February 2003 Executions
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Seven killers were executed in February 2003.  They had murdered at least 8 people.
Three
killers were given a stay in February 2003.  They have murdered at least 3 people.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 4, 2003 Texas Joyce Munguia, 18
unnamed victim
John Elliott executed

John Elliott was sentenced to death for raping a woman in Austin and then beating her to death with a motorcycle chain on June 13, 1986.  Police said after Joyce Munguia was gang-raped by Elliott and two accomplices, she was hit 16 times on the head and 8 times on the face with a chrome-plated chain under a freeway overpass.  Elliott had previously been in prison in 1982 for "intentional murder" for which he served only four months of an eight-year sentence.  He also was convicted in 1984 on an attempted burglary charge and was given 10 years probation.  Joyce Munguia was 18 years old, the mother of a one-year-old toddler. In the early evening of June 13, she was at a bus stop when some men she knew from the neighborhood called to her.  John Elliott, Ricky Elizondo and Robert Hanson were hanging out in the driveway, drinking beer. Joyce joined the men.  Over the next few hours they shared beer, liquor and cocaine, and she subsequently had sex with one of them. According to a witness, she later began crying, was disoriented and asked for help to walk home. Elliott followed her, then carried her under a railroad bridge where he and 2 other men raped her, according to testimony. When she announced she was going to the police, Elliott beat her with his belt made from a chain, one of the men there testified. His shoe prints were at the murder scene. By the time of Joyce's death three hours after she first joined the men, she had four times the legal limit of alcohol in her bloodstream.  The medical examiner also found traces of cocaine in her nostrils. She had been gang-raped and severely beaten with a motorcycle chain, then dumped beneath a nearby motorway overpass. The accomplices both testified against Elliott.  When Elliott began beating Joyce with the motorcycle chain, Hanson fled and called his sister, who later called the police.  The police found Joyce's body, then arrested the trio. Elizondo pled guilty to sexual assault and received a 10 year sentence. Joyce’s family in Austin is watching the case closely. "My sister's gone, but we're not,” said Lillian Munguia. “And what she can't fight for, we're going to fight for.” Elliott wrote the Munguia family a letter on Christmas Eve. "I have a mother and I see the pain in her eyes when she comes to visit me and I know how much more pain there must have been for you over the past years," Elliott said. But his written plea found no sympathy at the Munguia home. “The letter means nothing,” Lillian Munguia said. “He's being selfish again, talking about himself, how he sees the pain in his mother's eyes.” They believe justice will be served by Elliott’s execution – an event they admit they’re looking forward to watching. In 1982, Elliott went to prison for killing a man in a bar brawl. He was convicted again in 1984 of attempted burglary. But in an era when Texas prisons were overcrowded because of a space shortage, he was released under mandatory supervision after only 4 1/2 months of his 8-year sentence for murder, then received probation for the burglary. "If that happened today, what kind of firestorm would there have been in the media?" Juan Gonzalez, an Austin homicide sergeant in 1986 who investigated the slaying of Joyce Munguia, said Monday. "He had no business being out in society again, at least not so soon. It's terribly frustrating to me. The poor girl probably would still be alive if he had been in (prison) where he should have been...If you think execution is not a deterrent, this is a classic case. He was the main one, the ringleader," said Gonzalez, now a patrol commander in the Austin police department. Police found blood on his clothing matched Munguia's blood. His shoe prints were at the murder scene. The 2 other men, who insisted they did not take part in the slaying, pleaded guilty to rape charges. One received a 10-year prison term, the other 15 years. "He was cool, collected and had no remorse," Gonzalez said, recalling Elliott's arrest. "It didn't bother him. He knew what his rights were. He didn't even say anything....He wasn't going to say much at all. He'd been down the road before. He knew what to say and what not to say. "He didn't say: 'On no, I didn't do it.' He was just too cool."

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 5, 2003 Missouri Ronald Felts Kenneth Kenley executed

The Missouri Supreme Court has set a February 5th execution date for Kenneth Kenley, convicted of the January 1984 murder of Ronald Felts in Poplar Bluff during a two-day crime spree. On the night of January 3, 1984, Kenley robbed a Poplar Bluff store after threatening the sales clerk with a pistol. He abducted a female customer and tried to sexually assault her in his vehicle but she escaped. Kenley entered the former Blue Moon tavern, a Poplar Bluff bar later that night and announced a holdup. Without warning, he shot patron Ronald Felts in the head, killing him instantly. Felts had been playing pool with friends. The execution is scheduled for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Kenley, 42, has asked Gov. Bob Holden and the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce his sentence to life in prison. On Friday, the Missouri Supreme Court denied Kenley's request for a new hearing. His lawyers filed another round of appeals Monday with the U.S. District Court in St. Louis. Jackie and Marty Felts were asleep when their 27-year-old son was murdered during the robbery of a crowded tavern near Poplar Bluff, Mo., 19 years ago. Their surviving son banged on their door at 3 a.m. to break the news. "It was the hardest, most heart-wrenching thing I've ever had to do," said Sam Felts, now 44. "The whole thing tore up my parents. Dad died three years later, and we think the heartache contributed. Mom kept a scrapbook on the case all these years. She just wanted to know that the killer would be put to death." Jackie Felts, 68, had made plans to drive up from Poplar Bluff to witness the execution. But she died last week of a heart attack in her home. Since her death, Sam Felts has decided against going. That leaves Ronnie Felts' widow, who remarried, and their two grown children, who plan to stand outside a glass window of the death chamber and watch Kenley die. Said Sam Felts: "We just hope the governor doesn't pull a Ryan on us. For 19 years, it's all been about Kenneth Kenley. It will be a relief when it's finally over." Mark Kennedy, the former Butler County prosecutor who handled the case, said: "Mr. Kenley blames his dad, but he himself was a mean guy. He got the pistol and practiced with it, and he mapped out his plans pretty well. He tried to kill four people that night. "We had 20 witnesses to the murder. When you look at what Mr. Kenley did, and know that our society says the punishment should be death, then that's the way it is. The only thing I'd like to know is whether he has made peace with himself and his God." Kenley completed a four-year prison sentence for stealing two months before his brief but violent crime rampage on Jan. 3-4, 1984. Ronnie Felts finished his evening shift as a hospital X-ray technician and went to the former Blue Moon tavern, five miles south of town. He was playing pool with three friends when Kenley, then 23, burst through the front door shortly after midnight and ordered everyone onto the floor. As most of the patrons stared at him in shock, Kenley shouted, "I'll make an example of you," and fired his .38-caliber pistol at Felts, striking him in the head. Kenley then shot and wounded the bartender, and kidnapped the female owner of the Blue Moon. She escaped in the parking lot. An hour earlier, Kenley had robbed a convenience store in Poplar Bluff and kidnapped a customer. When he tried to force her to have sex, she jumped from the car. Kenley shot her in the back, but she survived. Shortly after killing Felts, Kenley tried to rob a motel, but his pistol didn't fire when he aimed at the owner's husband. Kenley was arrested later that morning in Corning, Ark., 30 miles south of Poplar Bluff, after firing into a grocery store ceiling and demanding a getaway car. Kenley was tried in Poplar Bluff and sentenced to death in June 1984. Seven years later, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ordered a new sentencing hearing for Kenley, ruling that his defense lawyer hadn't put up an adequate case after trial. In death penalty cases, juries determine guilt before hearing a second round of arguments on whether the sentence should be death, or life in prison. After a five-day resentencing hearing in Rolla, Mo., in 1994, Kenley was condemned again. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case in October, clearing the way for his execution. UPDATE: Kenneth Kenley, who murdered a pool player to show he meant business while robbing a crowded tavern 19 years ago, was executed by injection early today in the Potosi Correctional Center. Kenley met Tuesday with relatives. Two cousins, an uncle and an in-law were prepared to witness on his behalf. Phyllis Manns, who is Ronnie Felts' widow, and their children, Mark Van Meter and Melissa Felts, all of Poplar Bluff, were scheduled to witness from a nearby area for the victim's family. Regina Sanders, a step-aunt to Kenley, spoke to him by telephone Tuesday. "He said, 'If they're going to do it, they're going to do it,'" said Sanders, of Greenville, Texas. "I asked him why he did (the murder). He said, "I had a death wish.'"

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 6, 2003 Texas Nicholas West, 23 Henry Dunn executed

Convicted killer Henry Earl Dunn is scheduled to die for the 1993 murder of a Tyler man. Judge Diane Devasto set the execution date for February 6th. This is Dunn's 2nd execution date. Slated for death last May, the execution was stayed. Dunn admitted to taking part in the kidnapping of 23-year-old Nicholas West of Tyler, who was targeted because he was gay. On the evening of Nov. 30, 1993, Nicholas was kidnapped from a Montgomery Ward parking lot in Tyler, driven to a clay pit, robbed and shot at least 9 times. There were 2 other people charged with his murder. Donald Aldrich, who is also on death row, and David McMillan, who was given a life sentence for aggravated robbery and kidnapping. The murder was the culmination of a string of crimes of escalating violence and severity perpetrated by the trio of Dunn, Aldrich, and McMillan. The night Nicholas was abducted was bitterly cold. Dunn later confessed that he, Aldrich and McMillan decided to find and assault homosexuals at Bergfield Park in Tyler. Aldrich, McMillan and Dunn went to the park, which was known as a local meeting place for homosexuals. Upon arrival, Aldrich spotted a red Nissan truck that he recognized from a previous visit to the park. Aldrich approached the red truck, occupied by Nicholas, and posed as a homosexual in order to gain his attention. Nicholas invited Aldrich to join him and the two drove together to a nearby Montgomery Ward parking lot. Dunn and McMillan followed in another car. Once in the parking lot, Dunn, Aldrich and McMillan brandished weapons and forced Nicholas into the passenger seat of their car. While Aldrich drove the red Nissan truck, Dunn held a gun on Nicholas, and McMillan drove the car to a clay pit approximately 10 miles outside of Tyler. Once they arrived, Dunn, Aldrich and McMillan led Nicholas at gunpoint away from the road and into the clay pit. They began to push and taunt Nicholas as they continued toward the clay pit. Before marching him to the pit where he was murdered (which was located several hundred yards from the road), he was stripped of his clothes, but not his underwear. He had defecated in his underwear and the trio wanted to further humiliate him by making him wear his dirty underwear. Nicholas was then pistol-whipped. Blinded by the flow of blood from the gashes on his forehead and eyebrow, stripped of his shoes and clothes, he was then forced in the bitter cold to embark on his death march. If he fell, he was kicked, jeered, and taunted. When they reached the clearing where the clay pit was located, Dunn fired his pistol into the air. According to Dunn's videotaped confession, this act triggered a fusillade of gunfire from Aldrich and McMillan, and Nicholas was knocked face down into the mud. At the pit, the shooting began - methodically, slowly, intentionally - apparently to prolong his life and to prolong the suffering as long as possible. Dunn then walked toward Nicholas's body and fired at least four and as many as six shots into Nicholas. Dunn admitted that one of his shots probably struck Nicholas in the head. The first shots were to the hand. Then there were shots to the arms. These were followed by superficial shots to the torso. A shot to the abdomen, which the forensic expert testified was not the killing shot, would have left Nicholas in terrific pain. And then finally came the coup de grace, a shot to the back of the head. Nicholas was shot as many as 15 times. As Nicholas writhed on the ground and begged for the shooting to stop, Aldrich, McMillan and Dunn ran back to the road where the vehicles were parked. Aldrich drove Nicholas's truck and McMillan and Dunn fled in the car. Two days later, on December 2, a pair of dirt-bikers found Nicholas's body lying face-down in the clay pit. A day after the body was found, the authorities, acting on an informer's tip, arrested 29-year-old Donald Aldrich, 17-year-old David Ray McMillan and 19-year-old Henry Dunn, Jr. for the murder of Nicholas West. Dunn was arrested in possession of the red Nissan pickup. He gave a videotaped confession on December 3. Authorities in East Texas almost immediately classified the murder as a hate crime, noting that evidence obtained during suspect questioning made "it quite clear they targeted Mr. West because he was a homosexual." In fact, Donald Aldrich, the reported leader of the group, told authorities, "If you can walk into a 7-11 and rob a 7-11 for 15, 20 bucks, get your face on videotape, have somebody that's gonna call the police; or if you can go into a park, rob somebody that's out in the dark, come away with a hell of a lot more - because of the fact that they're homosexual and they don't want people to know it, they're not gonna go report it to the police. Who you gonna go rob? Where you're gonna get in the least amount of trouble." At trial, evidence showed that Dunn previously had assaulted a girl as they both exited a school bus. Dunn choked her and repeatedly struck her in the throat before the bus driver stopped the attack. Dunn then smashed the windows out of the bus door and attempted to follow the girl back onto the bus before the driver subdued him.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 12, 2003 Ohio Leslie Renae Keckler, 18 Richard Fox executed

The Wood county prosecuting attorney indicates that Richard Fox's execution date is set for February 12, 2003. According to the Wood county prosecuting attorney, Fox has exhausted all of his appeals. He will be executed unless governor Taft of a court intervenes. Fox was convicted in the 1990 kidnapping and murder of 18-year-old Leslie Keckler, a student at Bowling Green State University. Fox is scheduled to be executed Feb. 12 for the 1989 murder of a college student he had lured to a nonexistent job interview. When the victim, Leslie Keckler, rejected Fox's sexual advances and tried to get out of the car, Fox stabbed and strangled her, prosecutors said. Police were led to Fox when they remembered a similar incident involving a Bowling Green State University student who had escaped from a man who had lured her into his car under a similar pretext. The key evidence against Fox included bloodstains in his car and a knife, which prosecutors said was used to kill Leslie. In 1994 the U.S. Supreme court refused to hear the case. Attorneys for Fox argued Wood county prosecutors shouldn't have released a confession Fox gave to police shortly after his arrest. Prosecutor Alan Mayberry says frustration over the death penalty appeals process in cases such as Fox's, is what prompted Ohio voters to pass a state issue that sets a constitutional amendment on the number of appeals filed by the condemned. A 3 judge panel had sentenced Fox to die in the electric chair. Since that is no longer used, Fox will be executed by lethal injection.  UPDATE: Convicted murderer Richard E. Fox should find no mercy from Gov. Bob Taft, the Ohio Parole Board said. The board unanimously recommended that the governor reject Fox’s petition for clemency, allowing his execution to proceed as planned on Feb. 12. Fox was convicted in the Sept. 26, 1989, murder and kidnapping of Leslie Renae Keckler, an 18-year-old Owens Technical College freshman lured to a fraudulent job interview. "Only now at the midnight hour has Fox had any type of remorse and found God," said new Wood County Prosecutor Raymond Fischer. "He has had eight or nine different stories of what happened. Even a couple of parole board members said he was still glib in his statements to them just two weeks ago."  "His story has changed eight times since he first claimed an alibi," said Kim Norris, spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro. "He’s still blaming the victim, saying she didn’t realize it was a date when he stalked her and got her information off a job application," spokesman Norris added. "Clearly they were not," she said. "These women were duped into getting into a vehicle with him. They were not dates. His apologies continue to ring hollow." Jeff Sutton, one of Fox’s attorneys said, "It was fraud to be sure, but it was not designed to commit sexual assault, certainly not to commit murder." The daughter of Fox asked the Ohio Parole Board to recommend that Gov. Bob Taft spare the life of the man taken from her by police 13 years ago. "In killing him, you are doing exactly what he did - taking another life," said Jessica Fox, who was 6 at the time her father was arrested. "He has asked for forgiveness for what he has done," she said. "He is a changed man who would not even think about doing anything he has done in the past." However, the family of Leslie Renae Keckler, said the death-row inmate can expect no forgiveness from them. They asked the state to restore the victim’s dignity by carrying out Fox’s execution as scheduled on Feb. 12. Ms. Keckler’s family told the board Fox’s apologies are insincere and that he continues to partially blame her for what happened that night. "From the first time Fox saw Leslie, he thought of her as something less than a human being created by God," said her younger brother, Chad. "He thought of her as a toy, a toy that he could play with and manipulate to amuse him, and when his toy no longer pleased him, he destroyed her, then threw her away."Gov. Bob Taft rejected Richard E. Fox’s plea for mercy one week before the state is scheduled to put him to death for killing an 18-year-old college student 13 years ago. "There is no doubt that Mr. Fox is guilty of brutally murdering Leslie Keckler," said Mr. Taft. "The claims of error with respect to the imposition of the death sentence advanced by attorneys for Mr. Fox have been reviewed and rejected by state and federal courts. There are no discussions in this case that would indicate any manifest injustice," he said. "I find that the aggravating circumstances and brutality of Mr. Fox’s crime outweigh any mitigating factors he has presented. I can find no compelling reason to grant clemency." Fox, a Tontogany native, is scheduled to be executed at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution near Lucasville. He would be the sixth man executed since Ohio resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1999 and the first from northwest Ohio. He was convicted of aggravated murder and kidnapping for luring Leslie, a freshman at Owens Technical College, to an interview in Bowling Green on Sept. 26, 1989, for a nonexistent restaurant-supply sales job. He convinced her to get into his car under the pretext of showing her the sales route and drove to a rural area north of the city. When she rejected his advances, he stabbed her six times and strangled her. Fox’s attorneys have argued that the murder was out of character for Fox, that he had no criminal record prior to the killing, and has been a model prisoner while on death row. The state, however, presented Fox as a predator who started out sexually harassing young job applicants and progressed to fabricating job interviews to get women alone to fulfill a long-held rape fantasy. "The Ohio Adult Parole Board gave a complete review of the matter and rendered an 8-0 unanimous decision to recommend denying clemency to Fox," said Wood County Prosecutor Raymond Fischer. "Governor Taft indicated that he spent considerable time reviewing the entire record in Mr. Fox’s case. We believe that due process has been afforded to Mr. Fox and to the family of Leslie Keckler," Mr. Fischer said. Leslie’s father, Lester, and two brothers, Chad and Brad, are expected to witness the execution. Fox’s daughter, Jessica, 6 years old when her father was imprisoned 13 years ago, also plans to be there.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 13, 2003 Oklahoma Louise Schem, 77  Bobby Fields executed

Bobby Joe Fields pleaded guilty in 1994 to the 1983 murder of 77-year-old Louise Schem in Oklahoma County. Fields was burglarizing Schem's home for money to support his drug habit when she confronted him, prosecutors say. Fields shot her to death.  On March 1, 1993, Shirley Masterson, Bobby Joe Fields's girlfriend, invited Fields to party at her duplex. Masterson's Aid to Families with Dependent Children check had arrived and she planned on using the money to buy alcohol and cocaine. Shawanda and Yolanda Pittman, Masterson's grown daughters, and Dia Russell, Shawanda and Yolanda's friend, were partying with Masterson and Fields. The party continued the next day, March 2, 1993. Sometime around noon, Fields walked two doors down to Louise Schem's house ostensibly to ask if he could do yard work for her. She declined. In the mid- to late-afternoon, Fields went to the upstairs-half of Masterson's duplex to ask Albert Anuario if he wanted to buy a television and VCR for $70. Anuario, who had also been drinking, replied that he was interested but that he did not have enough money. Fields decided to steal Schem's television and sell it to buy more cocaine. When, around 5 p.m., he again walked down the block to carry out the robbery, he thought Schem was not at home. He opened the screen door, pushed open the front door, crossed the living room to the television (which was on), and reached to unplug it. At that moment, Schem entered the room carrying her .25 semi-automatic pistol. A struggle ensued as the two of them wrestled to control the gun. Despite the fact that, at the time, Fields was thirty years-old, 5' 7" tall, and weighed 140 pounds while Schem was elderly, 5' 4" tall, and 114 pounds, their struggle was protracted: it began in the living room, spilled out the front door and down the steps, and ended on the sidewalk in front of Schem's house. Robert Vallejo happened to be driving by and saw the final seconds of the altercation. He testified that he saw them struggling on the sidewalk, heard Schem cry "Help! Help!", heard a gunshot, and watched Schem fall to the sidewalk. The government's medical examiner testified that the bullet had a flat trajectory it entered the back, left-side of Schem's neck, beneath her left ear, passed through her spinal cord and the back of her mouth, and exited her mouth, fracturing two of her incisor teeth. The gunpowder residue on the back of her neck indicated that the shot was fired from six to twelve inches. Vallejo drove away a short distance, made a U-turn, and returned to the scene. Fields had fled, but he returned to Masterson's house thirty to forty minutes later. As he walked in Masterson's back door, the pistol went off. Dia Russell testified that Fields looked hysterical he was talking fast and breathing heavily. Perhaps half an hour after returning to Masterson's house, he went upstairs and sold the gun to Anuario for $40. Shortly after the police and medical personnel started arriving at Schem's house, Russell took Masterson and Fields to Fields's sister's house. Russell testified that during the drive Fields said that "he didn't have any kind of remorse or guilt" and "he wouldn't lose any sleep" because "white people deserve what they got." (Fields is black; Schem was white.) In addition, she testified that later, while they were watching a news story of how the police had arrested a different black man for the murder, he said that he was "relieved" that he might not get caught and that "he had thought about being on the television show America's Most Wanted."  Two days after the murder, on March 4, 1993, Fields was arrested and interrogated. He told the police that, thinking Schem was not home, he went to her house to steal her television. When she surprised him with a gun, he jumped at her in self-defense, and they wrestled over the weapon. The struggle spilled out onto the sidewalk, where he pulled the gun from her hands. As he did so, it went off accidentally, killing her.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 18, 2003 Texas James Benton Atkinson, Jr., 45  Gregory Van Alstyne stayed

Gregory Van Alstyne was convicted of the April 17, 1990 robbery and murder of 45-year-old James Benton Atkinson, Jr.  James was a delivery man for a Pizza Hut restaurant in Amarillo.  James had been dispatched to deliver a pizza order and never returned.  Van Alstyne later confessed that he and co-defendant Ricky Dale Allen stabbed and beat James to death when he arrived at the residence with the pizza.  They robbed him of the money he was carrying, less than $20.  The killers then drove the victim's vehicle to a remote area and dumped his body.  Van Alstyne was arrested after he bragged about the murder.  Van Alstyne had a prior conviction for robbery, for which he had served less than one year of a five year sentence.  He was released on parole seven days before murdering James.  Allen received a life sentence for the murder. UPDATE: A Texas death row inmate scheduled to die next week won a reprieve from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Gregory Van Alstyne, 37, was condemned for the April 1990 robbery and fatal stabbing and beating of James Atkinson Jr., a pizza delivery man in Amarillo. The appeals court halted the lethal injection set for next Tuesday and returned the case to the trial court in Potter County for review. At the time of the April 17, 1990, slaying, Van Alstyne had been on parole seven days after serving about 11 months of a five-year term for robbery. Atkinson, 45, was robbed of $16. Van Alstyne claims another man killed him.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 25, 2003 Texas Jeanette Williams, 48 Richard Williams executed

Richard Williams was convicted of the contract murder of 48-year-old Jeanette Williams, who was in a wheelchair and is no relation. For $400, Richard Williams cut her throat and stabbed her repeatedly with an 8-inch steak knife and left her body in the middle of a southeast Houston street on March 24, 1997. The married couple who arranged the killing, Bruce and Michelle Gilmore, received life sentences. Williams, 33, is seeking to have his execution delayed on the grounds that he may be mentally retarded, a defense made possible last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally retarded is cruel and unusual punishment. A victims advocate called mental retardation the "brass ring" for death row defendants. At least seven Texas death row inmates have had their executions postponed on the grounds that they may be mentally retarded. The latest was Gregory Van Alstyne, who was scheduled to be executed last Tuesday. Several more appeals on the grounds of mental retardation are pending. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has not yet ruled on Williams' claim. "I'm trying to get off death row," Williams said. "I've got a life to live." A Harris County jury in 1997 convicted Williams of murdering 44-year-old Jeanette Williams, no relation. Richard Williams turned himself in after his brothers told him police were looking for him. He confessed to the contract killing, then pleaded not guilty at trial. In the confession, Williams said Bruce and Michelle Gilmore offered him $12,000 to kill Jeanette Williams, their friend. They wanted to collect on the $25,000 life insurance policy they had taken out on the woman. The Gilmores are serving life sentences for their role in the crime. A crack addict who had been paralyzed for two decades, Jeanette Williams had lived with the Gilmores on and off for about six years, even moving with them among Houston, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Richard Williams had been out of prison for less than a month when he met the trio. He had served 10 years for a crime spree that included two burglaries, arson and aggravated sexual assault, all committed when he was 17 years old. Williams was staying with his friend Jerrol Blueford when the Gilmores and Jeanette Williams came over for a visit, according to trial testimony. Bruce Gilmore took Richard Williams outside to solicit his help in the murder. Williams confessed to police that he agreed to the crime then. The three co-defendants hashed out the details and price over several subsequent conversations during a couple of drug-filled days, according to the confession and trial testimony. Jeanette Williams often sat in the next room as the other three discussed her murder. Williams said he and the victim even slept in the same bed one night. After his arrest, Williams calmly told police that he talked the Gilmores out of two of their plans for killing Jeanette Williams, including shooting her -- he said the gun would be too loud -- and taking her out of state for the murder. He worried they would be more readily connected with her if they traveled. "I said, `Look, Michelle, let me do my work. Have my money for me and that will be the end of it,' " Williams told police afterward. " `Once I take care of my business, if y'all ain't got my money, then it might be one of y'all being dead, because I don't play about my money.' " He said last week that he was "high and drunk" when he went to the police. Williams opted for killing the victim with a 9-inch steak knife supplied by the Gilmores. The four went on a crack-buying expedition in central Houston on March 24, 1997. Michelle Gilmore wheeled Jeanette Williams down the street in her wheelchair. Richard Williams grabbed the victim's forehead from behind, slit her throat and, after she fell from her wheelchair, stabbed her 13 times. During the killing, the Gilmores drove to Blueford's house.  They told him that Williams was crazy, and that Williams had murdered Jeanette. They left $400 and told him not to tell Williams where they had gone. Williams walked back to Blueford's house and learned the Gilmores had cheated him out of most of the payment. "When they come back in Texas, I'm going to bury them," he told police.  During his trial, Williams' attorneys raised the issue of his intelligence, calling several witnesses who said he should undergo neurological testing. But when the prosecutor asked Dee Dee Halpin, an educational diagnostician testifying for the defense, if Williams was mentally retarded, she said, "No." She testified that he scored a 93 on an IQ test when was 6. A bill before the Texas Legislature, which is trying to make the state's death penalty law agree with last year's Supreme Court decision, would classify defendants with an IQ of 70 or below as mentally retarded. Williams said last week he believes he is mentally retarded. His attorney, James Keegan, did not return calls seeking comment. Prosecutor Lynn Hardaway, who is handling Williams' appeal, disputed the claim, saying Williams has average to low-average intelligence. Noting the number of condemned men who have claimed mental retardation since the Supreme Court began considering the issue, Dianne Clements, president of the victims advocacy group Justice For All, said it has become a "brass ring" for those on death row. "He and his attorney will grab at whatever straw is available," she said. But Jim Marcus, executive director of Texas Defender Service, said the issue of whether Williams is mentally retarded needs to be examined and that the answer could shift more culpability to his co-defendants. "One of the traits of mentally retarded people is that they're very easily led ... or persuaded by others," Marcus said. "It could be that he's an extremely limited and vulnerable individual." But Williams acts tough, boasting that his gang might kill Blueford for testifying against him. "I am a gang member and a gang leader," he said, adding that he was in the West Side Crips and his street name is Panama. "This dude is in fear (for) his life every day." Later in the interview, Williams said he told the Crips not to kill Blueford so he would not be blamed for Blueford's death. "He might turn up dead in a few years," Williams said, "but I won't have anything to do with it." UPDATE: Richard Head Williams was contrite and took responsibility for his crimes in a final statement seconds before the lethal drugs began flowing into his arms. "I'd like to apologize for all the pain I've caused," he said. Looking at 3 brothers of his victim, "I'm sorry I caused what happened to your sister. I apologize." He expressed love to his family and while acknowledging he made mistakes said, "I was not a monster like they claimed I was. I made a mistake and this mistake cost - but they won't cost no more." However, in an interview earlier this month, Williams said he never saw or knew the victim, Jeanette Williams, 44, and that his criminal past earned him the trip to death row. "The way I look at it, the whole trial was rehearsed," he said then. "They used everything I did in my life against me. It had nothing to do with my case, but that's the way the system is designed, to get railroaded. I'm just a dumb black man with no money, caught in the system." Vanessa Velasquez, the Harris County district attorney who prosecuted Williams asked, "Then why did he give that confession? I had hoped he would reconcile with his own guilt. That's unfortunate. I think he was a cold-blooded killer. He slit a woman's throat who couldn't walk, was a paraplegic, from ear to ear, on a dark street," Velasquez said. "She fell out of the chair but that wasn't enough. He had to continue stabbing her. She was found laying in the road like a wounded dead animal, with her wheelchair thrown to the side." Williams contended, "I ain't did nothing to nobody," insisting he was in Louisiana at the time of the slaying, never received any money for the killing and "didn't know no Gilmores. The whole thing is a setup," he said, also blaming his earlier incarcerations for "being at the wrong place at the wrong time. There were cases I had nothing to do with, but I'm not a snitch," he said. "I wasn't going to rat on anyone." While in prison with a 10-year term for sexual assault, burglary and arson, records showed he had more than 100 disciplinary violations, including assaults and threats on corrections officers. He was discharged Feb. 28, 1997. Jeanette Williams was killed 24 days later.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 26, 2003 Texas Jeff Wetterman, 27 Michael Johnson stayed

On May 8, 1996, Michael Dewayne Johnson was sentenced to death for the capital murder of Jeff Wetterman, which occurred in Lorena, Texas, on Sept. 10, 1995. Around Sept. 9, 1995, David Vest went to Michael Johnson's house. While at the house, Vest saw a 9 mm gun sitting on a table. After Vest returned home, some friends came by in a stolen Cadillac. Vest drove the Cadillac for a while, letting off each passenger in turn until only he was left in the vehicle. Vest next began heading for his home when he pulled into a parking lot and noticed Johnson talking on a public telephone. Vest motioned for Johnson to get into the car, and the two drove around for a while. They subsequently went back to Johnson's house, and Johnson briefly went inside. Johnson returned to the stolen Cadillac with the 9 mm gun tucked in his waistband. After one more stop, Vest and Johnson headed to the coast. Around Waco, Vest and Johnson were getting low on gas and decided to "make a gas run." "Making a gas run" was another way of saying they were going to steal some gas by stopping, jumping out and pumping the gas, and then taking off. After switching positions so that Johnson was driving, they approached two different stations, but decided the circumstances were unfavorable at both. Around 7:00 a.m. on September 10, they drove to a convenience store/gas station and Vest jumped out and started pumping gasoline. As he was doing so, Jeff Wetterman, who had been married just three weeks earlier, came outside and began talking to Vest. It was the policy of the store to provide full-service to all gasoline customers. Johnson then got out of the car and walked to the rear of the vehicle. Vest asked Johnson whether he had the gun on him and Johnson lifted his shirt to reveal the weapon. As Vest returned the gas nozzle to the pump after filling the tank with $24 worth of gas, he heard a shot and saw Wetterman fall. Jeff was shot in the face, the bullet severing his spinal cord. Vest and Johnson got back into the car and sped away. Johnson and Vest then drove to Corpus Christi and on home to Dallas. Along the way, Johnson sold the gun to a truck driver for $35 for gas, drinks and cigarettes. The day following the murder, Vest saw an account of the murder on TV and told his mother what had happened. They were both arrested in Dallas three days after the murder. Officers who arrived on the scene after the murder, talked to Wetterman's co-worker, Lois Bean, who testified that Wetterman had gone to the pumps to tend to a customer when Bean heard a noise that sounded like a shot. When she looked toward the pumps, she saw Wetterman sitting on the ground and saw a blond-haired man standing by the passenger door of what she later identified to be a Cadillac. Bean then saw the man get in the passenger side of the vehicle and the two drove off. After the crime, Johnson was with a friend at Vest's house when Johnson told the friend that they had pulled into a station to get gas when an attendant came out. Johnson said that he shot Wetterman in the face after he thought Vest had said "shoot." Although Johnson argued at trial that he had an alibi and was at home at the time of the offense, he admitted to a psychologist who examined him after he was convicted that he was in fact at the gas station when the murder occurred.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 26, 2003 Florida Natalie "Tillie" Brady, 68 Amos King executed

Amos King, was sentenced to be executed for the murder of Natalie "Tillie" Brady, 68, who was raped, stabbed and beaten in her Tarpon Springs home in 1977. Natalie Brady, known to many as "Tillie", came from an old Tarpon Springs family. She was described as a well-liked Christian woman, a widow who lived alone in a one-story house at the end of Brady Road. In March of 1977, Amos King was an inmate at Tarpon Springs Community Correctional Center, a minimum security work-release facility, where he was serving a sentence for larceny of a firearm. On March 17 he worked at a Clearwater restaurant from 5:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. the following morning. An inmate van picked him up at around 1:30 a.m., and he checked back into the facility at approximately 2:35 a.m. At about 3:40 a.m., the prison counselor, James McDonough, discovered King missing during a routine bed check. McDonough found King outside the building with blood on his pants. After McDonough escorted King back into the facility, a fight broke out between the two in which King repeatedly stabbed McDonough with a knife. King then fled the facility. Police rushing to help McDonough, who was found to have been stabbed more than 25 times, spotted a blaze at Brady's home. Firefighters found her body in a doorway where she had crawled to escape the flames. She had been raped, stabbed and beaten. King admits he almost killed work release guard James "Dan" McDonough, who lived to tell of discovering King trying to sneak back into the center about the time Brady was killed. But King denies killing Brady and alleges evidence was planted to convict a black man for the murder of an elderly white woman. She had received two stab wounds, bruises over the chin, and burns on the leg. An autopsy revealed other injuries, which included bruises on the back of the head, hemorrhaging of the brain, hemorrhaging of the neck, and broken cartilage in the neck. There was a ragged tear of the vagina which apparently had been caused by blood-stained wooden knitting needles found at the scene. There was also evidence of forced sexual intercourse. Arson investigators concluded the fire had been set intentionally sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Tillie's home was just 1,500 feet away from the work release facility. The government presented strong circumstantial evidence of King's guilt on the murder charge. Joan Wood, the medical examiner who performed an autopsy on the deceased, for example, testified that King's blood type was present in the victim's vaginal washings. Woods stated that if Tillie's assailant had raped her with his pants on after causing the tear to the wall of her vagina, blood would have been present on the clothing, as McDonough had found on the crotch area of King's pants. She testified the paring knife used by King to assault McDonough was "consistent" with the wounds found on Tillie, but she admitted she could not say this knife caused the wound. A knife salesman testified that the paring knife was manufactured by the same company and was similar in design to other kitchen knives found in Tillie's house. An old friend of the deceased testified that the paring knife resembled one Tillie kept in her house. The relatives of Tillie Brady say they would rather not hear King's name ever again. Eva Lysek, one of Tillie's sisters, doesn't care whether King lives or dies. "I just do not want them to let him out," said Ms. Lysek, who lives in Pinellas County and still regularly puts flowers on her sister's grave on holidays. "All I can say is, I do not have a sister. I have not had a sister for 25 years." King had been scheduled for execution in January, July and December in 2002, but received a stay both times.  At the time of the January stay, a victim's advocate said the family was disappointed and discouraged. "Their opinion is it's just a joke now," said Wendy Hallowell, who spoke with Tillie's niece. King had previous execution dates in 1981 and 1988.  When Marie Williams heard that the death warrant for her sister's killer had been reactivated in June of 2002, she knew what was coming: a new round of frustrations. "It's just bringing back old memories all the time. It's been 25 years," said Mrs. Williams, who lives in St. Petersburg. "It's just another one of those things that he'll get another appeal. That's what happened the last three times." "It's about time," said Abe Tarapani, summing up the feeling of many Tarpon Springs residents who are outraged at the delay. Despite the passage of time, for many family and friends of Mrs. Brady, the pain is still fresh, the venom still strong. "This man needs to burn to a crisp for what he did to her," said former Tarpon Springs Mayor Anita Protos. "It's been too long in coming. He should not have been shown any mercy to last this long." Blaine LeCouris, who was the Tarpon Springs police chief in 1977, said the murder made for a very trying chapter in Tarpon Springs history. LeCouris, a proponent of the work release program, said many residents opposed the location of the minimum security corrections facility, where inmates work during the day outside the facility and return at night. "We need these facilities, but no one wants them near them," LeCouris said. "In counties as close as Pinellas County, there's nowhere you can put them where they aren't around someone." Tillie's murder reignited the debate. LeCouris, father of current police chief Mark LeCouris, said that Mrs. Brady was well-known in the Tarpon community. "She was a good friend of mine," LeCouris said. "She was like a mother to a bunch of us. A better woman never lived. She was just a kind woman." Tempers ran high after King's arrest, he said. "We almost would've killed him ourselves if we could've got ahold of him," LeCouris said. "He took the life of a sweet, innocent lady." Elizabeth Palmer of Tarpon Springs, a friend of Tillie's, said the length of the appeals angers her.  "This was a cut-and-dry case," Palmer said. "This should have been done two days after they caught him. It's hideous what he did to that lady. And (the execution) is way past due. It doesn't seem fair sometimes. I will never understand it." The scars in Tarpon Springs may never heal, she said. "It was an absolute shock that something like this could happen," Palmer said. "I go back to the day before this happened and think how peaceful it was," LeCouris said. "Here was a hardworking woman who lived alone, and he killed her." *UPDATE - 12/02: Amos King, who escaped 2 other dates with death this year, escaped a 3rd time Monday when Gov. Jeb Bush granted a 30-day stay so DNA tests can be run. King was due to be executed at 6 p.m. by lethal injection when he won the stay after lawyer Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project met with the governor's death penalty attorney earlier Monday. King, 48, was condemned for raping and murdering Natalie Brady, 68, in her Tarpon Springs home in 1977 and setting the place ablaze after slipping away from a work-release prison. He was caught, in bloody clothing, trying to slip back in. Bush issued the stay due to new DNA techniques that were not available at the time of King's conviction in 1977. In a statement, Bush said Scheck "informed my legal office of the existence of previously untested evidence and further DNA testing that could possibly exonerate Amos King. It is wholly appropriate that we delay the execution until we can determine that all potentially useful DNA testing has been completed," Bush said. Scheck said he was "gratified and very pleased" - but not surprised after his meeting with Wendy Berger, the governor's death penalty lawyer. "I had confidence that Gov. Bush would do this," Scheck said, adding that the test results are "just the kind of thing you don't want to leave any chance to." King's lawyers called The Innocence Project for help about 10 days ago. They want to test 3 pubic hairs and scrapings from under Brady's fingernails. The execution was rescheduled for Jan 8. King had spent his final day with his religious adviser, Casey Walpole, a Gainesville Buddhist. King's jury had voted unanimously to recommend that he receive the death penalty. An autopsy determined that his victim had two stab wounds, bruises on the
back of her head, bleeding of the brain and neck, a broken cartilage in her neck and a tear in her vagina. King had received stays of execution in February and July from the U.S. and Florida supreme courts. They had debated whether Florida's death penalty law is similar to Arizona's, which was declared unconstitutional by the nation's high court.
 UPDATE: A third round of DNA tests failed to provide any proof of innocence or guilt for death row inmate Amos King, scheduled to die later this month for the 1977 killing of a Tarpon Springs woman. A judge allowed a third series of tests on the nightgown Natalie Brady wore when she was raped and murdered in her home. A pair of wooden knitting needles presumably used in the attack were also tested. King has maintained his innocence, but with the newest test results not proving it, he remains scheduled to be executed Feb. 26. Earlier testing by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on the nightgown and needles turned up no biological material from an attacker and earlier tests also proved inconclusive. "They haven't found anything in 26 years,'' said Brady's niece, Monica Watson. "They'll never find anything.'' Monica planned to attend the execution but had prepared for disappointment after enduring years of delays and stays. "Why did she have to die and somebody who was never productive got to live all these years?" she said. "This is hanging over our heads. You hate to be wishing someone is going to die. It's just that finally, someone is going to be held accountable." Watson said she is tired of hearing how King might be an innocent man. She said the family is unhappy that King has Web sites devoted to his cause that make scant mention of how her aunt was brutalized in her final moments. "She was one of those people you just wanted to be like," Watson said. "If it is over tomorrow, we will just feel like she can rest in peace. ... I just hope that he can ask for forgiveness and go quietly."

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
February 28, 2003 North Carolina Herman Smith Jr. Ernest Hartman stayed

A judge stopped the pending execution of a convicted murderer while the state Supreme Court considers another case raising the same legal issue. Northampton County Superior Court Judge Cy Grant issued the execution stay for Edward Ernest Hartman, 38, who was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at Central Prison in Raleigh on Feb. 28. Hartman's attorneys had raised an issue being considered in the case of fellow death-row inmate Henry Lee Hunt: whether murder indictments must include the "aggravating circumstances" that elevate 1st-degree murder to a capital offense, making the killer eligible for the death penalty. Hunt's attorneys will argue the issue at the state Supreme Court in April. The outcome could affect all 202 inmates on North Carolina's death row, none of whose indictments included aggravators, according to the state Attorney General's Office. The Attorney General's Office will not appeal Hartman's stay, spokesman John Bason said. Hartman's guilt is not in question. He confessed to the June 1993 killing and robbery of Herman Smith Jr., for which he was convicted of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1994. He also was sentenced to 40 years in prison for armed robbery. Hartman told authorities he drank 16 cans of beer before firing a pistol at close range into Smith's head while Smith watched television in a recliner chair in the home they shared. Hartman told a friend that the elderly Smith was wealthy and carried thousands of dollars in his pocket, according to court records. Hartman took Smith's car and left his body in the chair. Five days later, after taking several trips in the car, Hartman said he was bothered by the smell of decay and dragged Smith's body to a stable and buried it. Hartman's trial lawyers presented evidence that he had psychiatric problems including depression, anxiety, and a history of alcohol abuse.

 

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