Man faces execution in 1986 murders in county
Convicted murderer Gary Johnson, 59, is scheduled to be executed Tuesday
for the shooting deaths of two men, Peter Sparagana, 23, and James
Hazelton, 28, who disrupted his burglary of a Huntsville area ranch in
A Walker County jury sentenced Johnson to death in August of 1988 for the
murders of Hazelton, a ranch manager, and Sparagana, Hazeltons
brother-in-law, at the Triple Creek Ranch, located west of Huntsville off
state Highway 30.
Johnson, a native of St. Louis, Mo., has remained on death row ever since.
According to information from the Texas Attorney Generals office, the
double murder occurred on the evening of April 30, 1986, just after
neighbors Bill and Shannon Ferguson observed a suspected burglary in
progress at Triple Creek Ranch.
"(The Fergusons) saw a truck pull over near a gate of the adjacent Triple
Creek Ranch," the report stated. "They noticed someone get out of the
truck, heard a chain rattle on the gate, and observed someone from the
truck go through the gate and onto the ranch. The truck's headlights had
been turned off."
The Fergusons contacted Hazelton, and soon after observed his truck enter
the ranch at a different gate.
It is assumed that the ranch manager and Sparagana surprised the burglars.
Gary Johnson, who had been previously employed by Triple Creek Ranch
owners, entered the property with his brother, Terry Johnson, with the
intent to steal a welder, tires, livestock feed and other items.
Eventually, the Fergusons heard a gunshot, prompting Shannon Ferguson to
rush to her house to phone police.
Several minutes later, Bill Ferguson heard several shots fired in rapid
succession, and after a brief silence, heard someone plead for his life.
The pleas were silenced by 2 more shots.
When the police arrived, they discovered the bodies of Hazelton and
Sparagana dead from bullet wounds fired at close range.
At trial, Gary Johnson's brother, Randy, testified that Gary Johnson told
him of the events that transpired at the Triple Creek Ranch that the pair
were at the ranch to steal something when two men "got the drop on them."
"While Terry Johnson distracted them, Gary Johnson shot one of the men,"
the report stated. "(The brothers) caught the other man, brought him back
to the barn, made him kneel, and tied his hands behind his back.
"While the 2nd man pleaded for mercy, Gary Johnson shoved the gun in his
mouth. The medical examiner later testified that the 2nd man died from a
contact bullet wound to the mouth."
Gary Johnson explained the reason for killing the 2 men to his brother
Randy, stating that "Dead men don't talk." Appeals to the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals and the United States Supreme Court have been exhausted.
An application for a stay of execution was filed on Tuesday.
According to TDCJ public information officer Jason Clark, Johnson is the
2nd offender scheduled to be executed by the state this year.
It is unknown yet whether family of the victims will witness the
execution, but family and friends of Johnson are set to do so.
(source: Huntsville Item)
Expert To Testify In Wrongful Execution Case
A fire expert whose report on a death penalty case raised concerns that
the State may have in 2004 executed an innocent Corisicana man is expected
to testify before state lawmakers Monday.
Craig Beyler of Baltimore is on the witness list for Monday's meeting of
the state House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in Austin.
Beyler's 2009 report on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham said fire
science does not support the original finding of arson in the deaths of
Willingham's 3 young children in Corsicana.
That report led some to conclude Willingham was wrongly executed in 2004.
Willingham maintained his innocence, even from the death chamber.
A state fire marshal, who also is deceased, and a local fire investigator
both ruled the fire as arson.
(source: Associated Press)
In Hasan Case, Superiors Ignored Their Worries
A Defense Department review of the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas,
has found the doctors overseeing Maj. Nidal Hasan's medical training
repeatedly voiced concerns over his strident views on Islam and his
inappropriate behavior, yet continued to give him positive performance
evaluations that kept him moving through the ranks.
The picture emerging from the review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert
Gates is one of supervisors who failed to heed their own warnings about an
officer ill-suited to be an Army psychiatrist, according to information
examined by investigators conducting the study.
Hasan, 39, is accused of murdering 13 people on Nov. 5 at Fort Hood, the
worst killing spree on a U.S. military base.
What remains unclear is why Hasan would be advanced in spite of all the
worries over his competence. That is likely to be the subject of a more
detailed accounting by the department. Recent statistics show the Army
rarely blocks junior officers from promotion, especially in the medical
Hasan showed no signs of being violent or a threat. But parallels have
been drawn between the missed signals in his case and those preceding the
thwarted Christmas attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner.
President Barack Obama and his top national security aides have
acknowledged they had intelligence about the alleged bomber, Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, but failed to connect the dots.
The Defense Department review is not intended to delve into allegations
Hasan corresponded by e-mail with Yemen-based radical cleric Anwar
al-Awlaki before the attack. Those issues are part of a separate criminal
investigation by law enforcement officials.
In telling episodes from the latter stages of lengthy Hasan's medical
education in the Washington, D.C., area, he gave a class presentation
questioning whether the U.S.-led war on terror was actually a war on
Islam. And students said he suggested that Shariah, or Islamic law,
trumped the Constitution and he attempted to justify suicide bombings,
according to the information reviewed by The Associated Press.
Yet no one in Hasan's chain of command appears to have challenged his
eligibility to hold a secret security clearance even though they could
have because the statements raised doubt about his loyalty to the United
States. Had they, Hasan's fitness to serve as an Army officer may have
been called into question long before he reported to Fort Hood.
Instead, in July 2009, Hasan arrived in central Texas, his secret
clearance intact, his reputation as a weak performer well known, and Army
authorities believing that posting him at such a large facility would mask
Four months later, according to witnesses, he walked into a processing
center at Fort Hood where troops undergo medical screening, jumped on a
table with two handguns, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" Arabic for "God is
great!" and opened fire. Thirteen people were killed in the spree and
dozens more were wounded.
Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts
of attempted premeditated murder. He remains at a San Antonio military
hospital, undergoing rehabilitation for paralysis stemming from gunshot
wounds suffered when security guards fired back during the massacre.
Authorities have not said whether they plan to seek the death penalty.
After the Fort Hood shooting, Gates appointed two former senior defense
officials to examine the procedures and policies for identifying threats
within the military services. The review, led by former Army Secretary
Togo West and retired Navy Adm. Vernon Clark, began Nov. 20 and is
scheduled to be delivered to Gates by Jan. 15.
Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to
comment on the West-Clark review because it's not complete. "We will not
know the specific content of the report until it is submitted to the
secretary of defense," he said.
Hasan's superiors had a full picture of him, developed over his 12-year
career as a military officer, medical student and psychiatrist, according
to the information reviewed by AP.
While in medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health
Sciences from 1997 to 2003, Hasan received a string of below average and
failing grades, was put on academic probation and showed little motivation
He took six years to graduate from the university in Bethesda, Maryland,
instead of the customary four, according to the school. The delays were
due in part to the deaths of his father in 1998 and his mother in 2001.
Yet the information about his academic probation and bad grades wasn't
included in his military personnel file, leaving the impression he was
ready for more intense instruction.
In June 2003, Hasan started a four-year psychiatry internship and
residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and he
was counseled frequently for deficiencies in his performance. Teachers and
colleagues described him as a below average student.
Between 2003 and 2007, Hasan's supervisors expressed their concerns with
him in memos, meeting notes and counseling sessions. He needed steady
monitoring, especially in the emergency room, had difficulty communicating
and working with colleagues, his attendance was spotty and he saw few
In one incident already made public, a patient of Hasan's with suicidal
and homicidal tendencies walked out of the hospital without permission.
Still, Hasan's officer evaluation reports were consistently more positive,
usually describing his performance as satisfactory and at least twice as
outstanding. Known as "OERs," the reports are used to determine promotions
and assignments. The Army promoted Hasan to captain in 2003 and to major
At Walter Reed, Hasan's conflict with his Islamic faith and his military
service became more apparent to superiors and colleagues, according to the
information. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a trip
expected of all Muslims at least once. But he was also cited for
inappropriately engaging patients in discussions about religious issues.
Early in 2007, Maj. Scott Moran became director of psychiatry residency
and took a much firmer line with Hasan. Moran reprimanded him for not
being reachable when he was supposed to be on-call, developed a plan to
improve his performance, and informed him his research project about the
internal conflicts of Muslim soldiers was inappropriate.
Nonetheless, Hasan presented the project, entitled "Koranic World View as
It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military," and it was approved as
meeting a residency program requirement, according to the information.
Hasan graduated from the Walter Reed residency program and began a
two-year fellowship in preventive and disaster psychiatry. Despite his
earlier reservations, Moran wrote a solid reference letter for Hasan that
said he was a competent doctor.
Reached by telephone, Moran declined to comment.
Hasan completed the fellowship June 30, 2009. 2 weeks later he was at Fort
(source: Fox News)