Texas set to resume executions this week
The nation's busiest death chamber reopens this week after a nearly
9-month hiatus with the scheduled lethal injection of a former part-time
car-wash worker for killing a suburban Houston woman and her young son 17
The execution Tuesday of Derrick Sonnier, 40, would make him the fourth
prisoner put to death in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court in April
upheld lethal injection as a proper method of capital punishment but the
first in Texas since last Sept. 25. That's when convicted killer Michael
Richard was executed in Huntsville the same day the high court decided to
consider a challenge from 2 condemned inmates in Kentucky who contended
lethal injection was unconstitutionally cruel.
The Kentucky case effectively stalled all executions around the nation.
For Texas, where 405 convicted killers have received lethal injection
since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982, the
execution lull has been the lengthiest in 2 decades.
"I pretty much figured … it was just a delay," said convicted murderer
Karl Chamberlain, set to die a week after Sonnier for a slaying in Dallas
County. "So after they (the Supreme Court) made that ruling, I was
expecting a date any time."
"It's going to be a bloodbath with the state of Texas, like old day
lynchings," said Kevin Watts, who has an execution date of Oct. 16 for a
triple killing in San Antonio.
He and Sonnier are among at least 14 Texas inmates with execution dates as
Texas is poised to quickly reassume its notoriety as the country's most
active state in carrying out the death penalty. Of the 42 executions in
the United States last year, 26 were in Texas. The next busiest states
were Alabama and Oklahoma, each with 3.
Statistics kept by the Death Penalty Information Center list only 9 other
inmates from elsewhere in the nation with active execution dates. Sonnier
is the 1st of 3 Texas prisoners scheduled to be taken to the death chamber
over 14 days in June.
Sonnier, taken to court in Houston to hear a state district judge deliver
the news, declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his
The U.S. Supreme Court last October refused to review Sonnier's case and
his attorney had no plans to raise additional appeals.
"There's just not a lot to work with," lawyer Jani Maselli said. "It's
Sonnier, born in Sulphur, La., and raised in Houston, was condemned for
the slayings of a neighbor, Melody Flowers, 27, and her 2-year-old son,
Patrick, at their apartment in Humble, a northeast Houston suburb. Flowers
had been stabbed, beaten with a hammer until the tool's handle broke, and
strangled. Her child was stabbed 8 times. Both victims were found floating
in a bathtub.
Evidence showed he had been obsessed with the woman and had stalked her.
Witnesses testified how they repeatedly chased him away from her place
where he peered through her windows and even hid in her apartment.
Sonnier's defense was that someone else was responsible for the murders.
Neighbors pointed him out to police shortly after the bodies were
discovered. Flowers' blouse and a towel belonging to her were found in a
trash can in Sonnier's apartment and his DNA was identified on hair and
blood found in her apartment.
"To this day, it still hurts," Sebrina Flowers, 23, who was 7 when her
mother was killed, told the Houston Chronicle. She and an older sister and
younger brother returned from school to find their home a crime scene.
Sonnier initially was scheduled to die in February. His execution date,
however, was withdrawn by Harris County prosecutors because of the Supreme
Court's pending review of lethal injection procedures, subsequently upheld
by the justices in a 7-2 vote.
Chamberlain is set to die on June 11 for the rape-slaying of a Dallas
woman, Felicia Prechtl, at the apartment complex where they both lived.
Her death occurred in August 1991, 1 month before Sonnier's crime.
Chamberlain acknowledges the killing, blaming drugs and alcohol for his
Then the following week, Charles Hood is to die June 17 for a double
slaying in the Dallas suburb of Plano in 1989. He insists he is innocent
of the deaths of Ronald Williamson and Traci Lynn Wallace.
At least 3 executions already are on the Texas schedule for July, 4 more
for August, three for September and Watts in October.
Among the inmates with dates is Michael Rodriguez, who has ordered his
appeals dropped and is volunteering to die for his role in the murder of a
suburban Dallas police officer on Christmas Eve 2000. Rodriguez was one of
the infamous "Texas 7" convicts who escaped from a prison south of San
Antonio and were caught five weeks later in Colorado, but not before
fatally shooting Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins during the robbery
of a sporting goods store. His date is Aug. 14.
On the Net: Derrick Sonnier http://www.deathrow-usa.us/TXfriendsneeded.htm
Texas Department of Criminal Justice execution schedule
(source: Associated Press)
Feds won't seek inmates' executions—-5 reportedly became members of
Texas Syndicate gang in prison
The U.S. attorney general has declined to seek the death penalty against
five alleged Texas Syndicate prison gang members charged last year with
murders, armed robberies and drug trafficking.
Francisco Nuncio Jr., Roberto Garza, Rene Gonzales Jr., Johnny Perez Jr.
and Willie Valdez are accused of death-eligible offenses in an 11-count
indictment unsealed in February 2007.
They are among 17 purported gang members charged in a racketeering
conspiracy, followed by allegations of three murders and five armed
robberies along with marijuana and cocaine trafficking charges. Penalties
range from 10 years to life in prison and possibly death.
The decision comes a year after a Houston federal jury chose to punish
truck driver Tyrone Williams with a life sentence instead of death for his
conviction in the smuggling deaths of 19 undocumented immigrants. In 2004,
then-Attorney General John Ashcroft decided to seek the death penalty
against Williams, the only one among 14 defendants to face a capital case.
U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle, who oversees federal prosecutions in South
Texas, declined to comment on an "internal deliberative process" in the
Texas Syndicate matter.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they are pleased that the Justice
Department decided against the harshest potential punishment.
Richard Kuniansky, who represents Nuncio, the lead defendant, said the
case clearly did not warrant the death penalty.
"The defendants became members of the Texas Syndicate while in prison for
self-preservation," he said. "If you refuse to carry out an order, such as
a murder, you yourself will be murdered."
Ali Fazel, a Houston lawyer defending Gonzales, agreed that federal
prosecutors made the right decision.
"They would not be able to obtain the death penalty in this case," he
Cases that include death-eligible offenses are examined by a Justice
Department capital review committee. The process includes consulting with
the victim's family, a prosecution memo and documents provided by defense
Attorney General Michael Mukasey made the decision not to seek the death
penalty against the Texas Syndicate defendants. The complex case is set
for trial in May 2009.
The charges resulted from a five-year probe by federal, state and local
The Texas Syndicate originated in the California state prison system in
the 1970s to protect Texas inmates from attacks. The Hispanic gang soon
surfaced in Texas prisons.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, members are
primarily Mexican-American. Though the prison system tracks the number of
gang members, officials don't release estimates to the public because of
(source: Houston Chronicle)