"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Texas executes Richard Masterson

Richard Masterson
Richard Masterson
In Texas' first execution of 2016, a man convicted in a fatal strangling and robbery was executed in Huntsville Wednesday night.

Richard Masterson, 43, was declared dead at 6:53 p.m. from a lethal injection of pentobarbital, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He was sentenced to death for the 2001 strangulation of Darin Honeycutt in Harris County, and served almost 14 years on death row.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court both denied last-minute requests for stays of execution Wednesday.

“Sending me to a better place. I am alright with this," Masterson said in his final words. "You have to live and die by the choices that we make. I have made mine."

Masterson met Honeycutt at a bar, and the two left together early on Jan. 26, 2001. Honeycutt’s body was found in his apartment the next day, and his car was gone, according to court documents.

Masterson was arrested Feb. 6 in Florida. He originally confessed to intentionally killing Honeycutt but later claimed that the death was accidental, saying Honeycutt had asked to be choked while they were having sex.

The medical examiner in the case testified during the trial that the death was caused by intentional strangulation, and the jury found Masterson guilty and sentenced him to death in May 2002.

The day before Masterson’s execution date, his lawyers filed last-minute requests for stays and new hearings in the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, after already having received several denials.

In their latest appeal at the state level, Masterson’s lawyers asked for a new hearing to challenge the constitutionality of a statute that allows the state to keep execution drug manufacturers secret. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied the request Wednesday morning.

In an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, attorney Gregory Gardner said that Honeycutt died of a heart attack after having sex with Masterson. Gardner said that Paul Shrode, the medical examiner, wrongly classified the death as a homicide.

In the same year as Honeycutt's death, Shrode was written up by the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office for wrongly determining a cause of death. In 2010, he was fired from his position as El Paso County chief medical examiner after a death row inmate in Ohio was granted clemency due to issues related to Shrode's testimony in the case.

These incidents and the fact that the state did not reveal them to Masterson, Gardner argued, was cause for a stay and hearing. The request was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon, allowing the execution to move forward.

“Richard was an innocent man,” Gardner said. “If [he] was not poor, he could have afforded attorneys who would have handled his case properly. He would be free today.”

The execution was the first of nine scheduled for the first six months of the year, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, with the second scheduled for James Freeman next Wednesday. Thirteen men were put to death by the state of Texas in 2015.

Masterson becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 532nd overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. He becomes the 14th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Greg Abbott became governor of the state in Jan. 2015.

Masterson becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1424th overall since the nation resumed executions on Jasnaury 17, 1977.

Source: Texas Tribune, Jolie McCullough; Rick Halperin, January 20, 2016


Mystery surrounds case of man to be executed in 'erotic asphyxiation' murder

Richard Masterson seemed edgy when he turned up at the construction site where his brother worked, looking for money. “I think I put somebody to sleep,” he told his brother’s boss.

It was far more serious than that – Darin Honeycutt was dead.

Masterson had taken Honeycutt’s red Ford Escort and was about to flee Texas for Georgia. He was caught in Florida more than a week after Honeycutt’s friends found his naked body in the bedroom of his Houston apartment.

Fifteen years on, in a case that has attracted the attention of Pope Francis, Masterson is set to be executed on Wednesday night for murder, despite his defence’s claim that Honeycutt died of a heart attack during violent, but consensual, sex.

Masterson and Honeycutt, a 35-year-old who often dressed as a woman and went by the name Brandi Houston, met at a bar and went back to Honeycutt’s apartment in the early hours of 26 January 2001.

According to a last-ditch appeal filed to the US supreme court on Tuesday, Honeycutt asked Masterson to perform erotic asphyxiation on him: using a “sleeper hold” to cut off oxygen to his brain and heighten arousal.

“After this sexual act, Mr Honeycutt fell off his bed and on to the floor. Mr Masterson thought he was still alive, but unconscious. After a little more time had passed, Mr Masterson realized that Mr Honeycutt had died. He panicked. He believed no one would accept that the death was accidental given his history [of violence]. He also feared that homophobia would become a factor contributing to hostility against him,” the document states.

“Mr Masterson remembered that others knew he went to Mr Honeycutt’s apartment, so he tried to make the apartment look like it had been burglarized in a misguided attempt to deflect suspicion away from him.”

At the 2002 trial, prosecutors said that Masterson, now 43, murdered Honeycutt to take his car. Crucially, a state pathologist, Paul Shrode, testified that Honeycutt died of strangulation. But defence lawyers argue that Shrode made “fundamental errors” and cite another pathologist who reviewed the autopsy and trial evidence and concluded that there was a strong possibility Honeycutt died from a heart attack triggered by coronary artery disease.

Shrode, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, has previously been accused of forging his CV. In 2001, the year before Masterson’s trial, he was reproved by his supervisor in the Harris County medical examiner’s office for making a “wrong determination of cause of death” in a drug overdose case.

He was fired in 2010 from his job as El Paso’s medical examiner after doubts over the scientific validity of his testimony in a trial in Ohio led to a death sentence being reduced to life without parole. A subsequent investigation by the Texas medical board, though, found he was qualified to hold the position of medical examiner.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Guardian, Tom Dart, January 20, 2016

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