[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jun 23 19:19:28 UTC 2006
Jury convicts Smith of capital murder for killing 2
A Harris County jury this morning convicted Demetrius Dwayne Smith in his
capital murder trial.
Smith, 29, had been accused of shooting Tammie Evette Harris and her
11-year-old daughter, Kristina, last year after barging into their home in
Prosecutors say Smith was upset after Harris stopped dating him. They
allege that he stormed into her home in the 500 block of International
Village Drive on March 24, 2005, and shot her as she talked on the phone
in her bedroom.
Witnesses testified that Kristina Harris grabbed a knife from the kitchen
to protect herself, but was shot to death in the driveway in front of her
friends as she crouched behind a car with her arms covering her face.
Attorneys on both sides rested their cases Wednesday afternoon. The jury
deliberated for about 90 minutes. The punishment phase of the trial is now
Prosecutors have said they plan to seek a death sentence.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Infamous 'Railroad Killer' faces execution Tuesday
The railroad tracks that gave birth to this small South Texas town over a
century ago more recently brought terror and horror.
The gruesome slayings of a prominent minister and his wife at their home,
and an equally violent murder of an elderly woman in her rural home a few
miles away, are among at least 15 killings by the ruthless illegal
immigrant known as the "Railroad Killer."
Angel Maturino Resendiz, who hopped on freight trains and committed random
acts of carnage around the nation that earned him a spot on the FBI's Ten
Most Wanted list, is set to die by injection Tuesday.
"I don't believe in death," Resendiz, 46, told The Associated Press in
2000 shortly after arriving on death row. "I know the body is going to go
to waste. But me, as a person, I'm eternal. I'm going to be alive
A Houston judge last week rejected Resendiz's lawyers claims that such
mental delusions make him ineligible for execution, so he's set to be the
13th inmate executed this year in Texas.
Resendiz, known to death row colleagues as "Choo-Choo Man," was convicted
of the rape-slaying of Claudia Benton, a Houston-area physician killed in
her home a week before Christmas 1998. Resendiz has been linked to 8
slayings in Texas, 2 each in Illinois and Florida, and 1 each in Kentucky,
California and Georgia.
"I don't think everybody is looking forward to it, but he took 3 good
people out of this town," says Cecil Ellison, 74, who for 49 years has run
a service station in Weimar. His Texaco station on the town's main street
is across from the Weimar United Church of Christ.
Church members there arrived for the regular Sunday service May 2, 1999,
but there was no sign of their pastor, Norman "Skip" Sirnic, 46, or his
wife, Karen, 47, the church secretary. The couple lived in a house at the
back of the church property, adjacent to the railroad track that bisects
Weimar, about midway between Houston and San Antonio.
The congregation president testified in Resendiz's 2000 Houston trial how
he went to the parsonage, saw Sirnic's body and ran away.
Weimar Police Chief Bill Livingston was with his wife at their own church
when his beeper went off. When he responded to the page, the message was
"There was disbelief to begin with," Livingston recalled. "I knew we
didn't have anybody in Weimar that could do anything like that."
The killer had used a sledgehammer.
Investigators later determined Resendiz raped Karen Sirnic after
obliterating her face with the tool. He then stole the couple's pickup
truck, which was later found in San Antonio. Some of their jewelry later
would be found at Resendiz's home in Rodeo, Mexico.
With his town of fewer than 2,000 stunned, Livingston felt he needed to
reassure folks they were safe. He said he didn't want to create a panic
but didn't want to downplay the severity of the crime, either.
"A precarious situation," he said recently. "I made a statement people
don't come back to the scene of the crime."
Livingston's credibility took a blow when just weeks later, four miles
west of town, police found Josephine Konvicka, 73, in her blood-soaked bed
with a garden tool resembling a pickax buried in her forehead.
Ellison, nodding toward the church across the street from his place,
remembers stunned church members huddled in clusters talking about their
loss. About the time that shock began to ease, "The poor little old lady
out there," he said, turning his head west, where the main rail line runs
across South Texas.
"I live over by the railroad tracks," he said. "Makes you think."
In a town where a homicide hadn't occurred for generations, where the
message on the silver water tower a block from the church proclaims
"Weimar Welcomes You," people were terrified.
"I had little ladies come into the office bringing me rusted guns and
asking me: `Chief, show me how to use this thing,'" Livingston said. "Gun
sales went up dramatically."
Authorities began to make some connections.
Resendiz's fingerprint was found at Benton's home in West University
Place, a Houston enclave near the Texas Medical Center where she was doing
Mark Moorhead, a Texas Department of Public Safety intelligence officer,
had been looking at the Sirnic case and was talking with Drew Carter, a
Texas Ranger who was working the Benton case.
"I was struck by 2 things and neither had to do with railroad tracks,"
Moorhead said. "Whoever was coming into these residences brought nothing
with them. They were using what was available."
The killer, who he believed was a transient, also covered his victims.
"It struck me as having some deep psychological meaning, either regret for
something he had done or as he was going through the house to find
something to take, he didn't want to see what he had done any more." said
Moorhead, who found the 2 elements "way too bizarre and too unique to be
Moorhead suggested Carter run DNA tests comparing the killings.
A week later, the Texas Ranger called him back.
Resendiz was their man. They were looking for a serial killer.
The investigation gathered steam as other states began trying to connect
unsolved murders to Resendiz. A Kentucky slaying from 1997 was added to
the toll. The FBI put Resendiz on its Ten Most Wanted list.
On June 2, 1999, the U.S. Border Patrol picked up Resendiz for illegal
entry at Sunland Park, N.M., near El Paso. Unaware the man, who used
numerous aliases, was on the FBI list as Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, they
returned him to Mexico. But he quickly recrossed the border and again used
freight trains to move around.
"It doesn't cost money and once you know the routes, they're faster than
Greyhound," Resendiz told the AP in a death row interview in 2000. "You
see six engines hooked together ... you can get to California in two days.
Less than six engines, you're not going anywhere."
Three days after immigration authorities let him go, the beaten body of
26-year-old Houston schoolteacher Noemi Dominguez was found at her home,
covered by a quilt made by her mother. Within hours, almost 100 miles
away, Konvicka's body was discovered. Dominguez's blood was on the tool
used to kill Konvicka.
Then, less than 2 weeks later, at their Gorham, Ill., home about 100 yards
from a railroad track, George Morber, 80, was shot in the head with a
shotgun. His daughter, 51-year-old Carolyn Frederick, was fatally clubbed.
Carter, meanwhile, was cultivating Resendiz's sister in New Mexico and
persuaded her to get her brother to turn himself in. On July 13, Resendiz
surrendered to Carter on the international bridge in El Paso.
23 days after he became one of America's most wanted fugitives, Resendiz
was taken to Houston for eventual trial for beating Benton with a statue,
stabbing her 19 times and raping her. Lawyers argued he was insane.
A jury found him guilty after 10 hours of deliberation and decided he
should be put to death. It was a punishment he ordered his attorneys not
The final witness against him was the only known survivor of his attacks,
a former University of Kentucky student left for dead after Resendiz
attacked her and her boyfriend in 1997 along railroad tracks near the
school in Lexington, Ky.
She identified Resendiz as the man who raped, beat and badly injured her
and as the man who fatally bludgeoned Christopher Maier with what "seemed
like a big log, but it was a rock. I found out."
Resendiz's sanity remained an issue until last week as his appeals lawyers
tried to keep him from the death chamber. The execution, originally set
for May 10, had been postponed for additional psychological testing.
"He believes he is an angel," Antonio Puente, a psychologist selected by
his attorneys, wrote of his meeting with Resendiz nearly 3 months ago.
The prisoner, Puente said, knew he was to be injected with drugs but
didn't believe he would die and didn't understand why he was to be
executed "as he has only carried out God's will and has not committed any
His lawyers declined to make Resendiz available for interviews with
reporters as the execution date neared.
Resendiz earlier described some killings as a reaction to the deaths of
the Branch Davidians in Waco, others on Serbian atrocities, to his
anti-abortion beliefs or because he believed the victims may have been
homosexual. But he insisted he remembered each of the murders and compared
them to watching something through a tunnel.
"Everything you see is in a distance," he told the AP. "Everything is slow
In Weimar, founded in 1873 by the president of the Galveston, Harrisburg
and San Antonio Railroad, security agency signs now dot the yards of
homes, including the one where Sirnic and his wife were killed. The neat
brick church whose property occupies nearly an entire city block continues
to thrive, although the pastor who now directs the congregation politely
declines to talk about the past violence.
And the trains - as many as 40 a day - still rumble through the
Mayberry-like town. Some slow to a crawl, pull off on a side track and
wait for another train to pass.
There hasn't been another homicide in Weimar since 1999.
"Thank God," Ellison said from his Texaco station.
But things are certainly different.
"Alarm systems - we never had alarm systems," said Livingston, the police
chief. "Now they're all over town. Night lights. Security lights.
"There are people who lock their houses now that never did before. It did
change. It changed all sorts of things."
(source: Associated Press)
22 years later, man acquitted of murder----He says it was self defense
Jose Medellin was found lying next to the green crushed-velvet love seat
in his mistress' apartment in Southeast Austin in 1984, dead from 4
The main suspect eluded police by fleeing to Mexico. The case went cold.
20 years later, the man for whom Austin police were looking, Jose Isabel
Benitez, was arrested on a murder warrant after someone complained that he
was drinking Budweiser in an alley in Minneapolis, Minn.
He'd spent 14 years after the shooting in his native Mexico, where he had
married and fathered 3 children before returning to the United States.
On Thursday, Benitez, 48, was found not guilty of murder by a Travis
Benitez testified during the trial that he shot Medellin - his
girlfriend's other lover - in self defense.
The case, presented over four days in state District Judge Jon Wisser's
court, was muddled by the passage of time. Some of the police officers
involved in the investigation had retired and left Austin.
2 witnesses had died, and the woman at the center of the men's feud, like
many other witnesses, said her memories of that night had faded.
But Benitez's testimony that he shot Medellin relieved prosecutors Gary
Cobb and Amy Meredith of much of their burden of proof and left only one
question for the jury: Was it murder, or did Benitez fire in self-defense
because Medellin was attacking him with a knife?
"Mr. Benitez was in an apartment romancing a woman, and a crazy man comes
in with a knife," Benitez's lawyer, Brian Coyne of Houston, told the jury
in closing arguments. "You don't have to wait to get killed."
Medellin, 32, was a construction foreman who lived on East Seventh Street
with Mary Medellin, his wife of 12 years, their 3 children, and 3 of his
wife's children from a previous marriage.
In the year - possibly longer - before his death, Medellin was having an
affair with Doris Sabedra, a divorced mother who lived in an apartment on
Interstate 35 near Oltorf Street, according to testimony.
Medellin stayed out several nights a week without explanation, his wife
testified, nights that, Sabedra told the jury, he spent with her.
"To me, she sounded like a happy woman out there trying to get kicks with
men," testified Mary Medellin, who said she knew about the affair.
Sometime in the weeks before the shooting, Benitez and Sabedra met at an
east-side dance hall. Sabedra testified that they didn't know each other
Benitez told the jury that they had met seven or eight times and had slept
Benitez and Sabedra were together in her apartment when Medellin arrived
in the late evening hours of April 2, 1984, according to testimony.
Benitez testified that he didn't usually carry a gun, but had bought one
about a week earlier from a man in an H-E-B parking lot.
He had "an itch" to bring it to Sabedra's that night, he testified, his
words translated from Spanish to English.
Benitez testified that later in the night he heard knocking on the door,
then Medellin came into the apartment yelling, "I am going to kill you"
and waving a pocketknife.
Benitez shot only after Medellin sliced him 3 times with the knife, he
testified. Then he dumped the gun and the knife in the Colorado River,
drove to Hays County and hitchhiked to Mexico, leaving his West Mary
Street home abandoned and starting a new life.
"I was afraid because of what I had done," he said. "And if the police
caught me, they were going to lock me up."
Sabedra, who is legally blind from diabetes, testified that she couldn't
remember much about the shooting - only that Medellin had a knife and had
argued with Benitez in Spanish before the shots went off.
After the shooting, she told police she didn't know who did it, that the
man had come with Medellin. A few days later, she told police that it was
A murder warrant was issued, but Cobb said during closing arguments that
"no one looked too hard for the man for a number of years."
Benitez testified that he needed work and returned to the United States
sometime in 1998 or '99. He worked as a butcher in Minneapolis before he
Cobb told the jury that Benitez's story of the shooting couldn't be true.
He noted that one shot hit Medellin in the middle of the back, something
that didn't match Benitez's story of shooting only from the front.
He also noted that a then-rookie Austin police officer who lived in the
complex testified that two distinct sets of shots were separated by about
a minute, which conflicted with Benitez's testimony about unleashing a
continuous flurry of shots.
"Are you willing to accept that you have to pay for the crime you
committed?" Cobb asked Benitez.
"Yes, sir," Benitez said.
After the verdict, Mary Medellin, who sat through the entire trial, sobbed
in the front row. Cobb walked behind her, put his hands on her shoulders
and said "Sorry."
One juror said the verdict doesn't necessarily mean the jurors believed
Benitez's story, only that they found self defense was plausible and that
they had reasonable doubt that he committed murder.
"We were able to come up with several possible scenarios that supported
self-defense," said juror Dave Matheny, a 34-year-old software engineer
from Cedar Park.
As he left the courthouse, Benitez, a legal immigrant, said he would go to
Houston, where some of his family lives and where he has been living and
working framing houses while out on bail.
When asked whether he had anything to say about the verdict, he said in
English: "Thank you."
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
Carlos De Luna
(source: Chicago Tribune)
To learn more about this case watch ABC's "Nightline" Friday
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