death penalty news—-TEXAS

Oct. 21

TEXAS—-impending execution

Northeast Texas man set to die in burglary-slaying

Condemned inmate Joseph Ries looked to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep him
from the Texas death chamber Tuesday evening for the slaying of a
64-year-old Northeast Texas man during a burglary almost a decade ago.

Ries, 28, faced lethal injection for breaking into the rural Hopkins
County home of Robert Ratliff, fatally shooting him as the man slept, then
driving off in the victim's car.

Ries would 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, James Terry Jr., asked the Supreme Court court to halt the
punishment and examine the case, contending among his arguments that Ries'
rights were violated because his earlier appeals were handled by an
incompetent attorney. Terry also argued Ries' trial lawyer failed to
adequately show jurors how Ries was raised by a drug-addicted and
alcoholic mother whose parental rights twice were revoked, and how Ries
was abused in some of the dozen foster homes where lived.

"We've got a system that's broken and at every level it's been broken for
him," Terry said. He acknowledged the crime was horrible but contended
Ries' life had been "shaped by the failures of those whose legal and moral
duty was to help him."

Ries had lived at Ratliff's home in Cumby, about 65 miles northeast of
Dallas, but Ratliff kicked him out after he suspected Ries of stealing
some items.

On Feb. 18, 1999, Ries stole Ratliff's farm pickup for a trip to San
Antonio. He and a friend, Christopher Lee White, also 19 at the time,
returned 3 days later to take Ratliff's Lincoln Continental because the
truck got poor gas mileage.

Ratliff wasn't home, so they broke in and stole 2 rifles, drove the pickup
into a pond until it sank, then waited behind a barn until he came home
and went to sleep. Ratliff was shot, then they drove off in his Lincoln.
Ratliff's body was found by a relative.

"Why Mr. Ries decided to stop and murder him, it's beyond me," said Martin
Braddy, the Hopkins County district attorney who prosecuted Ries. "That's
something only he can understand. He had the keys and he was leaving the
house when they killed him. It just seemed so cold and callous and so

Ries was arrested by police in Lawton, Okla. He was driving Ratliff's car,
which by then had been reported stolen, and was wearing Ratliff's hat.

Prosecutors said Ries was the triggerman. A jury in Sulphur Springs
deliberated seven minutes before convicting him.

"We don't have a lot of violent crime here, and so our jurors are not
callous to it," Braddy said. "I imagine citizens in other jurisdictions
see murders all the time, a part of everyday life, but not here. So it
probably took some people aback."

Ries, who said drug use in high school worsened when he found easy access
to drugs while attending Texas A&M-Commerce, said he was high when the
shooting occurred.

"I'm not sure exactly what happened," he said recently in an interview
outside death row.

He said he remembered stealing the pickup, driving to San Antonio and
getting high and driving back.

"The next thing I know, I'm sitting in a car freaking out," he said. "I'd
killed somebody."

He said he was high when he was arrested and when he made a videotaped
confession to police.

The prospect of death was frightening "in a way," Ries said, but added
that he'd accepted Christ into his life and was prepared for it.

"Life is just a bridge," he said.

Jurors who decided Ries should die also were told of his auto thefts,
property damage, poor impulse control, disregard for rules and anger
toward some relatives. White, his accomplice, was tried separately and
received life in prison.

On Thursday, another condemned inmate, Bobby Wayne Woods, 42, was
scheduled to die for the 1997 murder of Sarah Patterson, the 11-year-old
daughter of his ex-girlfriend. Her throat was slashed when she and her
9-year-old brother were abducted from their home in Granbury, about 25
miles southwest of Fort Worth.


High court won't review conviction—-Man on death row says attorneys were
ineffective in triple murder trial

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to review the conviction of a
Nueces County man on Texas death row for the slayings of a 24-year-old
Corpus Christi woman, her young son and her mother.

Jose Villegas, 33, was convicted of capital murder for the fatal stabbings
of his ex-girlfriend Erida Perez Salazar; her son, Jacob, 3; and her
mother Alma Perez, 51.

Salazar was stabbed 32 times, her son 19 times and mother 35 times. A
television and car also were taken from the home.

Salazar's father, returning home from jury duty in 2001, found the body of
his wife and had a neighbor call police. He then went back into the house
and found his daughter and grandson also dead.

A neighbor told police she saw Villegas leaving the house about 30 minutes

Within 15 minutes, police spotted Salazar's car with Villegas behind the
wheel. He led them on a chase, then bailed out on foot before he was
arrested. He was carrying 3 bags of cocaine when he was caught.

Court records show Villegas, a 9th-grade dropout who worked as a cook, a
dishwasher and a laborer, confessed to the slayings, telling police he
pawned the television he stole from the home and bought cocaine with the
money and that he wanted to commit suicide by overdosing. A Nueces County
jury convicted him in 2002 and decided he should be put to death.

The high court's rejection came after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals earlier this year rejected Villegas' appeal in which he argued the
attorneys at his trial were ineffective.

Villegas does not yet have an execution date.

(source for both: Associated Press)


Prison put on lockdown after 'severe security breaches'

10 inmates on Texas' death row, aided by a prison guard working for
bribes, made nearly 3,000 cell phone calls in the last 30 days, including
several to state Sen. John Whitmire, state officials revealed Monday.

The announcement prompted Gov. Rick Perry to order a statewide prison
lockdown Monday afternoon and to search every inmate, staff member and
visitor for contraband.

Earlier in the day, police arrested one inmate's mother for allegedly
footing the phone bill, while investigators prodded the prisoners to name
the guard who supplied the phone.

Death row inmates are held in 24-hour isolation and are forbidden any
contact with the outside world. But state officials say they have
confiscated 19 cell phones from death row prisoners this year.

"This isn't isolated. We have severe security breaches in all or most of
our prisons," said Whitmire, who said he was shocked and shaken by
repeated phone calls from 29-year-old murderer Richard Tabler. "There is a
tolerance of contraband that is unacceptable."

In a series of calls starting Oct. 7, Tabler asked Whitmire who
represents north Houston and Harris County to help him find a pro-bono
attorney to revisit his case, and to coax prison officials into allowing
him to see his mother and grandmother.

Tabler, who confessed to killing 2 teenage girls and 2 adult men in 2004,
told Whitmire he knew where the senator's daughters lived.

Whitmire spoke about the phone calls only with his family, with state
Inspector General John Moriarty, who is tasked with investigating prison
crimes, and with Mike Ward, an Austin newspaper reporter who was also in
contact with Tabler.

Ward, too, kept his conversations under wraps and worked with Whitmire and
Moriarty to help trace the cell phone's path within and between the most
heavily secured of prison walls.

During the phone calls, Whitmire said he tried not to ruffle Tabler or
arouse his suspicion. "I said, 'How did you get a phone?'" Whitmire
recalled of his first conversation. "He said, '$2,100.' I said, 'How are
you charging it?' He said, 'I have a charger.' "

Moriarty traced the cell phone to within the Livingston prison where
Tabler is awaiting the death penalty.

The inspector also found that Tabler's mother, Lorraine Tabler, was paying
for the phone's minutes from her home in Georgia. And he discovered that
the same phone had been used by as many as nine other inmates, all of them
known gang members, to place 2,800 calls.

Their relatives sent payments to Tabler's mother to offset the phone bill.
Many of their calls went to fellow gang members outside of prison,
Whitmire said. They also called relatives and anti-death penalty
advocates, he said.

Monday's crackdown was hatched after Whitmire learned Tabler's mother
would be landing in Austin around 9 a.m. to visit her son. While police
staked out the airport, Ward got Tabler on the phone so investigators
could catch him with it, Whitmire said. A random search of Tabler's cell
last week had come up short. Tabler told Whitmire he had handed the phone
off to a guard in advance.

Killer surprised in cell

As police arrested his mother in Austin on Monday, investigators surprised
Tabler in his cell. Before they snatched the phone, Whitmire said, Tabler
made a final threat to the reporter: "I will Google you. I can find out
what you drive."

Ward did not return calls seeking comment Monday. Whitmire is taking extra
precautions to keep his family safe, he said. "I'm still in shock. I've
never had any experience with a death row inmate."

"No one should have to deal with what I've gone through in the past two
weeks. Can you imagine the fear of crime victims, police, prosecutors and
jurors who locked these people up? These folks have nothing to lose, and
they have contacts in gangs still on the streets of Texas."

Whitmire, who heads the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, said he will
call today for new security measures to prevent guards from carrying
contraband, including metal detectors, surveillance cameras and search
dogs at all prison gates.

"Corrections officers work for low pay in a very dangerous environment,"
he said. "We need to support them, but we need to find and prosecute every
crooked officer. I just think you need to ask the honest correction
officers to help clean the mess up."

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Security breech on death row leads to statewide prison lockdown

The Polunsky Unit is supposed to be the most secure place in Texas. It is
death row and the place where more than 300 men are simply waiting to die.
That is, unless someone breeches security.

Richard Lee Tabler is 1 of the unit's inmates. He spends 23 hours a day in
a cell after being convicted for a shooting spree in 2004 that left 4
people dead. He has no contact with anyone, including the other inmates.

But for at least the last 30 days, he's been in possession of a cell phone
that has been used to make more than 100 calls a day to and from death
row. The phone was used by Tabler and at least 9 other inmates. "This is
just one of the most tremendous breeches of security that I've seen in my
25 years of being involved with criminal justice," said Andy Kahan, crime
victim's advocate. "God knows what he could have possibly been planning or
leaking out to people on the outside about very sensitive security

On Monday morning, police in Austin arrested Tabler's mother, 60-year-old
Lorraine Tabler. She is accused of buying minutes for the phone.

The Polunsky Unit's Office of Inspector General said that it learned of
the incident from State Senator John Whitmire of Houston.

He received several threatening phone calls from Tabler, including one
that let him know that Tabler knew where he lived and the names of his
wife and children.

Late Monday, Governor Perry said a guard had been bribed to smuggle in the
phone. He added in a statement that the vast majority of Texas Department
of Criminal Justice employees are upstanding, hardworking citizens and
that it was a shame that the criminal acts of some overshadow the good
name of others.

Governor Perry ordered an immediate lockdown of all state facilities, and
a search conducted of all inmates, their cells and their visitors.

Andy Kahan had another suggestion.

"In order to bribe a guard, you have to have a significant amount of money
in a prison account in a trust fund. You are not going to be doing this
for just chump change like a $100. I would immediately look at freezing
death row inmates trust fund accounts," said Kahan.

There have been 19 other cases involving cell phones and cell phone parts
on death row. One of them included a case involving an X-ray of an inmate
with a cell phone and a charger hidden his body.

(source: KVUE News)