Execution set today for Texas man who killed 5
Terry Lee Hankins' surrender to police for the slayings of his estranged
wife and two stepchildren opened up 2 more homicide investigations when he
told authorities in Tarrant County he also was responsible for killing his
father and his half-sister almost a year earlier.
When officers went to the mobile home of 55-year-old Earnie Lee Hankins,
they found him shot to death and his decomposing body in a recliner,
surrounded by air fresheners. Then they found the remains of Pearl Sissy
Stevenstar, 20, Hankins half-sister, stuffed into a plastic ice chest
hidden in a car at his fathers auto repair shop. Shed been fatally beaten
with a jack stand. Court documents later would show Stevenstar was the
mother of Hankins child and was pregnant again by him.
"It was a very unusual set of circumstances," said Sheila Wynn, the
assistant Tarrant County district attorney who prosecuted Hankins for
capital murder. "I don't even know how to put it into words."
Hankins, 34, was set to die today evening for the 2001 slayings of Kevin
Galley, 12, and Ashley Mason, 11, children of his estranged wife,
34-year-old Tammy Hankins. All 3 were gunned down inside their mobile home
in Mansfield, about 20 miles southeast of Fort Worth.
He would be the 16th prisoner executed this year in the nation's busiest
capital punishment state.
His appeals were exhausted and no last-minute attempts to delay the lethal
injection were expected, William Harris, Hankins attorney, said.
"I don't have anything I can think of in this case that stands any kind of
chance of doing any good," Harris said.
Hankins declined to speak with reporters from death row.
"What else is there to say?" Harris said. "I think he regrets what he did
but I also think he's fatalistic about the fact he cant change it."
Before his arrest, Hankins had told people hed sent his half-sister to a
home for pregnant mentally challenged women and that his father had moved
out of state.
He did not testify at his trial, but police found a note Hankins wrote on
a bank envelope.
"I guess to sum it all up, I'm guilty of murder, incest, hatred, fraud,
theft, jealousy, envy," he wrote.
When Tammy Hankins failed to show up for work at a Burger King restaurant
she managed and her children failed to show up at school, her mother,
Linda Sheets, and a sister went to her trailer to see if something was
wrong. A pile of clothes was on Tammy Hankins' bed.
"I pulled the clothes down, and there was Tammy," Sheets told the Fort
Worth Star-Telegram in a story published Sunday. "We found Ashley under a
bunch of clothes on a sofa in her living room, and we found Kevin in his
bed, covered over."
Police already were familiar with the home. They'd been summoned to the
trailer park 4 times over 4 months for domestic disturbances, fighting and
breaking and entering.
Terry Hankins was tracked down to Arlington where his estranged wife's car
was parked outside his girlfriends apartment. He surrendered after a
five-hour standoff with police.
In a diary recovered by officers, Hankins wrote he had become a
"non-caring monster." He rambled about his troubled childhood with a
divorced inattentive father and 2 stepmothers who molested him and taught
him sex acts.
"I just didn't like myself," he wrote, saying he didn't know why he killed
his wife and stepchildren. "People always told me I was nothing and
wouldn't amount to anything. I guess they hit the nail on the head with
Hankins was tried only for the deaths of his 2 stepchildren, who were shot
while they slept.
"I don't want revenge," Sheets said. "And I don't think other people
should judge him, either. He was judged already by a jury of his peers.
They found him guilty and gave him the death penalty. And now he is going
to meet his maker."
Death penalty opponents planned protests for what would be the 200th
execution of Rick Perry's tenure as Texas governor.
"Perry has allowed more executions to proceed than any other governor in
U.S. history," said Scott Cobb, of the Texas Moratorium Network.
"The governor, like most Texans, believes capital punishment is the
appropriate penalty for those who commit the most heinous crimes," said
Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle.
At least 5 other condemned Texas inmates have execution dates in the
coming weeks. Scheduled to die next, on July 16, is Kenneth Mosley for the
1997 shooting death of a Dallas-area police officer during a bank robbery.
(source: Associated Press)
200 Executions and Counting: Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Cruel Death
Tally—-Today marks the 200th execution under Perry, a record even
deadlier than George W. Bush's tenure. What's the matter with Texas?
At roughly 6 p.m. tonight, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will make history when he
presides over the 200th execution of his tenure. It's a chilling
achievement, one that dwarfs that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who
famously signed off on 152 (with a little help from his friend, then-legal
counsel Alberto Gonzales).
Barring a most unlikely twist of fate, there's little doubt that Terry Lee
Hankins will be dead by sunset. For death-penalty enthusiasts, this is
cause for celebration; Hawkins — a self-described "non-caring monster"
who shot his wife and children in their sleep — is held up as a poster
child for state killing. One appellate prosecutor for the Texas Attorney
General's office, Georgette Oden — who recently joked on her blog that
when asked at cocktail parties "So, what do you do?" she likes to boast "I
kill people" — wrote: "He's my best example of the kind of person who
deserves the death penalty."
People like Oden would love to claim that all the people on death row are
so cartoonishly deserving of death. But the past 25 years have painted a
far more complicated picture, one that has shown the death penalty to be
fraught with error, corruption, racism and prosecutorial misconduct.
Perry should know. His years in office have been marked by last-minute
commutations, controversial executions and some 35 DNA exonerations of
wrongfully convicted prisoners. In Harris County, which sends more
prisoners to the death chamber than any other jurisdiction in the country,
an ever-evolving scandal over its dilapidated and mismanaged forensics
crime lab has provided an alarming backdrop to innocence claims by Texas
prisoners, leaving little question that countless prisoners have been sent
to prison — and death row — on tainted evidence.
One recent example is the tragic case of Timothy Cole, who spent 13 years
in prison for a rape he did not commit. Cole, who suffered from severe
asthma, died behind bars in 1999 only to be posthumously exonerated 10
years later when the real criminal came forward. Cole always insisted upon
his innocence, refusing an offer of early parole on the condition that he
admit his guilt.
"His greatest wish was to be exonerated and completely vindicated," his
mother, Ruby Session, told Austin news station KXAN in February 2009.
A Cruel Legacy
Examining Perry's long execution record, a number of cases stand out.
There was Napoleon Beazely, one of the last juvenile offenders executed in
the United States, who was put to death in 2002. Beazely was 17 years old,
an honor student, football star and senior class president with no prior
criminal record when he fatally shot 63-year-old John Luttig, the father
of a federal judge, in what was described as an attempted hijacking. By
all accounts a model prisoner during his eight years on death row, Beazley
admitted his guilt and repeatedly expressed his remorse for the crime:
"I knew it was wrong," he told a packed courtroom at his sentencing
hearing. "I know it is wrong now. I've been trying to make up for it ever
since that moment. I've apologized ever since that moment, not just
through words, but through my acts. It's my fault. I violated the law. I
violated this city, and I violated a family — all to satisfy my own
misguided emotions. I'm sorry. I wish I had a 2nd chance to make up for
it, but I don't."
A number of unlikely advocates tried to save Beazely's life. According to
the American Bar Association, "even Cindy Garner, the district attorney
from Napoleon's home county (Houston County), testified at the sentencing
hearing on Napoleon's behalf. While she has been a strong proponent of the
death penalty, she continues to maintain that the death penalty is
inappropriate in Napoleon's case." Another unlikely ally was his trial
judge, Cynthia Kent, who wrote to Perry asking him to commute his sentence
to life in prison, a request that fell on deaf ears.
In August 2001, the Supreme Court denied Beazely a stay of execution. In
an unusual move, three of the justices — Justices Antonin Scalia,
Clarence Thomas and David Souter — recused themselves because they had
personal relationships with the victim's son.
Beazely was executed on May 28, 2002. "Tonight we tell the world that
there are no second chances in the eyes of justice," he said before being
injected with lethal chemicals. "Tonight, we tell our children that in
some instances, in some cases, killing is right."
3 years later, in the landmark case Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute prisoners who committed their
crimes before the age of 18, commuting all such death sentences to life.
'Maybe this man was innocent': The Case of Cameron Todd Willingham
Beazely may have been guilty of the crime for which he was executed. But
others have almost certainly not been.
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed on February 17, 2004, for setting
fire to his own one-story home, a blaze that killed his 3 young daughters
(1-year-old twins and their 2-year-old sister). Willingham was convicted
and sent to death row on a hastily executed arson investigation and jurors
suspicion over the fact that he managed to escape the fire himself. But he
maintained his innocence for years, right until he was strapped to the
"I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit," he said in
his final statement. "I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I
did not do."
10 months later, on Dec. 9, 2004, the Chicago Tribune published an
investigative article that cast serious doubt on Willingham's guilt.
"While Texas authorities dismissed his protests, a Tribune investigation
of his case shows that Willingham was prosecuted and convicted based
primarily on arson theories that have since been repudiated by scientific
advances," wrote staff reporters Steve Mills and Maurice Possley.
"According to 4 fire experts consulted by the Tribune, the original
investigation was flawed, and it is even possible the fire was
Among the experts was Louisiana Fire Chief Kendall Ryland, who said it
"made me sick to think this guy was executed based on this investigation.
They executed this guy, and they've just got no idea — at least not
scientifically — if he set the fire, or if the fire was even
"Did anybody know about this prior to his execution?" asked Dorinda
Brokofsky, one of the jurors who sent him to die. "Now I will have to live
with this for the rest of my life. Maybe this man was innocent."
The Willingham case "should shake the confidence of any Texan," says Scott
Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network. " … The risk of executing an
innocent person is very real in Texas because of the pace of executions,
exemplified by Perry's record of 200. When you are executing that many
people, the possibility of making a mistake is increased, and that is
likely what happened in the Willingham case."
Less than a year after the Tribune's investigation, 40-year-old Frances
Newton became the 3rd woman to be executed by the state of Texas since
1982 (and the first African American woman in the modern era) despite the
strong possibility that she was innocent. Her trial attorney, Ronald Mock,
was a notoriously incompetent defense lawyer (who was later suspended for
"For so many of the people whom Ron was appointed to represent, their
death warrant was signed when the ink was dry on the appointment form,''
one defense lawyer told the Houston Chronicle.
The case against Newton (who was charged with killing her husband and
children) was based almost entirely on circumstantial evidence, including
the fact that she had recently taken out life insurance policies on her
husband and daughter. David Dow, head of the Texas Innocence Network,
acknowledged at a clemency hearing for Newton that the evidence against
her was "superficially compelling" — but, he said, "appearances can be
"From the beginning, Frances Newton has maintained her innocence,"
reported Jordan Smith in the Austin Chronicle on Sept. 9, 2005, days
before Newton's execution. "She has also offered a plausible alternative
theory of the crime — a theory that neither police, prosecutors nor
Newton's own trial attorney, the infamous and now-suspended Ronald Mock,
have ever investigated." According to Newton, her family members had been
murdered at the behest of a drug dealer to whom her husband owed money.
Newton's insistence on her innocence — and the lack of physical evidence
linking her to the crime was compelling enough to at least catch Perry's
"Lingering questions about the physical evidence against Newton prompted
the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend, and Gov. Rick Perry
to grant, a 120-day reprieve for Newton on Dec. 1, 2004 — the day she was
last scheduled for execution," Smith reported. But a mishandling of the
evidence by the Harris County crime lab made it impossible to reconsider
new evidence of her innocence; despite the fact that there was "even more
doubt about Newton's guilt than there was when she was granted the stay."
On Sept. 1, 2005 Newtons execution went forward, with her mother and
sisters watching, as well as her parents-in-law, who on Aug. 25 wrote to
the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole: "We never wanted to see Frances get
executed. … When the trial occurred, nobody from the [DA's] office ever
asked … our opinion. We were willing to testify on Frances' behalf, but
Frances' defense lawyer never approached us. … We do not wish to suffer
the loss of another family member."
The Lone Star State versus International Law
More recently, last summer Perry declined to grant a stay of execution in
the case of Jos Medellin, a Mexican national who was sent to death row
when he was 18 on rape and murder charges. Medellin, who was jailed in
1993, was kept ignorant of his right to talk to a consular official at the
time of his arrest — a right bestowed on him by the Vienna Convention on
According to Amnesty International, "because of this treaty violation, Jos
Medelln was deprived of the extensive assistance that Mexico provides for
the defense of its citizens facing capital charges in the USA. The Mexican
Consulate did not learn about the case until nearly 4 years after Jos
Medelln's arrest, by which time his trial and the initial appeal affirming
his conviction and death sentence had already concluded."
Aside from becoming a major diplomatic flap between the U.S. and Mexico,
the Medellin case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled
in March 2008 that the United States was obligated by international law to
comply with an International Court of Justice decision that the U.S.
provide judicial "review and reconsideration" of the convictions of some
50 Mexican nationals on death row in the United States. This did little to
help Medellin however.
"Even President Bush, who signed scores of death warrants as Texas
governor, concurred some time ago that the United States must honor its
international obligations in this case," Amnesty International's Larry Cox
said in the run-up to Medellin's execution. "There will be no clearer sign
that Texas will have gone beyond the pale than if Jos Medellin's execution
goes forward." Not surprisingly, Texas did just that, killing Medellin on
Aug. 5, 2008.
"Texans are doing just fine governing Texas," Perry once said in response
to pressure from the European Union to stop the execution of a man who did
not commit the murder for which he was sentenced to death. (That man,
Kenneth Foster, Jr., was later spared, in a historic move due entirely to
an activist campaign to save his life.) That Perry would not hesitate to
execute a foreign national in violation of international law should come
as no surprise.
Whats the Matter With Texas?
As with George W. Bush's tenure, whole volumes could be written on Perry
and the death sentences carried out in Texas under his watch; but perhaps
the most salient question at the end of the day is why. Why — especially
at a time when much of the rest of the country (indeed, the world) is
turning its back on the death penalty — does Texas continue to carry out
executions at such a disturbingly frantic pace?
What is it about Texas that it breeds such figures as Judge Sharon Keller,
who, on the day the Supreme Court decided to hear a landmark case on the
constitutionality of lethal injection, refused to allow a last-minute
appeal filed by attorneys trying to save the life of a client scheduled to
die that night because, in her words, "We close at 5"?
"Executions in the U.S. have become largely a Southern practice," says
Scott Cobb. "Last year, 95 % of all executions were in the South. It is
the legacy of the Old South and its history of slavery, lynchings and
segregation that is the reason why the South executes so many people
compared to other parts of the U.S.
"In Texas, the situation is compounded by the political system of electing
judges, such as Sharon Keller, who are allowed to make egregious
pro-death-penalty statements when they run for office and to present
themselves as 'pro-prosecution' when they should be impartial arbiters of
justice. Politicians are several steps behind public opinion on the
Cobb argues that, when presented with the damning evidence that there are
innocent people on death row, Texans would certainly reconsider the death
"If we had a referendum in Texas on a moratorium on executions, that is a
vote we could win," he says. "When people are informed about the problems
in the system, then they are supportive of a moratorium on executions. I
am absolutely sure that Texas will abolish the death penalty in my
lifetime, and Rick Perry's record of 200-plus executions will never again
A Day of Action Against Executions
In December 2005, the USA executed its 1,000th prisoner since the return
of capital punishment in 1976. "This 1,000th execution is a milestone,"
Thomas Maher, the defense attorney who represented Kenneth Boyd, the
1,000th prisoner, said after watching his client be put to death. "It's a
milestone we should all be ashamed of."
Perry has overseen more executions than any other governor in U.S.
history. As he approaches his own morbid professional milestone, a network
of activists throughout Texas — and in cities across the globe — will
hold protests calling for an end to the barbaric practice of
"The Texas anti-death-penalty community asks people around the world to
focus attention on Texas and join us in protesting the 200th execution
carried out under Rick Perry," announced Cobb of the Texas Moratorium
Network. "Altogether, Texas has executed 438 people since 1982, including
152 under former Texas Gov. George W. Bush."
Cobb urges people to call Perry at 512-463-1782 and/or to e-mail him using
the form on his Web site. ("We suggest you both call him and e-mail him.")
"I hope to tell the world outside Texas that we need their help to
pressure Texas to stop executions," says Cobb. " … Many people around
the world have business and other relationships with Texas, such as
Leipzig, Germany, which is holding a protest on June 2, and which has a
sister city relationship with Houston.
"For the people of Texas, I want to use the occasion of this appalling
milestone to educate them about the unjust system that is carrying out
executions in their names. Not only has Texas likely executed innocent
people, like Todd Willingham, it has also sent people to death row who did
not even kill anyone but who were sentenced to death under the Law of
Parties because someone else killed someone, people like Jeff Wood, who
may soon receive another execution date if the courts decide he is
mentally fit for execution. Jeff Wood did not kill anyone. He was in a car
outside when another person killed someone."
Bryan McCann, of the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death
Penalty said: "For the 200th time in his career as governor, Rick Perry —
with the complicity of the Texas Legislature and courts — has made it
clear that he is uninterested in acknowledging the mounting and
irrefutable evidence that the death penalty is incompatible with the aims
of a just society.
"This grim milestone is an important opportunity to put Perry and his
allies on notice that they are fighting a losing battle."