Robert Drew

Harris County, Texas
Date of Crime:  February 21, 1983
Executed August 2, 1994

Robert Nelson Drew was convicted of the murder of 17-year-old Jeffrey Mays. In Feb. 1983, Mays went traveling with his high school friend, Bee Landrum, in Landrum's 1973 Maverick. Both were runaways with alcohol and drug problems. While traveling, the two picked up numerous hitchhikers along the way to obtain gas money. In Lafayette, LA they picked up Drew, then 23, and a man surnamed Frank. Mays and Landrum agreed to drive the men thirty miles east to Franklin, LA. Drew assumed driving duty within 4 blocks of his pick-up point, but got stuck in the mud while crossing a highway median to make a U-turn. In Franklin, Frank bought pizza and beer for everyone, filled Landrum's car with gas, and gave Drew $65. Mays and Landrum agreed to take Drew to Houston in exchange for more gas money.

Mays and Landrum, with Drew, headed west and passed again through Lafayette where they picked up a hitchhiker, John Sly, whom they had previously given a ride. Just outside Lafayette, they picked up a third hitchhiker, Ernest Puralewski. Everyone was drinking beer except Mays, who was driving. At least one marijuana cigarette was passed around, which everyone smoked except Mays. Drew and Puralewski engaged in conversation. Puralewski stated that he was on the run and that he had been imprisoned with Charles Manson in California.

Mays apparently was unnerved by Puralewski, and after stopping he said he learned through a phone call that his father was sick and that he had to return home to Alabama. Although Mays was persuaded to continue on, he was subsequently stabbed, killed, and left behind. John Sly departed from the group prior to the murder. He testified that Puralewski robbed him at knifepoint of $10 to $15 and told him to “get your ass out of here.”

Twenty minutes after Mays was killed, Landrum, Drew, and Puralewski pulled into a Baytown, Texas truck stop. (Mays' body was found a half-mile down I-10 from the stop towards Houston.) Drew and Puralewski entered a store to buy beer. A clerk noticed Drew had a cut over his left eye and blood on his clothes. Drew later said the cut over his eye was caused by a jack handle during his efforts to free the car from the mud in Louisiana. The trio continued on, stopping at a restaurant and a Houston nightclub. Puralewski then said he wanted to “roll a faggot,” and left to enter a “faggot bar.” Landrum and Drew then drove away without him. The two were stopped shortly thereafter for a traffic violation and were arrested.

At Drew's trial, Landrum testified that he saw the murder from the driver's seat at night through the rear view mirror. He said he saw Drew pull Mays' head back and slash his throat. Landrum even re-enacted the killing for the jury. The medical examiner testified that the cuts on Mays' neck came from a left handed person; Drew was left-handed. The knife that killed Mays was owned by Landrum and found in Puralewski's possession when the same was arrested. Puralewski, who was awaiting his own trial for capital murder, refused to testify at Drew's trial. Drew was sentenced to death.

A tape recording later emerged, taken within hours of the murder, on which Landrum said he had not seen the murder. He passed a polygraph to this effect. This evidence had been withheld by the prosecution for five years. Landrum recanted his trial testimony. However, after a conversation with prosecutors he recanted his recantation.

Prior to Drew's trial, Puralewski signed statements stating Drew was the killer. After the trial Puralewski pled guilty in return for a reduced sentence. He later swore that he and he alone committed the killing: “I am the person who murdered Jeffrey Mays and Robert Drew is innocent.” Puralewski also stated that Drew played no role in the killing and was in fear of his own life at the time. Before pleading guilty Puralewski told at least three people that he alone killed Mays; after pleading guilty he told others the same thing. Puralewski had only spent part of one day with Drew. He had no personal reason to spare Drew. Drew always maintained his innocence.

The prosecution argued that Drew killed Mays in order to steal from him. According to a police officer, Drew had produced Mays' driver's license when he stopped Landrum's car and he also had Mays' wallet. According to Landrum, Drew also had Mays' watch and jacket. Drew had no criminal record for robbery or any other offense. He had paid a pawn broker to recover items for Mays prior to the murder and had paid for gas for the car. Shortly after Mays was killed, Puralewski had said he did not want Mays' body to be identified by his possessions. It would appear that Drew kept or took Mays' possessions due to Puralewski's demand, possibly with no intent to keep them after Puralewski was gone. Since Puralewski had robbed Sly, but expressed no interest in Mays' possessions, the possessions presumably were not worth much.

Two years after Houston judge Charles J. Hearn signed Drew's death warrant with a happy face, Drew was executed by lethal injection at Huntsville on Aug. 2, 1994. His last statement was, “I don't know why Marta Glass wasn't allowed in here. I love you all. Keep the faith. Remember the death penalty is murder. They are taking the life of an innocent man. My attorney, Ron Kuby, will read my letter at a press conference after this is over. That is all I have to say. I love you all.”  [2/11]


References:  Skeptical Juror Scorecard, New York Times, Drew v. State, Drew v. CollinsTexas Defender Service, Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Houston Cases, Defendants Executed by Texas