Convicted murderer-rapist executed in Texas
A career rapist blamed for multiple murders and attacks in Houston and
Austin was executed Thursday evening for the slaying of a woman raped,
beaten and left to die on a Houston street.
In a lengthy statement Johnny Ray Johnson denounced Texas death row in
particular and called for an end to the death penalty in the United
States. He called death row the "Polunsky dungeon." The reference is to
the Polunsky Unit that houses Texas' condemned men.
"It's life without meaning. It's life without purpose. It is no life at
all," Johnson said. He called death row a place of "unforgiveness …
terrifying … and debilitating."
"The most terrifying thing is the U.S. is the only place, the only
civilized country free on this planet that says it will stop murder and
enable justice. I ask each of you to lift your voices and demand an end to
the death penalty in the United States of America."
Johnson invoked the Lord, Christ and Jesus and closed his statement by
expressing love to some friends who were watching him. "See y'all in
heaven," he said and then began singing a hymn that was cut short as the
lethal drugs began taking effect.
He was pronounced dead at 6:19 p.m., 8 minutes after the drugs began to
A Harris County jury sent Johnson, 51, to death row for the 1995 murder of
41-year-old Leah Joette Smith. According to court documents, her killing
was 1 of at least 5 rape-slayings tied to the former truck and taxi driver
who also was linked at least 8 other rapes starting in the late 1970s.
"He had so many victims," said Bill Hawkins, the assistant Harris County
district attorney who prosecuted Johnson for capital murder. "Several
parts of town I can't drive by without thinking of his victims."
Smith and 2 other women were killed during a monthlong spree in 1995,
Johnson's lawyers went to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, seeking to
delay the punishment. The high court rejected the appeal about 30 minutes
before Johnson was scheduled to be taken to the death chamber. He lost a
similar appeal Wednesday at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Smith was described in court filings as a cocaine addict who Johnson
offered drugs in exchange for sex. After she got high on crack cocaine,
however, she refused to have sex with him and they fought. Records show he
raped her repeatedly after beating her head against a concrete street
curb, then stomped her face.
"Something in my head was just saying, 'Kill, kill, kill,'" he said in his
Records also show he left his wallet behind, returned to retrieve it,
raped the dying woman again before picking up his wallet and leaving with
Smith's boots. Then he got a beer.
A medical examiner testified at Johnson's trial that Smith died of choking
on her own blood after her jawbones had been fractured.
Johnson, in a recent interview at death row, denied any involvement in her
"I wasn't there," he told The Associated Press. "I was at work that night.
I don't know what happened to her.
"I'm about to get executed. You bet it's frightening."
He also insisted the confession he gave to police was coerced.
"They made me sign it," he said. "I told them I didn't do this."
Johnson had an extensive criminal history before he got to death row.
Testimony showed he raped an 8-year-old niece in Houston, who testified
against Johnson at the punishment phase of his capital murder trial.
"It was her chance to get even with me," Johnson said, saying that the
child's mother had a vendetta against him.
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 2
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 5 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.
Records show that besides the Smith slaying, Johnson led Houston police to
the scenes of 2 other rape-murders and what he said was another killing
authorities were unable to confirm because they had no body.
"He thought like he killed another woman," Hawkins recalled. "But we
didn't find another victim. She may have been injured severely but I don't
think he killed her."
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
Prison records show he was arrested at least 20 times and his convictions
also included one for aggravated assault on an undercover police officer.
Johnson becomes the 8th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Texas and the 431st overall since the state resumed capital punishment on
December 7, 1982. Bradley also becomes the 192nd condemned inmate to be
put to death since Rick Perry was elected governor in 2001.
Scheduled for execution after Johnson is Willie Pondexter, 34, set to die
March 3 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
Bradley becomes the 13th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
the USA and the 1149th overall since the nation resumed executions on
January 17, 1977.
(sources: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)