Execution of North Texas Man—-Northeast Texas Man to Die for
Joseph Ries says he doesn't remember much about committing a murder nearly
10 years ago.
The fatal shooting of 64-year-old Robert Ratliff at his rural Hopkins
County home in northeast Texas landed Ries on death row. Now Ries, who's
now 29, faces a date with the Texas executioner tomorrow night.
He'd be the 12th prisoner executed this year in the nation's most active
death penalty state and the 1st of 2 scheduled to die this week. 2 were
executed last week and 2 more are set to die next week.
Ries' lawyer asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S.
Supreme Court to stop the punishment. But the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles has unanimously rejected a clemency request.
Evidence showed Ries had a long history of physical and sexual abuse as a
child, that his mother's parental rights had been revoked twice and that
he'd been in 11 foster homes. By the time he was attending Texas A&M
University at Commerce, he was actively using drugs. And at the time of
the February 1999 slaying, he was into marijuana laced with PCP.
(source: KIII News)
Murder trial in death of warden begins—-Death penalty case is the 1st in
decades for Wharton County
A Wharton County jury will begin hearing testimony today in the trial of a
man accused of killing a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden,
marking the county's first death penalty trial in nearly 30 years.
James Garrett Freeman, 27, of Lissie could be sentenced to death if
convicted of capital murder. He is accused of shooting game warden Justin
P. Hurst, 34, of El Campo, following a lengthy police chase last year.
A jury of 9 women and 3 men will gather in state District Judge Randy
Clapp's court for the trial, which is expected to last about 3 weeks.
Former Harris County prosecutor Kelly Siegler will assist Wharton County
District Attorney Josh McCown with the case. Siegler, one of Houston's
most high-profile prosecutors, resigned earlier this year after losing the
race for Harris County district attorney in March's Republican primary.
Jurors will likely see video of the shootout that led to Hurst's death and
the chase that preceded it footage captured by cameras mounted in police
cars involved in the 90-minute pursuit.
McCown had just bought video equipment for Hurst's patrol car 3 months
earlier with money seized from criminals.
Freeman, a welder with no history of serious crimes, did not intend to
shoot anyone, said his attorney, Stanley Schneider.
"The bottom line any way you look at it this is a tragedy because you
have 2 families that have been destroyed," Schneider said. "How do you
explain the unexplainable?"
McCown argued those who kill officers in the line of duty deserve the
stiffest punishment possible.
"I personally believe those guys who get up in the morning and put on a
badge and strap on a gun are entitled to expect that," McCown said. " …
I believe we owe them that.
"I believe that someone who kills a cop is just a little more culpable
than, say, some thug who, in the heat of an armed robbery, kills someone,"
Hurst's mother, Pat Hurst of El Campo, declined to comment, and his widow,
Amanda Hurst, could not be reached.
Justin Hurst died on his 34th birthday from a gunshot that ripped through
his left arm and torso, an autopsy report shows.
A 2nd shot, which struck his left buttock and exited his left hip, was not
He was the 1st Texas game warden shot to death in the line of duty since
The confrontation began late March 16, 2007, within a half-mile of
Freeman's home as Justin Hurst and another game warden checked on night
Freeman sped away when the other game warden, who had seen a spotlight and
heard a gunshot, approached his pickup, officials say. The game warden
followed him. Justin Hurst, working at the other end of the county, later
joined in the chase.
Seven patrol cars belonging to the game wardens, Wharton County sheriff's
deputies, constables and Department of Public Safety troopers chased
Freeman for 90 minutes in a route that meandered all over Wharton County
and dipped into part of Colorado County. Toward the end of the pursuit,
Freeman's truck tires were punctured when he drove over spikes troopers
threw on the road.
Officials say Freeman then stopped his truck near a cemetery in Lissie,
where he got into a shootout with the officers. After Justin Hurst was
shot, Freeman tried to run but fell when officers shot him 4 times in the
legs and elbow, officials say.
Justin Hurst was flown to Houston, where he was pronounced dead at 1:42
a.m. March 17, minutes after the chase ended.
"The way he lost his life, there was no sense in that no sense
whatsoever," said friend Larry Janik, a nuisance control hunter for Texas
Parks and Wildlife who helps corral loose alligators.
"I was on the way home when I got the phone call. … I don't get broken
up a lot, but I cried like a baby when I heard," Janik said.
A dead opossum was later found in the area where Freeman had been parked
when he first drew a game warden's attention.
Freeman had a history of only minor offenses before the shooting, such as
a drunken-driving arrest in Fort Bend County in 2005 and traffic
violations, Schneider said.
Freeman's family declined to comment.
He attended East Bernard High School, and his family has lived in Wharton
County for several generations. His father, Jim Freeman, has owned a
welding business in Lissie for 20 years.
To win a conviction, prosecutors must prove that Freeman intentionally
shot Justin Hurst.
A 'Super Cadet'
Freeman's case is the 1st death penalty trial in Wharton since 1979.
The last was the trial of Donald Lee Vignault, who was sentenced to death
for killing a Bay City convenience store clerk.
Vignault died on death row from lung cancer in 1997.
Justin Hurst, the married father of an infant boy, specialized in
waterfowl and alligators during his 12-year career with Texas Parks and
Wildlife. The Texas A&M University graduate worked at the J.D. Murphree
Wildlife Management Area in Port Arthur and the former Peach Point
Wildlife Management Area now named in his honor in Brazoria County.
When he enrolled in the Texas Game Warden Academy in 2002, he became known
as "Super Cadet" among his classmates.
Quiet and softspoken, Justin Hurst was devoted to his family, friends
said. His parents had moved to El Campo to join him and his wife several
months before his death.
"He's a person who will be missed around our area for a long time," Janik
(source: Houston Chronicle)