death penalty news—-TEXAS

Jan. 12

TEXAS—2 new execution dates

2 new execution dates have been set; Jonathan Green has been given an
execution date for June 30, and Michael Perry has been given an execution
date for July 1. They should be considered serious.

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


Former worker who shot 2 at Texas ranch set to die

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected convicted killer Gary Johnson's plea for a
halt to his execution scheduled for Tuesday night in the Texas death
chamber for killing a ranch foreman and another man.

Johnson was condemned for the April 1986 slayings of James Hazelton, 28,
and Hazelton's brother-in-law, Peter Sparagana, 23. The 2 were gunned down
while investigating a call from a neighbor who reported intruders had
driven through a chained gate at the Triple Creek Ranch about 10 miles
west of Huntsville.

Attorneys for Johnson, 59, argued he was nearly blind, in poor health and
posed no danger to society if he was spared from the Texas death chamber.
However, the court rejected their plea.

Johnson will be the 2nd inmate to receive lethal injection this year in
the state that executes the most prisoners. At least 6 others have
execution dates scheduled for the coming months.

It took about 2 years for investigators to assemble their case against
Johnson, who once worked at the ranch, and his brother, Terry. The
brothers became suspects after the neighbor who saw men drive into the
ranch described distinctive brake lights on their truck.

Terry Johnson, 62, took a plea deal with a 99-year prison term. Gary
Johnson went to trial on capital murder charges, was convicted and
sentenced to death.

"This was not their first nighttime burglary," recalled Frank Blazek, the
prosecutor at Johnson's trial. "They knew the various pastures and that
was part of a pattern they had."

Hazelton and Sparagana discovered Terry Johnson but didn't see his
brother, who opened fire with a .44-caliber Magnum pistol and shot
Sparagana, according to evidence and statements from Terry Johnson.
Hazelton tried to run but was caught by Gary Johnson, who once worked for

"He put the gun in Hazelton's mouth," Blazek said. "Hazelton begged for
his life and people across the way, in the nearby pasture, couldn't see
all this but could hear a man begging for his life."

Shannon Ferguson, the neighbor who called Hazelton about the suspicious
truck entering the ranch, and her husband were in a pasture tending to a
horse about to give birth.

She said last week she's always "felt kind of responsible" for the 2 men
being murdered because they wouldn't have investigated if she hadn't
called. But Ferguson also believes if she ignored the Johnson brothers'
suspicious activity, "I think they probably would have gone on and
murdered more people."

The murder weapon was recovered at the home of another Johnson brother in
Union, Mo.

Johnson declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his
scheduled execution. Before arriving on death row, he had no previous
prison record. Trial testimony showed that in 1972, in his native
Missouri, he paid $150 in restitution to a man whose dog he shot and
killed. The dog's owner was a few feet away at the time.

Blazek said investigators found the same slogan etched in concrete outside
Johnson's home and on a T-shirt he was wearing in a photograph: "Kill them
all and let God sort them out."

"It indicated a callousness about human life," he said.

Johnson's lawyer, David Schulman, said the prisoner's "impaired physical
condition and multiple disabilities prevent him from being a danger to
others, currently or in the future. … His execution would be cruelly
disproportionate punishment, because he does not now and will never pose
any risk of danger to anyone."

State attorneys responded a jury decided in August 1988 that Johnson
should die and Schulman's appeal improperly sought to reassess his threat
of violence.

"It's been over 20 years," Ferguson said of the jury's punishment
decision. "I think it was time a long time ago."


Convicted killer of 2 at Texas ranch set to die

A former southeast Texas ranch hand is headed to the Texas death chamber
for fatally shooting a ranch foreman and another man who interrupted his
burglary nearly 24 years ago.

Gary Johnson hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would stop his scheduled
punishment Tuesday evening for the slayings of 28-year-old James Hazelton
and Hazelton's brother-in-law, 23-year-old Peter Sparagana. The pair was
gunned down on an April 1986 night after investigating a call from a
neighbor. The neighbor had reported that intruders had driven through a
chained gate at the ranch about 10 miles west of Huntsville.

Johnson's attorneys say the 59-year-old inmate is nearly blind and too ill
to be executed.

He would be the 2nd Texas prisoner put to death this year.

(source for both: Associated Press)