death penalty news—-TEXAS

Nov. 26


6 condemned inmates lose appeals

A career criminal condemned for killing a Houston police officer 20 years
ago was among a half-dozen Texas death row inmates to lose appeals
Wednesday before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

A Harris County jury decided in 1989 that Robert Mitchell Jennings should
die for the fatal shooting a year earlier of Houston vice cop Elston
Howard, who was gunned down in an adult bookstore while trying to arrest
the clerk there for showing movies without a city permit. Jennings had
walked into the place to rob it and stumbled in on the arrest.

Jennings, who turns 51 next week, confessed to the slaying and said he
didn't know Howard was an officer although evidence showed Howard was
wearing a jacket with the words "Houston Police" on both the front and
back. Howard was shot twice, then became unconscious and was shot two more
times in the head before Jennings robbed the store.

The court rejected arguments that Jennings' trial lawyers were ineffective
and that instructions to his jury were improper.

Jennings was 30 and on parole at the time of the shooting after serving 10
years of a 30-year term for burglary and robbery. Records showed he first
went to prison at age 17 and had a juvenile record before that.

Other condemned inmates to lose appeals before the Austin-based court
Wednesday included:

–Joe Franco Garza, 37, of Lubbock, convicted of the 1998 robbery and
strangling of Silbiano Rangel, a 71-year-old retired preacher and
maintenance worker. Evidence showed Rangel was choked to death with a sock
after giving Garza a ride to a store to buy some beer and that Garza stole
his victim's wallet, jewelry and truck, which he drove to the home of his
13-year-old pregnant girlfriend.

Garza's original death sentence was overturned by a federal judge who
ruled he should return for another punishment trial or be given life in
prison. Prosecutors sought the death penatly a second time and a Lubbock
jury in 2006 agreed. The appeals court rejected 14 points of error raised
from that trial, including challenges to jury selection and questions
about whether Garza, identified as a member of the Texas Syndicate prison
gang, would be a continuing threat.

–Rodolfo Alvarez Medrano, 29, convicted providing assault weapons used by
fellow members of the Tri-City Bombers gang to kill 6 men during a pair
of marijuana robberies at homes in Edinburg in Hidalgo County nearly six
years ago. Medrano, also indicted for the slayings of 4 women in Donna
in 2002, was not present at the Edinburg murder scenes and was convicted
under Texas' law of parties.

In his appeal, Medrano, known as "Kreeper," raised 34 challenges to his
conviction and sentence, including questions about whether the evidence
was sufficient to support his conviction, that his rights were violated by
a conspiracy charge, and that evidence of the Donna murders improperly was

–Clifton Williams, 25, convicted of the 2005 rape, beating and strangling
of Cecilia Schneider, a 93-year-old Tyler woman, during a burglary at her
home. Her body and bed then were set on fire and her purse and car were

Williams' lawyers raised seven claims of error, including whether evidence
supported a jury's finding that Williams was not mentally retarded. A
mental retardation finding would have made him ineligible for the death
penalty under U.S. Supreme Court standards.

Evidence showed Williams' mother, who died when he was in middle school,
practiced voodoo and may have been mentally ill. Lawyers also argued
comments from prosecutors in their closing arguments at the trial should
have merited a mistrial but the trial judge refused, and that there wasn't
enough evidence to support claims that Williams would be a future danger.

–Robert Wayne McGowen, 44, convicted of the 1986 slaying of Marion
Pantzer, 68, the owner of a Houston bar, during a robbery. The court
upheld his conviction and sentence in 1992 and denied other appeals in
2006. The latest ruling is a dismissal of a subsequent appeals claim.

–Perry Eugene Williams, 28, condemned for the 2000 abduction and fatal
shooting of a student at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine. Matthew
Carter, 22, was abducted while returning a movie to a video store and
robbed of $40. The court agreed with Williams' trial court judge, which
rejected challenges to the validity of his conviction and sentence.

In other rulings, the court dismissed as untimely a motion from lawyers
for Larry Swearingen, convicted of abducting and strangling Melissa
Trotter, 19, a Montgomery County college student 10 years ago.

And the court agreed to send for review by a trial court in Dallas an
appeal in the case of Joseph Lave, condemned for the hammer slayings of
Justin Marquart and Frederick Banzaf, both 18 and employees of a suburban
Dallas sporting goods store during a robbery more than 15 years ago.

(source: Associated Press)