Northeast Texas man executed for burglary-slaying
Condemned inmate Joseph Ries was executed Tuesday evening for the slaying
of a 64-year-old Northeast Texas man during a burglary almost a decade
Ries expressed love to friends who watched through a death chamber window
and urged them to stay strong because "Jesus is coming back soon."
Looking toward another window, he told 2 daughters of his victim he was
"really sorry for what I've done." Ries said he prayed that they would
find peace through God.
"I hope he heals your heart. The truth is that you are going to feel empty
after tonight. Standing with Christ in your heart, he can only give you
peace. I pray you can find it. I really do."
As the lethal drugs began flowing, he started to sing a hymn. "Our God is
an Awesome God," he sang. "Lord I lift your name on high." He then slipped
into unconsciousness and was pronounced dead 7 minutes later at 6:17 p.m.
Ries, 29, was executed 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.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals by Ries' lawyer, James Terry Jr.,
who wanted the 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
"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
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
"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
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.
Ries becomes the 12th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Texas and the 417th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on
December 7, 1982. Ries becomes the 178th condemned inmate to be put to
death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.
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.
Ries becomes the 28th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the
USA and the 1127th overall since the nation resumed executions on January
(sources: Associated Press)