death penalty news—-TEXAS

Feb. 11

TEXAS—-impending execution

Convicted murderer-rapist set to die in Texas

Convicted killer Johnny Ray Johnson says any talk about him being a serial
killer and serial rapist is bunk.

"I got railroaded," Johnson, 51, said recently about the Houston slaying
that earned him a death sentence more than a dozen years ago.

"I would be shocked if he said anything else," replied Bill Hawkins, the
Harris County district attorney who prosecuted Johnson.

The former truck and taxi driver with an extensive criminal record was set
to die Thursday evening for the rape-murder of 1 of at least 3 women
authorities said he killed during a monthlong spree in 1995.

Court documents show he was responsible for at least 5 rape-murders and 8
rapes in Houston and Austin starting in the late 1970s. Prison records
show he was arrested at least 20 times and his convictions included
aggravated assault for robbing a police officer.

Johnson would be the 2nd condemned prisoner executed this week and the 8th
this year in the nation's busiest death penalty state.

Prosecutors were unaware of any appeals filed in the courts seeking to
delay the punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court in December 2007 refused to
review his conviction and sentence.

"It's very frustrating," Johnson said. "I'm just stuck out there."

Johnson was condemned for the death of Leah Joette Smith, 41, described in
court filings as a cocaine addict who Johnson offered drugs in exchange
for sex. After she got high on crack cocaine, she refused to have sex with
Johnson and they fought. Records show he raped her repeatedly after
beating her head against a concrete curb and stomping her face.

A medical examiner testified the beating was so severe her tongue was
displaced. She died on a Houston street, choking on her own blood.

"I didn't do this," Johnson said from death row. "I knew Joette. She was
part of my family. I wasn't there. I was at work that night. I don't know
what happened to her."

Hawkins said he "never felt like (Johnson) was somebody committed to
telling the truth all the time."

Johnson had an extensive criminal history before he got to death row.
Testimony showed he raped an 8-year-old niece in Houston. In 1983, he was
convicted of sexual assault in Travis County and sentenced to 5 years in
prison but was released on mandatory supervision less than two years

He found work as a cab driver and confessed to raping women he would pick
up, including one who fought back and for whose rape he was sentenced to
another five years in prison. He was released again after 10 months.

Johnson subsequently confessed to numerous other rapes, including one he
said he committed on a hill near the Austin police station.

"The evidence of his brutal rapes and murders seemed endless," a federal
appeals court said in 2007 in upholding his conviction and death sentence.

"He had so many victims," Hawkins said.

Records show that besides the Smith slaying, Johnson led Houston police to
the scenes of two other rape-murders and what he said was another killing
authorities were unable to confirm because they had no body.

At the time of his arrest, Johnson was working as a heavy equipment
operator and would be hired out of daily labor pool sites in Houston.
Investigators determined the slaying victims were found near labor pool

From prison, Johnson complained his confessions were coerced by police and
accused detectives of "stereotyping black folks."

Instead, he described himself as a "productive citizen, working."

"I was clean," Johnson said, blaming his previous convictions for his
arrest for Smith's slaying. "This was easy to pin on me."

On Tuesday night, Dale Scheanette, 35, was put to death for the
rape-slaying of a suburban Dallas woman, Wendie Prescott, 22. She was one
of Scheanette's 2 murder victims, both strangled, bound with duct tape and
left in their bathtubs at the same Arlington apartment complex three
months apart in 1996.

After Johnson's punishment, scheduled for execution next in Huntsville is
Willie Pondexter, 34, for the 1993 shooting death of an 85-year-old woman,
Martha Lennox, during a burglary at her home in Clarksville, about 60
miles west of Texarkana. Pondexter on March 3 would be the first of four
condemned Texas inmates set to die in March.

(source: Associated Press)