[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jul 24 23:31:16 CDT 2004
DA: 'I think this is the beginning of the end of the death penalty'
Jefferson County has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to prosecute
killer Walter Bell Jr., and expended countless hours of work.
He's had 3 trials in Beaumont, been found guilty 3 times in the 1974
deaths of Ferd and Irene Chisum in their Port Arthur home, and three times
has been sentenced to die.
Now that money and effort might all be for naught.
Criminal District Court Judge Charles Carver on Friday recommended that
the Court of Criminal Appeals commute Bell's sentence to life in prison
because he is mentally retarded.
"I think this is the beginning of the end of the death penalty," Jefferson
County District Attorney Tom Maness said Friday.
If Texas juries had the option to sentence killers to life without the
possibility of parole, and capital punishment were abolished, protest from
the state's prosecutors would be little more than a grumble, he predicted.
It's expensive, it's time-consuming and it's stressful to seek the death
penalty, Maness said.
"It's so difficult," he said. "It gets more difficult all the time."
Beaumont-based attorney Hal Laine defended Bell in his 1982 trial in the
murder of Ferd Chisum.
The death penalty is too random, he said. Similar crimes committed in
different counties with different juries can have totally different
"There are many, many murderers who do not face the possibility of a death
sentence," he said.
That possibility is a source of anxiety for attorneys on both sides, Laine
"There are mistakes made. Mistakes do happen," Laine said. "Once the death
comes, you can't correct that."
In the 36 states where juries can choose the death penalty or life without
parole, they choose life at a ratio of 3-to-1, said Rick Halperin, a death
penalty opponent and Southern Methodist University history professor.
"It's clear that juries are not in love with death sentencing," he said.
Life & death
A state district judge here recommended Friday that a higher court commute
Walter Bell Jr.'s death sentence to life in prison because he is mentally
The 50-year-old from Port Arthur has been on death row since 1975 --
longer than any other inmate. He was convicted of capital murder three
times, most recently in 1994, in the 1974 slayings of Ferd and Irene
Criminal District Court Judge Charles Carver made his recommendation to
the Court of Criminal Appeals based on evidence from a May hearing.
Because of the time already served, Bell could be eligible for parole as
soon as the sentence is commuted.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing the mentally retarded
violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The Supreme Court's guidelines are too strict, Maness said, and Carver had
no choice but to recommend commutation.
"He was boxed in," Maness said.
In a separate ruling, Carver said the death sentence of Port Arthur's
Elroy Chester should stand because he didn't prove that he is mentally
Bell's eligibility for parole is based on the fact that at the time of the
offense, a sentence of life in prison required review after 20 years. Bell
has served nearly 30.
"I think the Bureau of Pardons and Parole will be very hesitant to release
him," Maness said. "If they do, it's going to be over the objections of
district attorneys, law enforcement and victims."
Wesley Bernard, 76, of Port Arthur is a friend of Bell's family who lived
next door to them when the Chisums were killed. He hopes that Bell, a
former Golden Gloves boxing champion, gets released to a halfway house.
"I'd like to see them give him another chance," Bernard said. "He never
was a bright kid. He never was right in his mind."
Bell's Austin-based attorney, Bill Christian, presented school and
military records showing that Bell's IQ has tested below 70 since he was
9, which indicates he's mildly mentally retarded.
He was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps after his commanding officer
said that Bell was "so dull and inept as to be almost valueless to the
Bell's mother, Bessie Brown of Port Arthur, attended Bell's hearing in
May, but didn't return messages left at her home seeking comment Friday.
The Chisums' daughter, Dinah Sherrill, could not be reached for comment.
Bell worked for Ferd Chisum in an appliance repair store. After raping
Irene Chisum, forcing her to write him a check for $600 and killing them
both, he tried to take a cab from the crime scene.
A day after the widely publicized murders, he took a cab to the Chisums'
bank and tried to use a shoddy fake ID to cash the check.
The Court of Criminal Appeals will rule after receiving Carver's ruling.
The court normally hears oral arguments in capital murder cases, but could
waive them. A spokeswoman said Friday she had no idea when the court might
In the other Port Arthur case, Elroy Chester pleaded guilty to capital
murder in 1998 for killing Port Arthur firefighter Willie Ryman III, who
was trying to save his teenage nieces from being raped in their home.
"What other conclusion could he (Carver) come to?" Ryman's sister, Kim
Chiasson, said by telephone. "You can never count anything out, but we're
real happy with his decision because it's the right one."
Chester also admitted to killing John Henry Sepeda, 78; Etta Mae
Stallings, 87; Cheryl DeLeon, 40; and Albert Bolden Jr., 35, who was his
brother-in-law. The killings, all in the Pear Ridge neighborhood of Port
Arthur, took place during a home burglary spree from 1997 to 1998.
>From crime to commutation: 30 years in the life of Walter Bell Jr.
July 19, 1974: Ferd and Irene Chisum of Port Arthur are found in the
bathroom of their home. Irene Chisum, 59, had been raped and strangled and
Ferd Chisum, 49, had been strangled and stabbed.
July 20, 1974: Police capture 20-year-old Walter Bell Jr. after a massive
manhunt. Authorities say Bell admitted to the double slaying.
November 1974: Bell's first trial begins.
December 1974: Jury finds Bell guilty of Irene Chisum's murder. He is
sentenced to the electric chair.
January 1979: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upholds murder conviction.
June 1981: U.S. Supreme Court upholds death sentence.
March 1982: A jury convicts Bell for a second time in the Chisum killings,
this time in Ferd Chisum's death. Again the death penalty is assessed.
April 1984: Bell's sentence in Irene Chisum's death is commuted to life in
prison because he did not receive enough warning of his rights during an
interview with a psychiatrist.
November 1991: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sets aside Bell's death
sentence in Ferd Chisum's death, ruling that the jury should have been
able to consider Bell's possible mental retardation.
March 1994: Jury hands down a third death sentence in a trial over Ferd
Chisum's death, rejecting arguments that Bell's mental retardation merits
a life sentence instead.
June 2002: U.S. Supreme Court declares the execution of the mentally
retarded unconstitutional, throwing Bell's death sentence into doubt once
July 23, 2004: Criminal District Judge Charles Carver recommends that
Bell's sentence in Ferd Chisum's death be commuted to life in prison, in
light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
(source for both: Beaumont Enterprise)
Judge finds Bell retarded
A district court judge has reviewed the cases of 2 of Port Arthur's most
notorious murderers and has determined that 1 should be removed from death
Judge Charles Carver ruled that Walter Bell Jr., 50, who has been on death
row longer than any other inmate, is mentally retarded and therefore
cannot be put to death. Bell's death sentence could be commuted to life in
prison if the court of appeals agrees with Carver's decision.
After reviewing the case of Elroy Chester however, Carver determined that
the killer suffered from learning disabilities but not mental retardation.
The cases came up for review after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that
execution of the mentally retarded is unconstitutional.
Carver heard testimony on both cases this year and released his findings
Bell was convicted of the July 1974 murder of his former employer in Port
Arthur, Ferd Chisum and has been on death row since May 20, 1975.
Bell had been employed by Chisum in his appliance repair shop. After Bell
was fired, he went to the Chisum home where he tied up Chisum and his
wife, Irene, then robbed, beat and strangled them. Irene Chisum was raped
before she was killed. The bodies of the Chisums were found in the
bathroom of their home. Bell was arrested the next day outside of a bar
after he attempted to cash a check on the Chisum's account.
Prosecutors argued that the Supreme Court decision did not apply to Bell
because of several of his actions during the crime, including the fact
that he brought handcuffs and an extension cord to the Chisum home to
restrain them and that he forced Irene Chisum to write several checks for
him. Those actions indicated Bell had planned the crime and that it showed
sophistication of someone not mentally retarded.
Carver, however, considered Bell's records from the Port Arthur
Independent School District, where he was placed in special education
programs from age 9, and intelligent tests from the past 40 years that
consistently show Bell with a below-average intelligence. Experts and
personal testimonies showed that Bell never lived independently, never
passed the driver's license test, never managed a bank account, never
passed the GED test, performed only menial jobs and was unable to
establish significant peer relationships.
"Several facts about the crime in particular reflect diminished capacity
for rational, logical thinking," Carver wrote. The judge cited Bell's
attempt to call a cab from the crime scene, his attempt to pass a check at
the victims' bank the day after murder had been widely publicized and
presented the teller an identification card that was obviously false.
Chester, on the other hand, had intelligence test scores ranging from 66
to 77. Individuals with mild mental retardation generally score 55-70 on
IQ tests. The court found that the test scores as well as records from
family, friends, teachers and employers did not conclusively establish the
inmate's mental retardation. PAISD classified Chester as learning disabled
and speech handicapped.
Trial records show that Chester committed several murders in the Pear
Ridge area of Port Arthur in 1997 and 1998, beginning with a burglary in
the summer of 1977. Chester admitted that in most instances he scouted the
location, brought a weapon, flashlight and wire cutters to cut the phone
lines and wore a mask.
In particular, the murder of his brother-in-law, Albert Bolden, 35,
exhibited "considerable forethought and planning," Carver's document said.
During a burglary being committed by Chester and Bolden, Chester waited
for Bolden to turn his head and shot him. Chester later admitted he never
intended to burglarize the house, but instead used it as an opportunity to
commit murder because his brother-in-law set him up on a date with a
In the murder of 40-year-old Cheryl DeLeon, Chester knew the work schedule
of the Luby's employee, hid outside of the woman's home with a gun, gloves
and ski mask and shot her when she returned home from work.
The Chester was convicted of capital murder for the 1998 murder of Willie
Ryman, a Port Arthur firefighter. The murder occurred after Chester robbed
and tied up two young women and was attempting to rape them. Ryman, the
girls' uncle, unexpectedly arrived at the home and Chester hid and shot
"The Court finds that the applicant has failed in its burden to prove by a
preponderance of the evidence that he is mentally retarded," Carver wrote.
Chester will remain on death row.
(source: Port Arthur News)
Witnesses tell jurors details about killer's other crimes----Testimony in
trial's punishment phase includes allegations of rape, drug use and theft
A 19-year-old woman broke down in tears Friday as she told jurors she had
been raped by a man convicted of capital murder this week in the slayings
of his ex-girlfriend's three younger sisters.
"He pulled down my panties with one hand," the woman said during the
penalty phase of Anthony Quinn Francois' capital murder trial.
The woman was one of several witnesses who testified Friday about
Francois' extensive criminal background, which included weapons
possession, stolen cars and cocaine possession. The Harris County District
Attorney's office is seeking the death penalty for Francois.
Jurors found the 36-year-old Francois guilty Thursday of gunning down his
ex-girlfriend's sisters, Ashley Patterson, 11, and Britteny Patterson, 10,
last Sept. 11. He also was accused, but not tried, in the shooting death
of another sister, Naikesha Patterson, 15, that night.
Francois told police he erupted in a jealous rage after Shemeka Patterson,
16, whom he had dated, told him she was dating a boy her own age.
Shemeka Patterson and her mother, Sheila Patterson, 34, also were shot and
The woman who accused Francois of raping her said she was spending the
night at the Patterson home in April 2002, when the alleged sexual assault
occurred. It is Chronicle policy to not identify alleged victims of sexual
The incident was reported to Houston Police, but Assistant District
Attorney Terese Buess said it was unclear why no criminal charges were
State District Judge Caprice Cosper allowed the woman to testify over the
objections of Francois' attorneys.
Shemeka Patterson said she was 14 when she began a sexual relationship
with Francois in 2001. They broke up after about a year, she said, but he
continued to call and visit.
The penalty phase of the trial will resume Monday.
(source : Houston Chronicle)
Taking the Fifth to task
It's never fun being 2nd-guessed, even when you're in the business of
second-guessing. And the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is being
2nd-guessed in no uncertain terms these days by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the term just ended, the 5th Circuit had a perfect record - 6 cases
argued before the high court, and 6 cases reversed.
Such statistics can be misleading. The 5th Circuit handles more than 8,800
cases each year. And of 11 comparable federal circuits, the 5th was one of
four to have all its Supreme Court cases reversed. But the language of
those cases, particularly those regarding the death penalty, suggests a
solid high-court majority thinks the 5th Circuit may be trying to ignore
Get a shrink
"You may need a psychologist instead of a law professor to fathom what
they are thinking," David Dow, of the University of Houston, says of the
5th Circuit. "I can't help thinking that they're getting a little beaten
down. I know I'd be embarrassed."
Last month in a case involving a Texas death row inmate, Justice Sandra
Day O'Connor accused the 5th Circuit of "paying lip service to the
principles" of the appellate process. In another Texas death penalty case,
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the 5th Circuit was too tolerant of
prosecutorial misconduct. Speaking for an 8-1 majority, she said
prosecutors had permitted state witnesses to lie during the capital trial
of a Texarkana man, and that the 5th Circuit had allowed the state to hide
"A rule thus declaring 'prosecutor may hide, defendant must seek,' is not
tenable in a system constitutionally bound to accord defendants due
process," Justice Ginsburg said.
With a little bite
Even in cases involving lawsuits, the high court was piquant, unanimous,
In January, the court ruled unanimously that the 5th Circuit erred when it
allowed the state of Texas to renege on a settlement involving health care
for rural children. Last month, the court - again unanimously - overturned
a 5th Circuit decision that would have allowed states to control HMOs.
In the HMO case, Justice Clarence Thomas summed up his impression of the
5th Circuit ruling: "The Court of Appeals came to a contrary conclusion
for several reasons, all of them erroneous." In his opinion on a Texas
civil case that involved a question of citizenship of the parties, Justice
Antonin Scalia dismissed the 5th Circuit opinion as having "no basis or
But it is the death penalty that has triggered a measure of obstinacy on
both sides. In recent years, the high court has agreed to rehear several
high-profile cases from the 5th Circuit - cases it had already decided -
leaving the impression that a majority is not very satisfied with the 5th
Circuit's unwillingness to take a hint.
Heard this one before?
For instance, the case that drew Justice O'Connor's sharp rebuke in
February involved Robert Tennard, whose appeal had already been considered
by the high court and returned to the 5th Circuit in 2002. When the 5th
Circuit rejected Mr. Tennard's appeal once again, the court once again
rejected the 5th Circuit's reasoning.
Last month they accepted for the 2nd time a death penalty case from
Dallas; in the same case 2 years ago, Justice John Paul Stevens blistered
the 5th Circuit's unwillingness even to contemplate evidence of historical
prosecution prejudice against minority jurors.
"Clearly there's a problem there," said Rick Broughton, an associate
professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law and a former Texas assistant
attorney general. "But in fairness to the 5th Circuit, it's probably a
pretty narrow set of issues. They just happen to be very important ones
regarding capital punishment."
The relevant wrong
The 5th Circuit - representing Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi - has long
held the reputation as one of the circuits favored by the high court. With
17 active judge positions, it is the second largest circuit in the nation,
standing only behind the massive 9th Circuit - which represents California
and eight other western states, including Hawaii and Alaska.
But since 1996, when Congress streamlined death-penalty procedures, the
5th Circuit has found itself at odds with the Supreme Court over just how
streamlined those procedures should be. The new law required, in effect,
that appeals by criminal defendants be screened before they were granted a
"certificate of appealability" and allowed to continue.
But since Congress set no standard, the 5th Circuit created its own. It
has, until now, required that defendants not only show that they've been
wronged in some way, but that the wrong done to them was "constitutionally
relevant." Defendants have to show that a decision was not only incorrect,
but incorrect and unreasonable. And by setting that very strict standard
for what that amounts to, the 5th Circuit has found itself at odds with
In case after case, the Supreme Court has cited their standard for an
appeal: that "reasonable jurists could differ" with the interpretation of
the law or the evidence. But what the 5th Circuit has seen as "reasonable
difference" has seemed unreasonable to the high court.
In the case of Delma Banks, for instance, the 5th Circuit decided that
prosecution admissions - a dozen years after the fact - that they had
hidden evidence from Mr. Banks' attorney was insufficient for appeal. Nor
was the fact that several state witnesses admitted lying under oath during
Likewise, the 5th Circuit refused to hear complaints that the jury
sentencing Robert Tennard wasn't allowed to consider the fact of his 67 IQ
when they sentenced him to death.
And in the case of Thomas Miller-El, which will be heard for a second time
during the high court's next term, the 5th Circuit refused to allow a
judge to consider whether documented racial bias in the selection of
jurors in Dallas County could have played a part in the selection of the
jury that sentenced him to death.
It would be fair to say that anti-death penalty activists are outraged by
the 5th Circuit's heightened standard.
"The 5th Circuit's standard is ridiculous, and the Supreme Court is saying
so," said Elizabeth Semel of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of
California at Berkeley. "I remember sitting there listening to arguments
in one of those cases - I forget which one - and hearing Justice O'Connor
ask: 'Why can't they just get it right?'"
"The thing that's very remarkable is that this is a very conservative
Supreme Court," said Stephen B. Bright, director of the Southern Center
for Human Rights in Atlanta. "This is not an anti-death penalty Court.
They pretty much let the states do what they want to do. But they're
seeing these outrageous cases, and they feel the need to step in."
Says Mr. Dow, who has participated in death penalty appeals in Texas: "I
think their decisions have to be considered as driven by ideology, not by
a careful reading of the law. I think they are placing excessive barriers
on defendants in an effort to show great deference to the state's desire
to carry out executions."
Deferring to states
Mr. Broughton thinks the 5th Circuit is deferring to the states. He also
thinks it's proper. The 1996 reforms were intended to be government-
friendly, he said, and the 5th Circuit - and to some extent the Supreme
Court - is interpreting them that way, whether they are happy about it or
"Within the 5th Circuit, the legal standard was pretty well set, and the
judges of the 5th Circuit felt bound by it," Mr. Broughton said.
Occasionally, the 5th Circuit has articulated aloud the tension between it
and the Supreme Court over the death penalty.
In the case of Max Alexander Soffar, who was convicted in the 1980 killing
of three youths at a Houston bowling alley, the court struggled openly on
the nature of their duty - having accepted, rejected, then accepted Mr.
Soffar's appeal of his death sentence.
When the appeal was first accepted by a 3-judge panel, 5th Circuit Judge
Emilio M. Garza dissented, saying his colleagues had overstepped their
"Like the majority, I am deeply disturbed by the police's highly
questionable interrogation of Soffar. Nevertheless, due to our limited
nature of review, I am not convinced that the state and federal courts
erred ... " Judge Garza wrote.
But when the full 5th Circuit reversed that panel, Judge Harold R. DeMoss
Jr. penned his own passionate dissent, saying he had, "laid awake nights
agonizing over the enigmas, contradictions and ambiguities" in Mr.
Soffar's bizarre case.
"However, my colleagues ... have shut their eyes to the big picture and
have persuaded themselves that piecemeal justice is sufficient in this
case," Judge DeMoss wrote. "That is, of course, their privilege, but I am
glad I will not be standing in their shoes, if and when Soffar is executed
Mr. Bright thinks there isn't enough of Judge DeMoss' sense of outrage. He
said 5th Circuit judges, by and large, abdicate their responsibility to
disagree. "They are way too collegial," Mr. Bright said.
He said he watched the 5th Circuit hear the death penalty case of Calvin
Jerold Burdine, whose lawyer slept at various points in the trial. Mr.
Bright said several judges seemed to excuse the lawyer's inattention.
"I was amazed to hear them argue - among themselves really - that the
lawyer might not have slept through anything significant," Mr. Bright
That the 5th Circuit ultimately reversed both the Soffar and Burdine cases
brings some measure of solace to anti-death penalty advocates, but not
much until the disparity is resolved, they say.
"At some point they have to realize that they are an inferior tribunal,"
Mr. Dow said.
(source: The Dallas Morning News)
Judge Rules Slaying Suspect Incompetent)
A state district judge decided once again that a Smith County man
suspected in the 2001 slayings of a mother and daughter is incompetent to
stand trial and will remain in a maximum-security mental facility.
Milton Gale Howard Jr., 41, allegedly walked to his neighbor's house in
the Arp Club Lake area on the morning of Feb. 12, 2001, and shot Gwen
Reynolds, 50, and her 24-year-old daughter Heather Reynolds to death.
In April of that year, a jury found Howard incompetent to stand trial for
the capital murder and found there was no substantial probability that he
would obtain competency in the future, 114th District Judge Cynthia
Stevens Kent said during the hearing Friday.
Howard was transported from Vernon State Hospital to Tyler to attend
court. He appeared emotionless in a red Smith County Jail jumpsuit as he
sat next to his attorney, Robert Perkins.
The defendant has been re-evaluated each year by the court since 2001. As
before, mental-health experts who examined Howard notified the court that
they believed he was still mentally ill, would likely cause harm to
himself or others and needed continued hospitalization, Judge Kent said.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham asked the court to make the
incompetence finding and Perkins waived any argument.
Judge Kent committed him to the state hospital for 1 year.
The defense attorney also waived his right to a jury trial and said it was
"unnecessary at this time."
Sheriff's deputies found the victims, who had been shot in the backs,
after forcing Howard from his house by using tear gas.
Howard's father had apparently been vacuuming when his son allegedly took
a high-powered rifle, went next door and opened fire, then returned home
to watch television. His father called 911.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Officers remember deadly Carrasco prison siege 30 Years Ago
As soon as Wayne Scott heard the shouts from across the prison yard inside
the Walls Unit that inmates were holding hostages, the 23-year-old guard
sprinted toward the action.
Scott and a fellow correctional officer were about halfway up the ramp
leading to the building's 3rd-floor library when they met with a fusillade
of pistol fire. One bullet tore through Scott's gray uniform shirt without
touching him. Another round struck the left foot of the other officer.
Both men managed to scramble to safety.
"From the moment that bullet went through my shirt, that was when the fear
and trepidation kicked in," said Scott, recalling the first moments of
what would become the longest prison siege in U.S. history. It started 30
years ago today, and after 11 days of torment for those taken hostage and
those who tried to secure their freedom, it ended. 2 of the armed inmates
and two civilian prison workers died, and a Catholic priest also held
captive was wounded by gunfire.
Scott, who was a lieutenant in the correctional system on July 24, 1974,
later advanced to become executive director of the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice before retiring in 2001.
And throughout his 30-year career that saw the Texas correctional system
expand from handful of units housing 17,000 inmates to a sprawling
collection of prisons incarcerating 150,000, Scott never forgot the deadly
lessons taught by killer and drug lord Fred Gomez Carrasco.
"You should never underestimate the resources and determination that a
desperate inmate will use in an attempt to secure his freedom," Scott
Even before he came to the Walls Unit in January 1974 after being captured
in a shootout with police in San Antonio, the 34-year-old Carrasco had a
reputation for ruthlessness. He committed his first murder at 19, stabbing
the man he'd accused of making a move on his girlfriend through the heart,
according to archived news accounts and interviews with some of those
familiar with his reputation.
After serving about 2 years in prison for the killing, Carrasco set about
assembling one of the largest heroin-smuggling operations in South Texas.
Bryan author William T. Harper, whose recently published book Eleven Days
in Hell: The 1974 Carrasco Prison Siege at Huntsville, said his four years
of research on the project connected the inmate with as many as 50
"If it was about drugs in South Texas at the time, Carrasco was in on it,"
Harper said. "The cops knew it, the dealers knew it, everybody knew it.
And if anybody crossed Carrasco, they'd be killed. Carrasco wanted that
Serving a life sentence at the Walls, Carrasco was assigned to work in the
prison chapel run by the Rev. Joseph O'Brien, a 46-year-old Catholic
Now retired and living in San Antonio, O'Brien recalled Carrasco as a
deferential inmate who used a cane because of wounds he suffered in the
gunbattle with San Antonio police. O'Brien ended up a hostage while trying
to act as an intermediary between Carrasco and prison officials.
Carrasco's polite demeanor vanished once the siege began, O'Brien said.
"As soon as he picked up that gun, he dropped the cane as though he never
needed it," O'Brien said. "All of us in there thought we were going to
Carrasco, along with inmates Rudolfo Dominguez and Ignacio Cuevas, used
two smuggled-in .357 Magnum revolvers and a .38-caliber revolver to take
over the library and education center on the top floor of an interior
building that also housed the dining hall.
When the takeover began at 1 p.m., 10 civilian workers and one
correctional officer were in the library.
Dozens of studying inmates were also there, but all but 4 were freed.
Negotiations with the prisoners opened and Carrasco and his lieutenants
made repeated threats to kill the hostages, starting with officer Bobby
Heard. The inmates demanded M-16 rifles and hundreds of rounds of
ammunition, civilian clothing and other items that would aid their escape.
Harper, who reviewed hundreds of hours of taped phone calls between the
inmates and prison and state officials and between the hostages and their
families, said the tension was palpable.
In a series of calls between Carrasco and then-Gov. Dolph Briscoe,
hostages could be heard in the background begging for their freedom. At
one point, Carrasco put some of the hostages on the line with the
"He's gonna kill everybody," Harper quotes librarian Julia Standley as
telling Briscoe. "Please help us. Give them what they want."
Led by prison system director W.J. Estelle, officials employed a strategy
of give a little, stall a lot.
They purposely sent up civilian clothing that didn't fit the inmates and
told them that the M-16 rifles would have to be shipped from Fort Hood,
which meant navigating the federal bureaucracy.
"I remember a whole lot of hurry-up-and-wait," recalled Jim Willett, then
a young officer who would later become the Walls Unit warden. "We'd hear
that something was about to happen, then nothing would happen. It went
back and forth like that for days."
Finally, on the night of Aug. 3, officials agreed to place an armored car
in the yard near the library. The inmates constructed a makeshift shield
dubbed the Trojan Horse by lashing 4 chalkboards into a square and lining
the inside with thick law books.
A ring of hostages surrounded the 3 inmates inside the makeshift shield
and another hostage ring on the outside guided it down the same ramp Scott
had tried to ascend 11 days earlier.
An assault team of state troopers and Texas Rangers had planned to hit the
shield with water from a high-pressure fire hose and free the hostages in
the ensuing confusion, but the water pressure failed after the initial
Gunfire erupted from inside the shield and from the assault team.
Standley, 43, and Elizabeth Beseda, a 47-year-old schoolteacher, were
killed by Carrasco and Dominguez, who then killed themselves. Cuevas shot
and severely wounded O'Brien. The priest survived, as did Cuevas.
Cuevas was executed in 1991 for his actions that led to the deaths of the
Willett, who retired as the Walls warden in 2001, now runs the State
Prison Museum a few miles west of the unit. Inside the museum, a section
commemorates the siege. A ceremony will be held today to honor those who
died, those who survived and those who tried to bring the ordeal to an
"We can't forget what happened back then," said Willett, 53. "When I was
warden and things got a little lax, I'd remind folks that when that sort
of thing happened before, 2 fine ladies got killed."
ONLINE: www.tdjc.state.tx.us, www.txprisonmuseum.org
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
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