The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday dismissed several of Pierce's claims, but agreed to take oral arguments on his claims that challenged the credibility of a psychologist whom prosecutors called as an expert at Pierce's trial. The court also agreed to consider claims his trial lawyer was deficient for failing to investigate and present evidence that Pierce was mentally impaired, had been abused as a child and suffered from an impoverished upbringing.
The New Orleans-based court said it would hear arguments on whether that mitigating evidence was improperly withheld from jurors who decided Pierce should be put to death.
Besides his capital murder conviction, Pierce has been convicted of manslaughter for fatally stabbing a fellow death row inmate in 1979.
Arguments before the court are set for February.
"I'm interpreting this as a very good deal for him," Paul Mansur, one of Pierce's lawyers in recent years, said Tuesday.
According to court files, this latest appeal was initiated by Pierce in May 2007 in a four-page handwritten letter and motion to the federal district court in Houston. In the letter, Pierce asked that he be allowed to argue "a verbal motion regarding seriously neglected claims."
Pierce accused the court of "a conspired effort ... being made by various members of this judiciary thereby raising serious doubts as to sincerity regarding my welfare in this case." He said that left him "no choice but to seek my own representation."
"He's complained a whole lot about different aspects of the case," Mansur said.
Pierce has been tried three times for the Aug. 4, 1977 robbery that netted him about $80 and left Johnson dead of a gunshot wound.
An employee at the fast-food restaurant testified she recognized Pierce as the gunman. A 12-year-old boy walking by the restaurant testified Pierce was the gunman he saw inside the place and then running away.
A Texas Department of Criminal Justice summary of his case indicates that after the shooting, Pierce went to a bar and stabbed a man and that he was arrested in front of his apartment a few hours later while bragging about the attacks to friends.
The conviction from Pierce's first trial was thrown out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because of a jury selection problem. A similar jury problem got his second trial result tossed on appeal. He was tried a third time in 1986.
Prison records show the victim in the August 1979 death row killing was Edward King, 37, who had been condemned for the slaying of a Dallas police officer. Pierce was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for stabbing King once in the chest.