Killer of 7-year-old girl to die Tuesday in Texas
Eric Nenno bristles at suggestions he's some kind of ogre.
"So many articles I read depicted me as a monster," Nenno said softly from
a visiting cage outside Texas death row. "It was upsetting to not hear
anything to balance that."
A favorable balance is difficult given the former plumbing salesman's
acknowledgment that he committed a horrific crime nearly 14 years ago.
Nenno, 47, is set to die Tuesday for abducting a 7-year-old girl who lived
in his neighborhood in Hockley, about 35 miles northwest of Houston,
raping and strangling her, then stuffing her body in the attic of his
home. Evidence showed he raped Nicole Benton after she was dead.
He led police to her remains 2 days later.
"He perpetrated one of the most horrendous crimes that I think I'd ever
heard of," said Joan Huffman, the former Harris County assistant district
attorney who prosecuted Nenno. "It was of nightmarish quality, I would say
a gut-wrenching experience for all involved."
"I can't apologize enough," Nenno told The Associated Press. "I don't know
of anything I could have done since I was convicted to be convincing and
to show my condolences."
Nenno would be the 13th Texas inmate executed this year and the 4th this
month. Another execution is scheduled for Thursday in Huntsville.
Nenno's appeals were exhausted and he petitioned the Texas Board of
Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life.
"I feel for certain the execution will go through," Nenno said. "I don't
think this will meet the standards for getting any relief."
In the clemency petition, Nenno's lawyers described him as "a good man who
committed a terrible crime."
"He had never done anything remotely like this before that day," attorney
Richard Burr wrote. "Since that day, he has faced up to what he did and
has, in every way within his control, lived a good life. … Mr. Nenno
knows that he can never put right the wrong he is responsible for."
The Benton girl was noticed missing from her father's birthday celebration
in 1995. Police canvassing the neighborhood2 days later knocked on his
door. He invited them in and when his nervousness attracted their
attention, deputies had him accompany them to a command post that had been
set up in the neighborhood.
Under questioning, Nenno said he thought the girl had been abducted, raped
and murdered. Asked what kind of person he thought might do such a thing,
he replied: "Someone like me."
"I'm sure there was a certain amount of concern when you get a response
like that," Anthony Osso, Nenno's trial lawyer, recalled.
Nenno voluntarily took a polygraph, which he failed.
"I think she's still in the attic," he eventually told authorities.
In his confession, The Olean, N.Y., native said he'd been having sexual
fantasies involving young girls for most of his adult life.
"Scientific evidence also linked him although the confession and body in
the house was more than adequate evidence," Osso said. "The focal point of
our case was on punishment. It always was our position Eric wouldn't pose
a future threat."
Osso said the defense team argued a life sentence would be more
"But it's hard to get over hurdle of the heinous nature of the crime and
that proved to be insurmountable to us," he said.
Nenno had no previous felony convictions, but the nature of the case
showed he deserved the death penalty, Huffman said.
"It was one of those cases," she said. "The facts of the case itself were
Nenno did not testify. From death row, he said the death sentence "was the
answer I was prepared for."
"Realistically, there couldn't be any other outcome," he said.
Attorneys said Nenno was in the Navy from 1979 to 1983 and had been
exposed to toxic chemicals while working in a steam and heat shop aboard a
ship, damaging brain areas that control strong emotional impulses like
sexual desires. The effects could be worsened by heavy alcohol use, they
Nenno said that at the time of the killing he'd had been drinking heavily,
had used marijuana and was addicted to pornography.
"That does not give any excuse by any means," he said. "I'm responsible no
matter the circumstances."
On Thursday, Gregory Wright, 42, was set to follow Nenno to the death
chamber in Huntsville. Wright was a homeless man convicted of taking part
in the fatal stabbing of Donna Duncan Vick, a sympathetic Dallas County
woman who had given him food, shelter and money. Another 6 Texas prisoners
have execution dates for November.
(source: Associated Press)