In a dramatic turn during the capital murder trial of Eric Cornelius Norris Jr., the defendant changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences for the murder of Donald Leonetti.
Norris was on trial for the murder of Leonetti and the aggravated robbery and aggravated assault of Charles Olson. The 28-year-old Houston man was charged with the crimes after hijacking a private poker game over four years ago. He was sentenced Oct. 10.
According to Assistant District Attorney Thomas Pfeiffer, Stafford police officers were dispatched to a business on Greenbriar Drive the evening of July 17, 2014, in reference to a robbery and a shooting that had just occurred. Responding officers found two men who had both suffered apparent gunshot wounds to the head. Charles Olson was conscious; but the second man, Leonetti, was deceased.
Several witnesses reported that the men had gathered at the location for an invitation-only poker game when two masked gunmen entered the building and demanded money. Leonetti, in heroic display, attempted to subdue one of the armed suspects only to be shot by the second intruder. Both suspects fled the location after grabbing what property and cash they could.
Norris’s family members later discovered that he possessed some of the victims’ personal identifiers and property when he attempted to burn the items at a relative’s home. The family retrieved those items and contacted the Stafford Police Department. An arrest warrant was subsequently issued and Norris was arrested on July 31, 2014.
The trial, originally scheduled for 2016, was delayed because the presiding judge suppressed the defendant’s confession after a pre-trial hearing. The State appealed that decision. The Court of Appeals sided with the State, and overturned the judge’s decision, which allowed the statement into evidence at trial.
“Today is a good day for law enforcement,” prosecutor Thomas L. Pfeiffer said. “The case ended well because of the hard work that was done by the Stafford Police Department. Fort Bend County and surrounding communities should be proud of their local law enforcement agencies.”
Norris was prosecuted in the 268th District Court before Presiding Judge Brady Elliott. All three charges in this case were punishable as first-degree felonies, ranging from five to 99 years or life in prison and a fine up to $10,000 each. Norris will not be eligible for parole until he has served at least 30 years of his sentences. The plea agreement was reached between the State and defense, in agreement with the victims’ families. Assistant district attorneys Pfeiffer and Matthew Banister prosecuted the case.