Defendants Executed
by Texas

17 Cases

Bexar County, TX 

Ruben Cantu

Nov 8, 1984

Ruben Cantu was convicted of murdering Pedro Gomez, a Mexican laborer. Gomez was robbed and shot to death while he was sleeping in a house under construction on Briggs Street in South San Antonio. The house was right across the street from where Cantu, then 17, lived with his father. Cantu was executed by lethal injection on Aug. 24, 1993. Following Cantu's execution, witnesses have come forward to exonerate him.

Juan Moreno, who was wounded during the attempted robbery and a key eyewitness in the case against Cantu, now says that it was not Cantu who shot him and that he only identified Cantu as the shooter because he felt pressured and was afraid of the authorities. Moreno said that he twice told police that Cantu was not his assailant, but that the authorities continued to pressure him to identify Cantu as the shooter after Cantu was involved in an unrelated wounding of a police officer. “The police were sure it was [Cantu] because he had hurt a police officer. They told me they were certain it was him, and that's why I testified.”

David Garza, Cantu's co-defendant during his 1985 trial, signed a sworn affidavit saying that he allowed Cantu to be accused and executed even though he was not with him on the night of the killing. Garza stated, “Part of me died when he died. You've got a 17-year-old who went to his grave for something he did not do. Texas murdered an innocent person.”

Sam D. Millsap, Jr., the Bexar County District Attorney who charged Cantu with capital murder, said he never should have sought the death penalty in a case based on testimony from an eyewitness who identified a suspect only after police showed him Cantu's photo three separate times. Miriam Ward, forewoman of the jury that convicted Cantu, noted, “With a little extra work, a little extra effort, maybe we'd have gotten the right information. The bottom line is, an innocent person was put to death for it. We all have our finger in that.”  (Houston Chronicle)  [1/07]

Bexar County, TX 

Kia Johnson

Oct 29, 1993 (Balcones Hts)

Kia Levoy Johnson was sentenced to death for the shooting murder of William Matthew Rains. Rains, a store clerk, was shot during a 2:45 a.m. robbery of a Stop 'N Go convenience store at 3309 Hillcrest Dr. in Balcones Heights, Texas. The assailant was unable to open the cash register and took it with him. The details of the crime were captured on video by a store security camera.
Read More by Clicking Here

Cameron County, TX 

Leonel Torres Herrera

Sept 29, 1981

Leonel Torres Herrera was sentenced to death for murdering two police officers, David Rucker and Enrique Carrisalez. The murders occurred at separate locations along a highway between Brownsville and Los Fresnos. Enrique Hernandez, Carrisalez's patrol car partner, identified Herrera. Hernandez also said Herrera was only person in the car that they stopped. Carrisalez, who did not die until 9 days after he was shot, identified Herrera from a single photo. A license plate check showed that the stopped car belonged to Herrera's live in girlfriend.

In 1984, after Herrera's brother Raul was murdered, Raul's attorney came forward and signed an affidavit stating that Raul told him he had killed Rucker and Carrisalez. A former cellmate of Raul also came forward and signed a similar affidavit. Raul's son, Raul Jr., who was nine at the time of the killings, signed a third affidavit. It averred that he had witnessed the killings. Jose Ybarra, Jr., a schoolmate of the Herrera brothers, signed a fourth affidavit. Ybarra alleged that Raul Sr. told him in 1983 that he had shot the two police officers. Herrera alleged that law enforcement officials were aware of Ybarra's statement and had withheld it in violation of Brady v. Maryland. Armed with these affidavits, Herrera petitioned for a new trial, but was denied relief in state courts. One court did dismiss Herrera's Brady claim due to lack of evidence. Herrera's appeal eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was argued in Oct. 1992.

In Jan. 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that Herrera's actual innocence was not a bar to his execution. He had to show that there were procedural errors in his trial in order to gain relief. Justice Rehnquist wrote that the “presumption of innocence disappears” once a defendant has been convicted in a fair trial. Dissenting Justice Blackmun wrote: “The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder.” Herrera was executed four months after the ruling on May 12, 1993.  (Herrera v. Collins)  [1/07]

Cameron County, TX 

San Benito Three

Dec 23, 1984

Davis Losada, Jose “Joe” Cardenas, and Jesus “Jesse” Romero were convicted of the rape and murder of 15-year-old Olga Lydia Perales. Losada and Romero were sentenced to death while Cardenas was given life imprisonment. Perales had been found Dec. 24, 1984 in the brush on the outskirts of San Benito, Texas. She had been bludgeoned 10 to 20 times about the head and shoulders and stabbed twice in the chest after her death. Two weeks later on Jan. 8, Rafael Levya, Jr., age 16, told his probation officer he knew who killed Perales. Leyra initially stated he had only seen the murder, but he would eventually admit involvement.
Read More by Clicking Here

Dallas County, TX 

Billy Conn Gardner

May 16, 1983

Billy Conn Gardner was sentenced to death for the murder of Thelma Row, 64, a cafeteria supervisor at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas. Row was shot during a robbery of the school's cafeteria and died 11 days later of her injuries. Prior to the robbery, Row's co-worker, Paula Sanders, told her husband Melvin that several thousand dollars in daily cafeteria receipts were processed in a back room at the school. After prosecutors threatened to bring charges against Melvin, Melvin claimed that he invited Gardner to participate in the robbery. According to Melvin, Gardner was the robber while he, Melvin, was the getaway driver. In exchange for his testimony Melvin received complete immunity from prosecution for the murder and probation for pending forgery and firearms charges. The state also agreed not to prosecute Paula Sanders.

The assailant had worn a stocking mask. Paula, who was in the cafeteria at the time of the robbery said that she could not provide a description of the assailant, because her back was turned. However, before Row died, she described the assailant as having a “bony face ... and a two-inch goatee.” Paula had known Gardner. The state was unable to produce a single witness who recalled ever seeing Gardner with a goatee. Two other witnesses to the shooting, Carolyn Sims and Lester Matthews, the school custodian, stated the assailant had reddish-blond hair. However, Gardner had black hair. Matthews nevertheless positively identified Gardner as the shooter even though he said he had only seen the shooter for three or four seconds and did not actually identify him until his third police interview, three months after the crime.

Paula testified that she was unaware of the robbery plans but failed to mention that she received several phone calls only minutes before the robbery, and that according to Sims, she appeared “nervous and upset” after taking these calls. Gardner's lawyer never interviewed Paula and only met with his client once, for fifteen minutes, prior to jury selection. Sims was never deposed until years after the trial. Gardner was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 16, 1995.  (Atlantic) (NY Times)  [8/08]

Hale County, TX 

David Stoker

Nov 9, 1986 (Hale Center)

David Wayne Stoker was sentenced to death for the murder of David Mannrique (Manrique), a clerk at an Allsup's convenience store in Hale Center, Texas. Mannrique was shot three times and robbed of $96.81. No physical evidence placed Stoker at the store or established that he owned the gun that killed the victim. Five months after the crime, Carey Todd told police that Stoker had confessed to him and had given him the murder weapon, which Todd then gave them. At trial, Todd denied under oath that the prosecution gave him any incentives to testify against Stoker. However, Todd had felony drug and weapons charges against him dropped later that same day. He possibly faced being charged with Mannrique's murder had he not been willing to finger someone else. Ronnie and Debbie Thompson also testified that Stoker had confessed the murder to them.

Ronnie Thompson later recanted his testimony. Thompson said he had signed the statement written by his wife, Debbie Thompson, without reading it because she claimed Stoker had raped her, a claim he later found to be false. He claimed prosecutors threatened to try him for perjury if his trial testimony differed from his affidavit. During Stoker's trial, his wife left him to move in with Todd. Both she and Todd then each received half of a $1000 Crime Stoppers reward for naming Stoker. Police Chief Richard Cordell had testified there was no local Crime Stoppers, but later admitted he was one of the group's founders.

Prosecutors claimed that a shell casing found in Stoker's car linked him to the murder weapon. However, Stoker did not own the car until months after the murder. A federal appellate judge concluded that Todd was just as likely the murderer. It would appear, however, that Todd is more likely the murderer, as the only reliable evidence in the case is that Todd possessed the murder weapon and knew that it was used in the murder. Stoker was executed on June 16, 1997.  (TJDP) (CPIT) (Atlantic)  [8/08]

Harris County, TX 

Gary Graham

May 13, 1981

Gary Graham, later known as Shaka Sankola, was convicted of the robbery and murder of Bobby Lambert, 53, outside a Safeway supermarket in north Houston. He was convicted primarily on the testimony of one witness, Bernadine Skillern, who said she saw the killer's face for a few seconds through her car windshield, from a distance of 30 to 40 feet away. Two other witnesses, both who worked at the grocery store and said they got a good look at the assailant, said Graham was not the killer but were never interviewed by Graham's court appointed attorney, Ronald Mock, and were not called to testify at trial. Three of the jurors who voted to convict Graham signed affidavits saying they would have voted differently had all of the evidence been available. Graham was executed on June 23, 2000.  (Justice: Denied) (TJDP)  [1/07]

Harris County, TX 

Robert Drew

Feb 21, 1983

Robert Nelson Drew was convicted of the murder of 17-year-old Jeffrey Mays. In Feb. 1983, Mays went traveling with his high school friend, Bee Landrum, in Landrum's 1973 Maverick. Both were runaways with alcohol and drug problems. While traveling, the two picked up numerous hitchhikers along the way to obtain gas money. In Lafayette, LA they picked up Drew, then 23, and a man surnamed Frank. Mays and Landrum agreed to drive the men thirty miles east to Franklin, LA. Drew assumed driving duty within 4 blocks of his pick-up point, but got stuck in the mud while crossing a highway median to make a U-turn. In Franklin, Frank bought pizza and beer for everyone, filled Landrum's car with gas, and gave Drew $65. Mays and Landrum agreed to take Drew to Houston in exchange for more gas money.
Read More by Clicking Here

Harris County, TX 

Frances Newton

Apr 7, 1987

Frances Elaine Newton was sentenced to death for the of murders of her husband and two children. The husband, Adrian Newton, was found shot to death in the family's apartment along with the couple's two children, Alton, 7, and Farrah, 1. The apartment was located at 6126 West Mount Houston Road, Houston, Texas. Less than a month before the murders, Frances purchased a $50,000 life insurance policy on Adrian and forged his name to complete the deal. She also purchased a separate $50,000 policy on Farrah. At the time of the murders both Frances and Adrian were seeing other people.
Read More by Clicking Here

Johnson County, TX 

Bobby Hopkins

July 31, 1993 (Grandview)

Bobby Ray Hopkins was convicted of the murders of Jennifer Weston, 19, and Sandy Marbut, 18. He was sentenced to death. The murders occurred at the victims' apartment at 601-B South First St. in Grandview, TX. On the night of the murders the victims threw a party at which 30 to 35 people attended.
Read More by Clicking Here

McLennan County, TX 

David Spence

July 14, 1982 (Waco)

David Wayne Spence was convicted of the murder of Jill Montgomery and sentenced to death. Montgomery, 17, along with Raylene Rice, 17, and Montgomery's boyfriend, Kenneth Franks, 18, were found murdered in Speegleville Park at Lake Waco. Three other individuals, Gilbert Melendez, Tony Melendez, and Muneer Deeb were also convicted in connection to the murders. Truman Simons, a night jailer who had unsupervised contact with inmates, largely developed the cases against all four.

Spence was executed on April 3, 1997. Marvin Horton, the police lieutenant who supervised the case, said, “I do not think David Spence committed this crime.” Ramon Salinas, the homicide detective on the case, added, “My opinion is that David Spence was innocent. Nothing from the investigation ever led us to any evidence that he was involved.” One of the inmates who testified at Spence's trial, Robert Snelson, said, “We all fabricated our accounts of Spence confessing in order to try to get a break from the state on our cases.” A pro-prosecution book, Careless Whispers by Dallas journalist Carlton Stowers was written about the murders.  (TJDP) (DP News) (JD)  [1/07]

Navarro County, TX 

Todd Willingham

Dec 23, 1991 (Corsicana)

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murdering his three daughters by setting his house on fire. Under police interrogation, Willingham said that his wife, Stacy, had left the house around 9 a.m. After she got out of the driveway, he heard his one-year-old twin daughters cry, so he got up and gave them a bottle. The children’s room had a safety gate across the doorway which his two-year-old daughter, Amber, could climb over but not the twins. He and Stacy often let the twins nap on the floor after they drank their bottles. Since Amber was still in bed, he went back into his room to sleep. Willingham's house was warmed by three space heaters, one of which was in the children's bedroom. This heater had an internal flame. Amber had been taught not to play with the heater though she reportedly got “whuppings every once in a while for messing with it.”
Read More by Clicking Here

Nueces County, TX 

Carlos De Luna

Feb 4, 1983 (Corpus Christi)

Carlos De Luna was sentenced to death for the murder of a convenience store and gas station clerk named Wanda Jean Lopez. Lopez, 24, was stabbed at a Sigmor gas station on South Padre Island Drive in Corpus Christi. Her blood splattered on the store walls, the cash register, and the floor. Forty minutes after the murder, police found De Luna hiding under a pick-up truck on a side street a few hundred yards from the station. He had taken off his shirt and shoes. But there was no blood on his face or pants. And when his shirt and shoes were found, no blood was on them either.
Read More by Clicking Here

Potter County, TX 

Johnny Frank Garrett

Oct 31, 1981 (Amarillo)

Johnny Frank Garrett was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 76-year-old Sister Tadea Benz, a Roman Catholic nun. Benz had been found dead in her room at St. Francis Convent, 4301 N.E. 18th Ave. in Amarillo, TX. The DA's office and the police linked the crime to the rape and murder of another woman, Narnie Box Bryson, in the same neighborhood four months earlier. They claimed there were too many similarities between the two crimes for them to be coincidental.
Read More by Clicking Here

Runnels County, TX 

Luis Ramirez

Apr 8, 1998

Luis Ramirez was executed for the murder of Nemicio Nandin who was reportedly dating Ramirez's ex-wife. Ramirez's conviction was based on the testimony of police informant Tim Hoogstra, a self-admitted “daily drug abuser,” who was paid $500 for his testimony. Hoogstra was also granted leniency on a shoplifting charge and other pending charges. In addition he was promised “Crime Stopper” money upon Ramirez's conviction. Hoogstra gave testimony that when he was getting high with another man named Edward Bell, Bell told him Ramirez paid him $1000 to kill Nandin. Bell was never called to testify nor had he ever given a statement to corroborate Hoogstra’s testimony. Ramirez was denied his Sixth Amendment right to dispute Hoogstra's testimony by cross-examining Bell.

Ramirez told his court-appointed attorney, Gonzalo Rios, to call an alibi witness, Patricia Raby, but Rios refused to even talk to her. Ramirez thought Rios was prejudiced against him because he found out later that Rios's brother and cousin had been murdered two decades before and another cousin shot. Ramirez said he never met Nandin, Hoogstra, or Bell, and has no knowledge of whether or not Nandin dated his ex-wife. Ramirez was executed by lethal injection on Oct. 20, 2005.  (IIPPI) (Statement of LR)

Tarrant County, TX 

Richard Jones

Feb 19, 1986 (Fort Worth)

Richard Wayne Jones was convicted of the abduction and murder of Tammy Livingston. Around 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 19, 1986 witnesses Ruthie Amato and her two daughters watched as Livingston was abducted from a Michael's store parking lot in Hurst, Texas. Between 9:20 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. the same night, a witness named Robert Speights heard screams coming from a field at 4600 Randol Mill Road in Fort Worth. At 11:20 p.m. a fire was reported in the field. When police responded they found Livingston's body. She had been stabbed 19 times.
Read More by Clicking Here

Wichita County, TX 

Odell Barnes, Jr.

Nov 29, 1989 (Wichita Falls)

Odell Barnes, Jr., was convicted of the murder of Helen Bass, his friend and lover. He was sentenced to death. Bass, 42, was beaten and stabbed with a kitchen knife, then killed with a gunshot to the head. While driving by in a car, witness Robert Brooks claimed to have seen Barnes, wearing coveralls, hurdle a fence in Bass's backyard at 10:30 p.m.  Brooks allegedly witnessed this event under bad lighting conditions from 40 yards away while wearing tinted glasses. He first made this statement before it was known that Bass did not arrive home from work until 11:30 p.m. In addition, Brooks barely knew Barnes. According to the prosecution theory, Barnes kicked in her back door at 10:30 p.m. and waited an hour for her to return home. Such a theory seems dubious given Barnes's relationship with Bass and the fact that Barnes's mother was picking up Bass from work at 11:15 p.m. A shoe print found on the back door and mentioned in a police report, was wiped clean. Given Barnes's 14EEE shoe size, it easily could have been used to identify or exonerate him.
Read More by Clicking Here