Fresh from defeat in the state's top criminal appeals court and with execution looming, lawyers for Houston killer Richard Masterson are launching a flurry of state and federal appeals claiming their client is being sent to his death through legal, medical and judicial bungling.
Masterson, 42, is to be executed next Wednesday for the January 2001 strangulation murder of Montrose professional female impersonator Darrin Honeycutt. Masterson is the first of nine convicted killers scheduled for execution at Texas' Huntsville death house in the first six months of 2016.
On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a petition for Masterson that argued former Harris County assistant medical examiner Dr. Paul Shrode wrongly interpreted results of Honeycutt's autopsy, calling a likely natural death a homicide. The appeal also asserted that Masterson's confession to police was obtained while he was profoundly depressed as a result of withdrawal from addictive drugs.
The court rejected the petition because its claims could have been presented earlier in the appeals process but did not rule on its merits.
"It is always tough ... because one wants to always do the best possible work for the client," said Masterson attorney Patrick McCann. "We will continue to work for Mr. Masterson until the end, no matter what. This is the job."
In a death row interview, Masterson said he "accepts responsibility" for his actions , but insisted "I never admitted I murdered anybody."
"I feel pretty good," he said. "I'm ready to find out the outcome one way or the other. It's been a long road."
Two additional petitions from McCann's legal team were in the hands of appellate judges Tuesday - one challenging the constitutionality of the Texas law protecting the identity of makers of the state's lethal injection drug, the second claiming a judge wronged Masterson by failing to tell jurors they could convict him of the lesser offense of felony murder.
Additionally, Washington, D.C., lawyer Gregory Gardner was preparing an appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. In a plea for clemency filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Gardner renewed the assertion that Shrode misinterpreted the Honeycutt autopsy, giving little emphasis to evidence that the victim suffered from serious heart disease.
He also contends that Shrode's professional performance in jobs elsewhere led, in one case, to a commutation of a death sentence, and, in a second, his dismissal for falsifying his résumé.
"Because Richard's lawyers failed him at every stage, the court system will not provide relief to him based on insurmountable procedural obstacles," Gardner wrote. "His last chance is executive clemency. The governor is the last line of defense to stop the execution of an innocent, severely mentally ill man."
In his recent interview, Masterson said he had met Honeycutt at a Montrose bar and accompanied him home to have sex. During intercourse, Honeycutt asked Masterson to apply pressure to his neck to enhance the erotic experience. After doing so, Honeycutt fell from the bed, conscious but not responding. After a few minutes, Masterson concluded the man was dead. Masterson said he fled the apartment - taking Honeycutt's car - because of his record of Texas and Georgia burglary convictions.
Masterson said he never planned to rob Honeycutt, contending that the man's jewelry was present on the corpse when police arrived. After leaving Houston, Masterson traveled to Florida, where he was arrested. On the return trip to Houston, he confessed to his police escort.
In the interview, Masterson complained that "Nobody wants to know the truth."
He challenged the performance of his lawyers and told a convoluted tale of physical abuse at the hands of his father, sexual attacks by an older brother, multiple sexual escapades with married women and criminal arrests in five states. From early adolescence, he was a heavy user of addictive drugs.
"It wasn't just the drugs," he said. "I was addicted to the whole life. Women and drugs. I thought I was God's gift to women."
Both Masterson and his lawyers contend he was wronged by the criminal justice system. But, to an extent, Masterson played a role in his undoing.
Testifying against counsel's recommendations in the punishment phase of his trial, Masterson conceded that he probably would become violent in prison.
"Future dangerousness" is one of two special questions jurors must affirmatively answer in order to assess the death penalty.
"I said that if I were attacked, I would fight with any means necessary," he said in the interview. A transcript of Masterson's testimony reveals he also told jurors they should sentence him to death "if they're following the law."
Later, Masterson - as a result of profound depression, his lawyers claim - repeatedly wrote the court from death row, asking to be executed. He retracted the requests when prison doctors prescribed an anti-depressant.
In his interview, Masterson said execution would "free me from hell."
The bright spot in his life, he said, is his girlfriend, Renee, whom he met through a pen pal correspondence.
"She's really special," he said. "It's a shame we met under these circumstances. What we share is real, honest and true."
Masterson said he hopes "things work out." But if his appeals fail, he said, "I won't have tears dripping down my chest. I'll hold my head up and take it like a man."
Source: Houston Chronicle, Allan Turner, January 12, 2016
Masterson found guilty of capital murder of Shane Honeycutt, set to die Jan. 20
Texas goes to the gurney Wednesday, Jan. 20, with its first execution of the calendar year. Set to die is Richard Allen Masterson, 43, who's spent the past 14 years on death row for the murder of Darin Shane Honeycutt. Masterson and Honeycutt knew each other for very little time.
They met at a gay bar in Houston just before 2am on Jan. 26, 2001. Dressed in drag that night, Honeycutt introduced himself as Brandi Houston. He offered Masterson a ride home from the bar and on the way proposed that they go back to Honeycutt's apartment for the night. On the morning of Jan. 27, a friend, Larry Brown, coerced Honeycutt's landlord into letting him into the apartment, and found his friend Shane naked and not breathing on his bed.
Masterson had stolen Honeycutt's car and hightailed to Georgia. He was later arrested in Florida – picked up for stealing a second car – and brought back to Harris County. Jurors reportedly took only 90 minutes to determine his sentence.
Unquestioned during the trial was whether Masterson killed Honeycutt – he admitted as much on his return to Houston. During an interrogation, in which no attorney was present, he allegedly "add[ed] elements that would elevate the case to capital murder," saying he'd rather die than serve a life sentence. But the way in which he killed his recent acquaintance – and whether or not he intended to kill him – was not so easily discernible. He said in a statement during the interrogation (which played to jurors at trial over objections from his attorney) that he killed Honeycutt by putting him into a sleeper hold as soon as the two undressed, and that he never actually planned to have sex with him that night. "Something just told me in my mind – I said to myself that I was going to kill him," Masterson said.
However, Masterson recanted on those statements in his trial testimony, saying that he lied about his actions because he was too embarrassed to tell the officer taking the confession that he planned to have sex with a man. Instead, he said, Honeycutt requested that Masterson choke him during sex. Something "went wrong" and Honeycutt fell forward, gurgling. Masterson said he got up and left the room; when he came back, Honeycutt was dead.
The jurors didn't think long on Masterson's intentions, finding him guilty of capital murder. During the punishment phase, a litany of witnesses were brought out to testify to Masterson's violent past – including accusations of domestic violence and reported incidents while incarcerated – and the jury ruled that he represented a future danger to society. It did not help his cause that, against his attorneys' wishes, he testified that he would defend himself in prison, "whether it's against a guard or inmate or anybody else by any means necessary."
Masterson had very little chance of winning his trial all along. In a Jan. 2012 letter written to his judge, Masterson claimed his attorneys had been assigned to his case only "a few weeks" before jury selection, and that the investigator hired to "ask questions about the deceased['s] background and sex practices" never questioned Masterson, among other concerns. A Dec. 2011 letter to that same judge elaborated further, listing a number of individuals charged with heinous crimes who received lesser sentences. "They all had good lawyers they paid," he wrote. "Poor people like me get death."
Masterson has railed against his attorneys in letters and waffled on attempts to withdraw various petitions for relief. He's now represented by D.C. attorney Gregory Gardner, who on Dec. 21 filed an application requesting that Masterson be assigned to an expert doctor for a brain scan to determine whether he suffers from organic brain damage. That request was granted Dec. 22, giving Masterson 29 days to complete the necessary procedures. Gardner has not replied to the Chronicle's requests for updates.
Masterson would be the 13th Texan executed under Gov. Greg Abbott's reign and the 532nd since the state's 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty. Six inmates are currently on the death row docket with set dates, including James Freeman on Wednesday, Jan. 27.
Source: Austin Chronicle, Chase Hoffberger, January 15, 2016