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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Houston killer facing execution this week admitted to 2 more slayings in morbid hoax

Anthony Shore
He didn't scream or laugh. He didn't plead or apologize.

Anthony Shore was calm, almost stoic, when he confessed to the murders - just like he was 20 years ago.

But this time, apparently, it was a lie.

Days before his aborted execution in October, the notorious Houston serial killer admitted to 2 more gruesome slayings in an apparent ruse to test investigators, sources familiar with the case told the Chronicle this week. Now, he's scheduled once again to meet his fate Thursday in Huntsville's death chamber, leaving behind a swirl of unanswered questions.

"With a serial killer like Shore, there is always a possibility he has committed other crimes, left other unknown victims behind," said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.

At the moment, prosecutors said, he's officially not a suspect in any unsolved killings and has no unresolved appeals.

After 4 brutal strangulations, a pair of apparently false confessions, a bizarre death row plot and a slew of creative appeals, the end of the decades-long drama may finally be in sight.

"I am relieved that he's finally going to be put to rest," his sister, Laurel Scheel, told the Chronicle Monday. "His expiration date is finally coming."

The serial sadist known as the Tourniquet Killer terrorized the Houston area in the 1980s and 1990s, leaving behind a trail of bodies. All girls and young women, tortured and raped.

He escaped detection for nearly 2 decades, but ultimately it was DNA - put on file after he was convicted of molesting his daughters and forced to register as a sex offender - that brought police to his door in 2003.

The former wrecker driver coolly confessed to 4 murders and a rape. Then, during his 2004 trial, he begged the court for a death sentence.

After nearly 2 decades of appeals blaming everything from ineffective lawyers to previously unrealized brain damage, the 55-year-old was slated to die by lethal injection on Oct. 18.

At the time, his youngest sister predicted he'd avoid death with a last-minute confession.

"He's good at keeping things hidden," Scheel said in October.

And sure enough, hours before the scheduled execution, a judge called it all off in light of an alleged confession plot that would have seen him admit to another man's crime, threatening to muddy the waters in a Montgomery County death row case and save a jailhouse friend from the death chamber.

Eventually, according to defense lawyer K. Knox Nunnally, Shore signed a statement admitting he had nothing to do with the Willis-area crime, the 1998 slaying of Melissa Trotter.

He still maintains his death row friend, Larry Swearingen, is innocent.

But, according to an unanswered Oct. 16 reprieve request sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, Shore also promised he'd give written answers "regarding his commission of other murders" to be revealed by his attorney after his death.

That never happened, Nunnally said.

Instead, the Texas Rangers showed up.

***

Texas' death house, The Walls Unit, Huntsville
At first, Shore wanted nothing to do with them. But the lawmen came back again and again, according to sources close to the case. Then one night, the week before he was to be put to death, he opened up.

There were others, he said. 2, to be exact.

One was Aurora Rojas, a missing mother whose skull was found in a Polk County field in 1995 - just a couple miles away from one of Shore's in-laws.

In years past, he'd already been a suspect in the case. But forensic evidence was scant, at best. Police only recovered the woman's bra and 10 % of her skeletonized body, investigators said.

Even though the slain woman was last spotted at a bus stop blocks from where Shore worked at the time, there was never enough to tie him to the killing. Shore had a penchant for picking up women at bus stops, and Rojas fit the profile. Yet, the dump site - way out in the country - didn't quite fit Shore's pattern.

But in his last-minute confession, Shore didn't know the right details about the case, or in the other killing he confessed to - an unsolved slaying near the notorious Texas Killing Fields southeast of Houston.

He'd once been a suspect in that slaying as well. But after a busy night of examining "timelines and scientific testing," the Rangers determined he couldn't have done it, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

The next day, the lawmen returned to confront him, and he recanted.

"He was playing, just probing around," said another source familiar with the case. "With this guy who knows what he's going to say. You know he's done more crimes than he's been caught doing. The question is what crimes and where."

***

Tiffany Hall groaned when she heard of her father's apparently false confessions.

"He's just crazy," she said. "I am not shocked by his behavior. I'm just shocked anybody is listening to him."

Scheel tutted in disgust.

"What an ass," she said. "He wants to know it'll all go down with him pulling the strings. As long he's in control, he's okay with dying."

Manipulative and controlling, the charismatic erstwhile musical prodigy has showed scant concern for the killings or their consequences, until recently.

In letters to his family over the past year, he's spoken of wanting to live "a bit longer" and even hinted at remorse.

"Maybe he's just working it," Scheel said. "It's hard to know what the truth is."

But some things are certain. He's never tried denying the original confessions he offered up in 2003.

In 1986, he slaughtered 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay, snatching the girl up on her way to the bus stop then dumping her corpse behind a Ninfa's Restaurant. 6 years later, he raped and murdered 21-year-old Maria del Carmen Estrada before leaving her naked body in the drive-through of a Spring Branch Dairy Queen.

In 1994, he killed 9-year-old Diana Rebollar. When her battered body was found, she was wearing only a black Halloween T-shirt - and a ligature twisted around her neck.

Less than a year later, he murdered 16-year-old Dana Sanchez, then reportedly called a local TV station to report a serial killer on the loose.

All of the victims were raped and tortured before he strangled them with handmade tourniquets.

Even after the conviction for molesting his daughters forced him onto the sex offender registry in 1998, it took another 5 years before authorities finally tested cold-case evidence and matched a murder to Shore.

"I think he knew he was going to get caught," Scheel said.

Now, 15 years later, he's scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

"I think it'll happen this time," Schell said. "But who knows, we're talking about Tony Shore."

Does she still think her brother killed anybody else?

"Hell, yeah," she said. "He's a piece of work, that boy."

Source: Houston Chronicle, Keri Blakinger, January 15, 2018


Houston death row inmate behind 1995 double shooting loses federal appeal


Paul Slater
A Houston-area death row prisoner convicted of killing 2 men in a drug deal gone bad lost out Monday in a federal appeals court, a ruling that could move him 1 step closer to an execution date.

Attorneys for Paul Wayne Slater, a brain-damaged junior high dropout with a low IQ, argued it was bad lawyering earlier in the case that helped earn him a death sentence more than 2 decades ago for a shooting in the bay of a Houston car wash.

"This case today, they would never seek the death penalty," said defense attorney Randy Schaffer. "I think the death penalty was probably sought in this case because it was a time when they were seeking the death penalty just for sport."

In July 1995, Slater was scheduled to meet up with 3 men to sell them some crack, according to court filings. Would-be buyers Eric Washington, Roddrick Martin and Glenn Andrews showed up with $3,000 on hand for the exchange.

Then, 2 men pulled up in a Cadillac and there's some dispute as to what happened next, but ultimately Slater fatally shot Martin and Andrews while Washington fled the scene.

A month later, police tracked down the blood-soaked Cadillac. A few weeks after that, Slater confessed - though he said the slayings were in self-defense, according to court records.

"There are very few cases in which the state has sought the death penalty in a drug transaction, where the victims were drug dealers," Schaffer said Monday.

Even so, Slater was sentenced to death in 1996, after his trial lawyer failed to request a jury instruction on murder as a lesser-included offense - a move that would have allowed for a self-defense claim.

In the years since his conviction, Slater has also lodged appeals blaming his trial attorney for failing to bring up claims of brain damage and learning disabilities. A 1991 evaluation placed his IQ at 77, though some tests have scored him as low at 63, according to court filings.

"The law is a little schizophrenic on whether you can bring in new evidence at this point in a case," Schaffer said. "It's really complicated stuff but long story short 5th Circuit said, 'No, you can't and even if you could we don't think it would have made a difference.'"

Now, Slater's defense team can file for a rehearing in the 5th Circuit, try their luck in the Supreme or go back to state court, Schaffer said.

"And truly this is a case for a commutation for a life sentence," he added, "so at the appropriate time we'll be asking to meet with District Attorney Kim Ogg."

Source: Houston Chronicle, Keri Blakinger, January 15, 2018


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

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