Ringleader scheduled to die for 1995 slaying of woman—-20-year-old
victim had been abducted as part of a robbery plot
On Sept. 14, 1995, a solitary hiker followed a set of railroad tracks in
northeast Houston intent on collecting aluminum cans for pocket change.
The outing abruptly ended, though, when the walker stumbled upon a
stomach-roiling scene: the fly-covered, tape-bound body of a young woman
decaying in the late summer heat.
The victim, identified as 20-year-old Christina Castillo, had been
abducted from her Houston apartment complex during a robbery attempt 2
days earlier. Someone had fired 3 bullets into her head. Investigators
determined that Castillo had been targeted by 5 young men who intended to
rob her and her boyfriend of drugs and cash.
The group's ringleader, Eric Cathey, 37, is scheduled to to be executed in
the state's Huntsville death house Tuesday.
His court-appointed attorney, Kevin Scott "Gator" Dunn, did not return
telephone calls seeking comment for this story.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office reported the killer has no
appeals pending. Unless successful, last-ditch appeals are filed, Cathey
will become the 18th Texan executed this year.
Testimony in Cathey's trial revealed the men spotted Castillo at a Houston
shopping center, then followed her to her apartment complex. As the woman
unloaded her car, Cathey, armed with a 9 mm pistol, grabbed her neck and
ordered her into his vehicle.
As they drove around, the men grilled her about drugs and money. Even
after she was kicked and beaten, the woman insisted that she knew nothing
about drugs. As the men discussed what to do with their victim, Cathey
bound her feet, eyes and mouth with tape.
Much of the prosecution's case was based on the testimony of one of the
would-be robbers, Lionel Demetrius Bonner. Bonner later was convicted of
aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to 30 years in prison a term he
currently is serving.
A family's suffering
Members of Castillo's family could not be contacted. But in court, the
victim's mother, Eva Castillo, testified that the family had suffered
terribly as a result of the crime. The elder Castillo told jurors her
husband drank to dull the pain.
Clinical psychologist Walter Quijano testified that Cathey possessed
dependent and compulsive personality traits. Although he did not meet
strict criteria indicating he suffered from anti-social personality
disorder, the expert witness said, Cathey exhibited anti-social
Robert Yohman, a clinical neuropsychologist, testified Cathey, a high
school dropout, was a slow learner who exhibited a simplistic view of
A killer's upbringing
Cathey's sister, Charlotte Ezeh, testified that the killer was pampered at
home. But his mother, Willie Lee Cathey, told jurors that the family's
home life was tumultuous, with her husband drinking, using drugs and
accosting family members with firearms.
Cathey married at 17 and fathered two children, jurors were told.
Luke Ezeh, Cathey's now former brother-in-law, said he employed the killer
in his battery shop.
"He was a very good guy," Ezeh said. "He sold batteries and kept the money
and never took anything from me. I don't think he deserves to die. He made
a mistake, but he should be corrected, not put to death."
Ezeh said Cathey was a musician whose partner had absconded with a
recording. "He was trying to locate him through the girl and things got
out of hand," he said. "That is what I heard. I was not there."
In a death row interview, Cathey insisted he had spent the night of the
murder watching television with his girlfriend.
"I am not guilty of the crime," Cathey said. "I never met the woman."
The killer admitted he had been convicted of an earlier drug offense, but
said he had never served prison time.
Upon arriving on death row, he said, he was "very fearful."
"I knew that I didn't do anything," he said. "I had a sense of
hopelessness. … I had seen guys who had gone off to their executions."
Now, he added, "I play it by ear. I'm praying to God to work things out."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Execution delayed for Cannady
Texas death row inmate Rogelio Cannady will avoid execution Wednesday over
a 1993 prison killing.
Cannady's execution date was withdrawn today by Judge Ronald Yeager.
Cannady's recently appointed appeals lawyer asked for more time to review
the case. The judge ordered a March hearing to reset the punishment date.
Investigators say Cannady was serving life terms for two other murders
when he fatally beat his cellmate. Leovigildo Bonal was attacked at the
McConnell Unit at Beeville.
Meanwhile, Texas is still preparing for tomorrow's scheduled execution of
Eric Dewayne Cathey.
The former security guard was condemned for the 1995 slaying of Christina
Castillo, whose body was found in a Houston field.
Evidence showed Cathey and some other men abducted Castillo, who was
ordered to divulge where her boyfriend allegedly hid drugs and money — so
they could rob him.
(source: Associated Press)
Officials tout dividends from regional public defender program
2 years ago, the office of the West Texas Regional Public Defender for
Capital Cases was nothing but a dream.
Now, a year after Lubbock attorney Jack Stoffregen took the reins of the
fledgling program, the office is providing financial savings and quality
of representation beyond expectations.
"It's just amazing to see that it's not only done what we thought it would
do, but I think the office has done more than I even envisioned," said
David Slayton, director of court administration for Lubbock County.
The Lubbock-based office also has branches in Amarillo and Midland
comprising an 11-person staff dedicated entirely to the defense of
indigent defendants charged with a capital offense in which the state is
seeking the death penalty.
The quality of defense exceeds anything Stoffregen was able to do in
private practice and the office saves participating counties thousands of
dollars on indigent defense.
65 counties have signed on to the program.
Those counties account for 64,000 square miles of West Texas, with a
population base of 1.5 million people.
The office is funded by a grant from the Texas Task Force on Indigent
Defense, but participating counties agreed to a 5-year payment plan where
the counties take on more and more financial responsibility until the
office is fully funded by the counties in the 5th year.
Stoffregen moved into the office last November and began filling
The office was fully staffed by the end of July with 3 attorneys, 3
mitigation experts, one fact investigator and 2 administrative assistants
in the Lubbock office. There is an attorney in the Amarillo office and 1
in the Midland office.
The 11-person staff is currently handling 11 cases.
One of those cases is from Lubbock County.
Stoffregen's office has already handled 2 Lubbock cases this year – Ricky
Mackey took a 7-year deal and Nathan Lemer agreed to a 50-year prison
"Our goal is obviously to get something other than a death sentence,"
Stoffregen said. "Anything other than a death sentence is a victory for
Quality of defense
Stoffregen handled about 15 to 20 capital cases in private practice before
becoming chief public defender and tried about 9.
The difference between the public defender's office and private practice
is like night and day, he said.
First, the office is a standing capital defense team, allowing work to
begin within 24 hours of the time the defendant is arrested.
It can normally take up to 2 or 3 months for a court-appointed private
attorney to assemble a team.
Second, the capital public defenders only work death penalty cases and
aren't burdened by other settings, such as divorces and other crimes.
This places the focus solely on capital defense.
"It's just incredible the amount of time we can spend on these cases,"
The ability for the defenders office to work free of conflicting cases and
settings will likely lead to faster resolution of death penalty cases
either in trial or plea agreements, said Tray Payne, an assistant Lubbock
County criminal district attorney.
Payne handles murder cases and said the job of the public defenders is
somewhat like what he does for the District Attorney's office in that they
both handle a dedicated caseload.
"These type of cases need direct attention," Payne said. "So even though
you may have a smaller caseload, they have a greater impact."
Because the office is the first of its kind in Texas, Stoffregen and his
staff are being invited to seminars and training sessions at no cost.
Texas Tech is working with the office, providing interns and supplemental
training in alternative disciplines for the public defender staff.
Having the time and resources to work with a linguist on communicating
with jurors is something Stoffregen said he could never do in private
practice, and that benefits the accused.
"I think overall the quality of representation – because we have the
opportunity to do these things – we're going to be able to do it better,"
Stoffregen said. "I never would have believed there would have been such a
difference until I started working here."
Capital defense is not cheap.
Lubbock County spent more than $200,000 on the Rosendo Rodriguez trial
earlier this year, Slayton said, and that doesn't include the cost of
Slayton likened participating in the program to buying an insurance
Some of the rural counties participating in the program are only required
to pay about $1,000 per year, and with the average capital murder trial
costing a county between $200,000 and $500,000, it would take 150 or 200
years to pay off what it would cost for 1 trial.
"That's a pretty good return on your investment if its gonna take you 150
or 200 years to pay off what it would cost if you wouldn't have done it,"
Slayton said. "Chances are you're going to have a capital murder case in
that 150 or 200 years."
Lubbock County will pay the most out of the 65 counties, when the counties
take full financial responsibility, at about $145,000.
If Lubbock County tries 1 capital murder case every 2 years, the cost of
the public defender's office is paid off.
The big benefit to Lubbock County kicks in if more than 1 death penalty
case is tried in the same year – which Slayton said is possible in 2009.
Also, there is no fluctuation in capital defense spending between fiscal
years, causing headaches for County commissioners at budget time. The
amount is the same every year.
"When the commissioners are looking at setting the budget, setting the tax
rate, they know what we'll be paying next year for capital defense and
we've never had that before," Slayton said. "So that's a huge benefit."
(source: Lubbock Online)
Dallas sex convictions from '90s in question because of withheld evidence
Antrone Lynelle Johnson twice was convicted of sexual assault as a high
school student, earning him a life sentence.
Mr. Johnson, 31, contends that both cases from the mid-1990s were built on
lies and prosecutorial misconduct. If a judge agrees, he could be set free
as early as Monday.
Dallas County prosecutors illegally withheld evidence that might have
cleared Mr. Johnson, court records show.
In one of the cases, a girl told the prosecutor that Mr. Johnson did not
rape her. In the other, the girl gave conflicting statements about whether
she had sex with him.
Mr. Johnson and his attorneys were not told until this year about either
of the girls' comments a violation of the law.
The Dallas County district attorney's office agrees that Mr. Johnson's
first conviction and life sentence should be overturned. Mr. Johnson has
already served a 5-year sentence in the second case.
No DNA testing was done in either case.
Mike Ware, who heads the conviction integrity unit at the district
attorney's office, declined to comment about the case. But a court
document he filed Thursday shows that prosecutors now support overturning
the decision because prosecutors at the time did not disclose the girls'
statements and because state District Judge Mark Tolle briefly forced Mr.
Johnson to use a court-appointed attorney when he wanted to hire one.
Mr. Johnson did not respond to a request for an interview at the Dallas
County Jail and his attorney, Shirley Baccus-Lobel, declined to comment
about today's scheduled hearing before state District Judge Robert
Mr. Johnson's uncle, Allan Conley of Seagoville, said relatives are
thrilled about the possibility of his release.
"We don't want to get too excited," in case that doesn't happen, Mr.
Conley said. "I'll wait till it happens."
The day before Mr. Johnson was to go to trial in the first case, the
accuser told the prosecutor that he did not sexually assault her. The girl
did not appear for trial.
She could not be reached for comment for this story.
A copy of a prosecutor's note in the court file from Feb. 5, 1995, reads:
"Johnson did not make her give him oral sex. He took her in the bathroom
and she told him she didn't want to do it, so he stayed in there and
pretended and then let her out."
The girl's teachers also questioned the girl's credibility in an interview
with a prosecutor.
One school official called the girl "a great liar and if you really didn't
know her, you'd think that she is telling the truth," according to a copy
of a note from the prosecutor's file found in court records.
The notes are handwritten and not signed by a particular prosecutor.
Still, prosecutors persuaded Mr. Johnson to plead guilty to sexual assault
in exchange for 10 years of deferred-adjudication probation.
Mr. Johnson's attorney then, Vivian Ray Davis, said in recently filed
court records that Mr. Johnson would not have pleaded guilty had the
prosecutors informed them of the statements.
While on probation in September 1995, Mr. Johnson was accused of having
sex with a 13-year-old female schoolmate in a boys bathroom stall at
Seagoville High School, court records show. She was 3 months away from 14
the legal age in Texas to consent to sex with the 17-year-old Mr. Johnson.
Because she was not old enough to legally consent, Mr. Johnson was accused
of sexual assault of a child.
Records show the girl came to school with condoms and had sex that day
with 3 other students under the basketball bleachers.
Those students, including a juvenile, were also charged. One received five
years of probation. The other was given 10 years of probation. The status
of the juvenile is not known.
Court records show the girl gave conflicting statements. She told a grand
jury that she had denied to others having sex with Mr. Johnson. But the
denial apparently was not revealed to the defense.
Judge Tolle, now deceased, sentenced Mr. Johnson in 1996 to 5 years in
prison. And he revoked Mr. Johnson's probation for the prior sexual
assault and gave him a life sentence.
The girl in the 2nd case did not return phone calls seeking comment.
No criminal charge exists in Texas for a prosecutor who commits a "Brady
violation." The term refers to a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady vs.
Maryland, in which the court ruled that prosecutors violate a defendant's
constitutional rights if they intentionally or accidentally withhold
evidence favorable to the defense.
The prosecutor in Mr. Johnson's first case no longer works for the Dallas
County district attorney's office. She did not return phone calls seeking
comment. It is unclear from court records which assistant district
attorney prosecuted the second case against Mr. Johnson.
Also unclear is the eventual fate of Mr. Johnson. Judge Francis cannot
overturn his convictions; he can only make a recommendation to the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals. But the judge could order Mr. Johnson freed
immediately, pending the appeals court decision.
(source: Dallas Morning News)