Records mistake partly to blame for murder

March 20, 2010 7:39:30 AM PDT
A man sent to death row for the stabbing death of an Austin woman could have been in prison when the crime occurred if officials had revoked his parole after a separate assault conviction. Parole officials say they didn't know Milton Dwayne Gobert was convicted of punching his ex-girlfriend in 2002 and never considered revoking his parole.

Had Gobert's parole been revoked on a 1994 burglary conviction, he could have been in prison in 2003 when another woman, Kernena Cotton, was stabbed 107 times in her apartment. Gobert was sentenced to death last week for killing Cotton.

The missed opportunity to lock up Gobert happened because the Travis County Sheriff's office didn't notify the Texas Department of Public Safety of the assault arrest. DPS would have notified Gobert's parole officials.

Sheriff's spokesman Roger Wade said the office had computer software problems in the early 2000s that prevented the information from being automatically transferred electronically. Instead, county officials were sending by mail or hand delivering criminal record paperwork to state officials.

For some reason, it didn't happen with Gobert's arrest and conviction on the assault case, Wade said. The computer problems have since been fixed, Wade said.

Sparkle Smith, Cotton's niece, said that if parole officials had known about the assault and sent Gobert back to prison, "it would have made a big difference."

Gobert was sentenced to jail for the assault. While he was incarcerated, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles considered revoking Gobert on a separate disorderly conduct charge. DPS spokesman Jason Clark said the board agreed to continue Gobert's parole but didn't know about the assault on the ex-girlfriend.

But Wade said jail officials send parole officials an offender's jail file and that should have noted he was serving time for assault. A recent review of Gobert's file didn't include that information, Clark said.

Gobert's trial revealed an extensive history of violence against women. Two former girlfriends said Gobert beat them. Prosecutors said he was angry at Cotton for helping one of them move to escape him.

"To say that he wouldn't have committed a murder if they had (revoked) his parole is kind of crazy at this point," Wade said.