testimony. As the unit trailed the robbers — dubbed “the Cantina Bandits” by law enforcement — Steptoe, Mayfield and Huff went into the bar and held the patrons at gunpoint, witnesses said.

When the robbers ran from the bar, Hull’s unit and teams of other responding officers began to track them throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Hull chased Steptoe through streets and yards until Steptoe ambushed Hull and shot him. Hull returned fire and another officer fatally shot Steptoe. Hull was rushed to the hospital, but he died the next day.

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.

“If I had the option, I would have changed it,” Huff testified Wednesday. “I didn’t have the option at the time because I didn’t know it was going to happen.”

By finding Huff guilty of capital murder, the jury has ruled that Huff legally was responsible for Hull’s death. Prosecuting attorneys argued Huff should have known someone was likely to be killed as the group committed violent robberies. The other defendant, Mayfield, is awaiting trial.

One of Huff’s defense attorneys, Patrick Curran, asked about Huff’s family life growing up. A juvenile probation officer previously testified about Huff’s childhood, which she said was chaotic and at times, violent.

Huff’s father was murdered, Huff said, when Huff was 9 years old. At Huff’s father’s funeral, Huff sneaked up to look into the casket and said the body was mangled and unrecognizable. The memory “stuck with me for a long time,” Huff said.

“I am not the type of person they made me seem to be,” Huff said. “I have a good heart.”

Prosecuting attorneys previously pushed back against the characterization of Huff as a victim of circumstances. When a clinical psychologist discussed Huff’s traumatic childhood and mental health conditions on Tuesday, prosecuting attorneys argued Huff had a history of manipulation and exaggerating traumatic events.

During cross-examination, the exchange between Huff and prosecuting attorney Timothy Rodgers was tense. Huff accused Rodgers of being manipulative and twisting Huff’s answers. At one point, Huff pointed in the direction of Rodgers and his attorneys — the exact person Huff indicated was not clear — and yelled at the jury.

“You want to talk about manipulation?” Huff yelled. “This man right here let me have all the jurors’ information, names, addresses, Social Security numbers.”

Huff then yelled out an address as Rodgers called an objection to Huff’s outburst and Gallagher told Huff to stop.

Huff also denied taking part in the 10 robberies the prosecuting attorneys discussed during the trial. According to testimony from Fort Worth police officers, Huff, Steptoe and Mayfield robbed a string of Hispanic-run businesses.

Huff admitted to robbing Los Vaqueros, but denied robbing any other locations. Multiple witnesses identified Huff as the person who robbed them, and surveillance footage distributed by police showed a person matching Huff’s description at at least one of the robberies.

Rodgers also questioned Huff about a medical incident that delayed the trial. According to Huff’s attorneys, Huff had swallowed razor blades and was taken to the hospital. Rodgers questioned Huff about the reason behind swallowing the blades — Rodgers said a mental health resource officer reported that Huff wanted to delay the trial and told her “I still have a lot of tricks up my sleeves.” Huff denied telling anyone this.

Sabrina Hull addresses the court after the sentencing verdict for Timothy Huff on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Tim Curry Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth.
Sabrina Hull addresses the court after the sentencing verdict for Timothy Huff on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Tim Curry Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth.

On Wednesday, defense attorneys also called five employees with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office to the stand to testify about Huff’s behavior in jail. The officers said Huff was respectful and well behaved.

Prosecuting attorneys pointed out Huff was in multiple fights while held in the Tarrant County Detention Center. In one fight in 2016, according to a report shown in court, Huff bit off part of a man’s ear.

Closing arguments in the sentencing phase began at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday before the case went to the jury.

The jury was asked to consider three questions to determine whether Huff should be put to death. The jury needed to answer if it is probable that Huff will continue to be a threat to society and whether Huff anticipated a life would be taken during the Los Vaqueros robbery. The third question focused on mitigating circumstances, meaning something in Huff’s background or character that impacted Huff’s moral accountability in the crime.

In closing arguments, all four attorneys focused on those questions. Huff’s defense attorneys emphasized Huff’s rough childhood and the fact that Huff was not the one who actually shot Hull.

Bill Harris said the fact that Huff surrendered to police after the shooting and laid down the gun shows Huff did not want anyone to be shot. Sentencing Huff to life without parole, Harris said, is not letting Huff off easy and is the right thing to do.

Attorney Patrick Curran touches Timothy Huff’s arm as the sentence is read in the trial Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Tim Curry Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth.
Attorney Patrick Curran touches Timothy Huff’s arm as the sentence is read in the trial Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Tim Curry Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth.

Patrick Curran, Huff’s other defense attorney, said Huff may be a psychopath, liar and manipulator, but does not deserve the death penalty.

“He’s messed up,” Curran said. “Don’t execute him for that. Let God decide when he dies.”

Rodgers and Lloyd Whelchel focused on Huff’s violent history, apparent lack of remorse and potential for future violence. Whelchel said he has actually prosecuted Huff before in 2013 for aggravated robbery, and Huff received a light sentence.

“We have given him every opportunity,” Whelchel said. “I did. Don’t do that.”

In the robberies the “Cantina Bandits” committed before Los Vaqueros bar, Rodgers said, the group victimized 64 people. If Huff is given life in prison instead of the death penalty, more people will be victimized, he said. He pointed out the numerous jail fights on Huff’s records and a history of assaults and said Huff “has wreaked havoc on this community.”

Rodgers also referenced the outburst that Huff had on the stand during testimony, saying that “(Huff) is losing control, he is going to lash out and do whatever he can to regain it.”

As his last piece of evidence, Rodgers played a “last call” dispatch that was made when Hull died. A “last call” dispatch is an end-of-watch message that honors an officer who has been killed. In the audio recording, a dispatcher read Hull’s name and badge number. Another voice said Hull’s watch had ended while “protecting the citizens of Fort Worth.”

“Garrett, we salute your sacrifice,” the audio said. “We honor your courage.”

As the audio played, many officers, family members and friends in the courtroom cried.

Timothy Huff is led out of the courtroom after the verdict Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Tim Curry Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth. Huff was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Timothy Huff is led out of the courtroom after the verdict Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Tim Curry Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth. Huff was sentenced to life in prison without parole.