death penalty news—–TEXAS

Sept. 7

TEXAS—-2 females face death penalty

Pasadena mom, daughter charged with capital murder

2 teenagers, under orders from a woman to get money, fatally stabbed a
75-year-old bar owner outside his Pasadena home earlier this week, using
knives she gave them, police said.

As the teens stabbed bar owner Eugene Palma to death, then rummaged
through his pockets and his car, the mother of one of them, Dannette R.
Gillespie, waited in the back seat of the trio's car, according to court

The pair brought her $15.

Gillespie, 38, of Pasadena; her 15-year-old daughter, who is not being
identified because she is a juvenile; and 19-year-old Vanessa Anne Ocampo
of Houston were charged Friday with capital murder in Palma's death.

Ocampo told police the 3 were looking for someone to rob early Wednesday,
according to a probable cause warrant. They went to Gene's Better Times
bar on Spencer Highway and followed Palma, who was driving his Cadillac
convertible to his home a few miles away. Pasadena police said the three
did not know the bar owner.

Ocampo told police Gillespie handed each teen a knife and encouraged them
to rob Palma, the document states. The teens got out of the car, ran up to
Palma's garage and stabbed him several times. He was found lying face down
and dead about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday on the driveway of his home.

Gene's Better Times bartender Kim Nawrot said the death was senseless.

"He would've given them money that's the crazy thing," Nawrot said. "He
was the kind of guy that would've given anyone the shirt off of his back."

Nawrot last saw her boss early Wednesday, about 1:30 or 1:45 a.m. Neither
Nawrot nor others interviewed at the bar on Friday said they had seen the
3 females that night.

A friendly person

Palma went dancing, a regular Tuesday night activity, and then stopped by
the business he opened in October 2005.

Nawrot started working for him the day he opened.

"He didn't have customers, he had friends. And he didn't have employees;
he considered us family," she said.

She received a call from a patron Wednesday morning, telling her that "Big
Gene the Dancing Machine" had been found fatally stabbed in the driveway
of his neat one-story home with a blooming hibiscus in the front

"And I raced over there and saw the crime scene tape, saw all of the
police in front of his home," Nawrot said.

Everything since then, she said, has been a blur.

"I really thought I would feel better, knowing that someone had been
caught. But I don't. The thought that someone would kill someone so
awesome for money sickens me," said Nawrot, tears flowing down her cheeks.

Friday evening, she placed a glass of water in front of the seat at the
end of the bar where Palma always sat. Cranberry juice was once his drink
of choice, but after gaining a few pounds he switched to water, Nawrot

Palma also loved to gamble, and frequently planned casino trips for his

A group was scheduled to go Sunday, to celebrate Nawrot's birthday.

"Not anymore. No one is in the mood to celebrate anything," she said.

Flowers, candles and tributes lined the outside of the bar at 5923 Spencer
Highway on Friday night.

Pamela Burden arrived with a plant in honor of Palma, her dance partner.

"He and I would dance to the oldies. He would spin me around, say 'Hello
darlin'," she recalled.

While patrons of Gene's Better Times mourned the loss of the owner,
Pasadena police citizen volunteers scoured the overgrown ditches along
Federal between Spencer Highway and Vista, looking for the knives the used
in the attack.

Gillespie and her daughter lived in the Spencer Square Apartments, less
than a mile from Palma's home. How Ocampo knew them could not be
determined Friday. Volunteers said investigators told them the 3 may have
thrown the weapons from the car as they drove to the apartment from the
crime scene.

Palm print offers clues

Residents of the Spencer Square Apartments said Gillespie and her daughter
had not lived there long and were seen moving furniture out of their
apartment Wednesday.

A palm print on the driver's side door of Palma's car led police to the 3

Ocampo was interviewed over the phone by Pasadena police and arrested in
San Antonio.

Gillespie and her daughter were arrested in Houston. All three remain in
custody, and both Ocampo and Gillespie are held without bond.

At the time of Wednesday's attack on Palma, Gillespie was on probation
from a March 27 charge of possession of a controlled substance.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Trial to begin in 1983 KFC slayings

Just 3 days after the bodies of 5 people abducted from a Kentucky Fried
Chicken restaurant were found along the side of a road, Darnell Hartsfield
went to jail for aggravated robbery.

Now prosecutors charge that he was involved in a much bigger crime
killing those 5 people.

This week, Mr. Hartsfield, 47, goes on trial in the 1983 Kilgore slayings,
one of Texas' oldest unresolved mass murder cases.

Prospective jurors will gather Monday at the Brazos County Courthouse in
Bryan, where Mr. Hartsfield faces trial on 5 capital murder charges. The
trial could last 4 weeks.

The trial was moved to Bryan, about 150 miles southwest of Kilgore,
because of publicity.

Mr. Hartsfield's cousin and co-defendant, Romeo Pinkerton, accepted 5 life
prison terms midway through his capital murder trial.

DNA evidence confirms that a 3rd person was involved and raped 1 of the
victims, lead prosecutor Lisa Tanner disclosed for the 1st time at Mr.
Pinkerton's trial.

DNA technology unavailable until recently showed Mr. Pinkerton's blood on
a napkin found at the scene. Mr. Hartsfield's blood was found on a box of
cash register tapes.

The 5 victims were found dead along an oilfield road about 15 miles from
the KFC where they were abducted on Sept. 23, 1983.

Killed were David Maxwell, 20; Mary Tyler, 37; Opie Ann Hughes, 39; Joey
Johnson, 20; and Monte Landers, 19. All but Mr. Landers worked at the
restaurant. Mr. Landers, a friend of Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Johnson, was
visiting them as the restaurant was closing.

Without elaborating, prosecutors said earlier this year they would not be
seeking the death penalty for Mr. Hartsfield. Since 1995, Mr. Hartsfield
has been serving a 40-year sentence out of Smith County for drug dealing.
He also had a burglary conviction from 1983 and at least two parole
revocations. Three years ago he was convicted of perjury in a KFC-related
case and given a life term.

Mr. Hartsfield tried to get Judge Clay Gossett, based in Gregg County,
removed from the trial, contending the judge was biased after heading
earlier grand juries related to the KFC slayings and presiding over his
perjury case.

"During my perjury trial I felt Judge Gossett leaned toward the state and
let [Ms. Tanner] do what she wanted to do," Mr. Hartsfield testified at a
hearing where his motion was rejected by a visiting judge. "I don't see
how [Judge Gossett] could be impartial."

(source: Associated Press)


Key dates in the KFC slayings case

Sept. 23, 1983: 5 people 4 employees and a friend of 2 workers are
reported missing at 11:30 p.m. from the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant
in Kilgore.

Sept. 24, 1983: An oilfield worker finds the bodies of the 5 missing
people along an oil lease road about 15 miles south of Kilgore. All had
been shot in the head.

April 27, 1995: James Earl Mankins Jr., son of a former state legislator,
is indicted on 5 counts of capital murder after a fingernail recovered
from a KFC victim's clothes is said to match Mr. Mankins.

Nov. 13, 1995: Charges against Mr. Mankins are dropped after it is
determined the fingernail is not his.

Sept. 11, 2001: DNA testing on a blood-stained box at the KFC restaurant
is requested. The splatter on the white box had never been tested. It is
identified as Mr. Hartsfield's blood.

September 2003: A Rusk County grand jury begins hearing KFC testimony.
Grand jurors are released five months later.

Nov. 17, 2005: The Texas attorney general announces capital murder
indictments against Darnell Hartsfield and Romeo Pinkerton.

Oct. 29, 2007: Mr. Pinkerton admits the killings in court and receives 5
life sentences.

May 16, 2008: Prosecutors say they won't seek the death penalty against
Mr. Hartsfield.

(source: Dallas Morning News)