East Texas*

Victims of the State

30 Cases

State Menu

*Exclusive of Dallas & Harris Counties


County:   Angelina   Bell   Bowie   Burleson   Cass   Cherokee   Collin   Ellis   Hunt   Johnson

McLennan   Montgomery   Navarro   Orange   Smith   Tarrant   Upshur   Wichita   Williamson




Date of Alleged Crime


Angelina County, TX Robert Carroll Coney Mar 7, 1962

Robert Carroll Coney was convicted of robbing a Safeway supermarket of $2,000.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment.  Police tortured Coney into confessing by crushing his fingers between the bars of his holding cell.  Judge David Wilson wrote that the former Angelina County sheriff, Leon Jones, and his deputies “were known for obtaining confessions by physical force.” One of his tactics, he wrote, “was to get a prisoner's fingers on either side of a jail cell bar and squeeze those fingers until a prisoner confessed.”  The lawyer who was called in to oversee Coney's predetermined guilty plea stated, “That sheriff was the most terrible sheriff we ever had.”  Coney was imprisoned for 42 years before his conviction was vacated in Aug. 2004.  Four of his fingers are still deformed.  (NY Times) (Google)


Angelina County, TX Desiree Shaw Aug 11, 1996  (Diboll)
Desiree Ann Weaver Shaw was convicted of the shooting murder of her husband, Royce Shaw.  (IIPPI)


Bell County, TX Eugene Padgett Feb 1931 (Little River)
Eugene Padgett was convicted of the murder of Will Sanderford.  Sanderford was beaten to death during a Feb 1931 burglary in Little River, Texas.  Padgett confessed to the murder while serving a 20-year sentence for burglary because he thought his trial for murder would necessitate his being held in a small town jail and that he would be able to escape from it.  Unfortunately he was held in the relatively secure Travis County Jail in nearby Austin.  The courts did not allow Padgett to appeal his murder conviction until he served out the full term of his burglary conviction, which they felt was justified because he planned to escape.  Padgett's murder conviction was eventually set aside in July 1955.  (SDC) (The Innocents)  [7/05]


Bowie County, TX Delma Banks Apr 1980

Delma Banks was convicted of murdering 16-year-old Richard Wayne Whitehead and sentenced to death.  The U.S. Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution 10 minutes before his scheduled execution in 2003.  In 2004, the same court overturned his death sentence because of prosecutorial misconduct.  According to Banks' attorney, “The state allowed its key witnesses to repeatedly lie to the court and jury, and urged the jury to trust without question all the perjured testimony.”  Texas has doggedly defended the conviction on the Kafkaesque procedural ground that Banks' lawyers discovered the hidden illegalities of the prosecution too late to raise them in court.  (TruthInJustice) (TIJ2) (ODR)  [11/05]


Burleson County, TX Anthony Graves Aug 18, 1992 (Sommerville)

Anthony Graves was sentenced to death after an admitted mass murderer fingered him as an accomplice in order to protect his wife from prosecution.  In 1992, Robert Earl Carter, a 27-year-old prison guard, was under pressure from his ex-girlfriend, Lisa Davis, to increase child support for their son Jason.  He was already supporting his wife, Theresa, and their son, Ryan.  Anger over increasing child support payments does not fully explain Carter's subsequent actions, but it is the only motive that has been suggested.  Carter, reportedly, was a kind, gentle, and pleasant man, so presumably something within him snapped.

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Cass County, TX Mathis & Southerland June 6, 1934 (Atlanta)
Ovid Mathis and I. L. Southerland were convicted of of robbing the First National Bank of Atlanta, TX.  Their convictions were based on erroneous eyewitness identification.  It later became known that the robbery was committed by Charlie Chaplin, Texas' most notorious bank robber, and an accomplice, Luther Bone.  Mathis and Southerland were paroled in 1938 and after the next gubernatorial election Gov. O'Daniels pardoned both men as one of his first official acts.  (Not Guilty)  [7/05]


Cherokee County, TX Curbow & Strickland 1938 (Bullard)
Samuel Curbow and J. C. Strickland were convicted of robbing Mr. and Mrs. Ben Pritchard at their gas station in Bullard, TX.  The Pritchards identified the two as the men who robbed them.  Following the defendants' convictions it was determined that robbery suspects in Oklahoma admitted robbing a gas station in Texas.  The suspects did not know the name of the town in which the gas station was located, only that it was somewhere near Jackson.  When the Pritchards were brought to Oklahoma, they identified the suspects as the robbers.  Governor Lee O'Daniels subsequently pardoned Curbow and Strickland in April 1940.  (The Innocents)  [7/09]


Collin County, TX Michael Blair Sept 5, 1993 (Plano)

Michael Blair was sentenced to death in 1994 for the molestation and murder of 7-year-old Ashley Estell.  Ashley was abducted from a playground in Plano's Carpenter Park while her parents, nearby, watched her brother play in a soccer tournament.  No witnesses had seen Blair and Ashley together even though Blair reportedly looked like an unpleasant troll and would have stood out in the crowded upper-middle-class park.  According to a forensic physician, Ashley was killed several hours after her abduction and her body was kept at room temperature until nightfall when it was dumped.  Blair drove a hatchback and lived with two roommates, so it seemed unlikely he could have stored a body for several hours.

Blair's conviction was based on hair evidence.  Blair was a previously convicted sex offender, and the assumption that he murdered Ashley inspired legislation called “Ashley's Laws,” which require sex offenders to register with local law enforcement when they are released from prison and which require public notification when offenders move into a community.  In 2006, Collin County reopened the case, assigning it to its cold case squad.  Investigation identified another man, identified as Suspect 4, who could have committed the crime.  Suspect 4 died in the late 1990s.  After DNA tests of the hair evidence showed that it belonged to neither Blair nor the victim, his conviction was overturned in 2008.  The County is expected to drop charges against Blair.  (DMN) (FJDB)  [9/08]


Ellis County, TX Victor Larue Thomas Oct 24, 1985

Victor Larue Thomas was convicted of the rape of an employee at a Waxahachie Tiger Mart.  The victim identified Thomas as her assailant.  DNA tests exonerated Thomas in 2001.  (IP)  [7/05]


Hunt County, TX George White Convicted 1951 (Greenville)
George White was convicted of armed robbery in Nov. 1951 due to mistaken eyewitness identification.  He was tried without a lawyer and had no funds to prove that he had been in another state at the time of the crime.  In May 1959, Governor Price Daniel pardoned White after the actual culprit confessed.  (The Innocents)  [7/09]


Johnson County, TX Bobby Hopkins July 31, 1993 (Grandview)

Bobby Ray Hopkins was convicted of the murders of Jennifer Weston, 19, and Sandy Marbut, 18.  He was sentenced to death.  The murders occurred at the victims' apartment at 601-B South First St. in Grandview, TX.  On the night of the murders the victims threw a party at which 30 to 35 people attended.

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McLennan County, TX Johnson & Young Feb 11, 1922

L. C. “Cooper” Johnson and Bennie Young were convicted of the murders of W. H. Barker, his wife, Loula Barker, and a boy named Homer Turk, aged about 13.  The murders occurred at the Barker home on Corsicana Rd., seven miles southeast of Waco.  Turk had gone over to the Barkers to play dominoes. Dominoes were found on the table drawn and separated into hands, as though the parties had been engaged in playing the game. The body of Mr. Barker was found in the back yard near a woodpile, shot through the head. The body of Mrs. Barker was found in the house, and her head was cut to pieces by blows from an axe; Turk was also killed by blows inflicted with an axe.

Johnson and Young, who were described as “boys,” were arrested for these murders and confessed to them while in police custody.  In Mar. 1923, another man, Roy Mitchell, was convicted of murdering five people in five different proceedings, all in the same month.  In a sixth proceeding, Mitchell was convicted of murdering Loula Barker.  The convictions were due, at least in part, to coerced confessions.  The authorities expressed pride that they helped prevent a lynching.

Johnson died in prison a few days before Mitchell's hanging.  In 1934 the Texas governor pardoned Young after being informed by the trial judge and the prosecuting attorney that they did not believe Young was guilty.  (ISI) (FWH)  [5/08]


McLennan County, TX David Spence July 14, 1982 (Waco)

David Wayne Spence was convicted of the murder of Jill Montgomery and sentenced to death.  Montgomery, 17, along with Raylene Rice, 17, and Montgomery's boyfriend, Kenneth Franks, 18, were found murdered in Speegleville Park at Lake Waco.  Three other individuals, Gilbert Melendez, Tony Melendez, and Muneer Deeb were also convicted in connection to the murders.  Truman Simons, a night jailer who had unsupervised contact with inmates, largely developed the cases against all four.  Simons operated his own perjury factory in that he was able to get numerous inmates to testify to any story he wanted them to.  His only problem was coming up with believable stories that fit the facts.

Spence was executed on April 3, 1997.  Marvin Horton, the police lieutenant who supervised the case, said, “I do not think David Spence committed this crime.”  Ramon Salinas, the homicide detective on the case, added, “My opinion is that David Spence was innocent.  Nothing from the investigation ever led us to any evidence that he was involved.”  One of the inmates who testified at Spence's trial, Robert Snelson, said, “We all fabricated our accounts of Spence confessing in order to try to get a break from the state on our cases.”  An “award-winning” pro-prosecution book, Careless Whispers by Dallas journalist Carlton Stowers was written about the murders.  It reportedly lionizes Simons who “brought Spence to justice.”  (DP News) (JD08 in Capital Punishment article) [1/07]


McLennan County, TX Muneer Deeb July 14, 1982 (Waco)

Muneer Deeb, a convenience store owner, had allegedly hired three men to kill a female employee on whom he had a $20,000 accident policy.  However, Deeb had such policies on all his employees as a hedge against worker compensation claims.  The prosecution alleged that the three men then mistakenly killed a woman who was not an employee.  The murdered woman did not seem to be the victim of a contractual killing as she was raped and tortured, as were two of her friends.  None of his three alleged co-conspirators testified against Deeb even though they were charged with capital murder like Deeb and were in a position to negotiate for a reduced sentence.  One trial witness testified that Deeb had acknowledged he would receive insurance money if one of his employees ever was murdered.  Deeb was convicted and sentenced to death.

Deeb's conviction was overturned because the judge allowed a jailhouse informant to give hearsay testimony about statements allegedly made by one of Deeb's alleged co-conspirators.  This informant described a murder for hire scheme in detail.  Deeb was acquitted at retrial in 1993.  (CWC)


McLennan County, TX Calvin Washington Mar 2, 1986 (Waco)
Calvin E. Washington was convicted of rape.  DNA tests later exonerated Washington and implicated a deceased man, Bennie Carrol.  Carrol had committed suicide three years after admitting that he raped a neighbor of the victim.  (IP)  [10/05]


Montgomery County, TX Clarence Brandley Aug 23, 1980 (Conroe)

Clarence Lee Brandley, a black man, was accused of raping and strangling 16-year-old Cheryl Dee Ferguson, a white girl, in the high school where he worked as a janitor.  Ferguson was a member of a visiting Bellville volleyball team.  The prosecution's case was built on the premise that there were five janitors who had opportunity to commit the crime, and the other four (who were white) provided alibis for each other.  The sperm evidence recovered from the victim's body was destroyed prior to trial.  A fresh spot of blood was found on the victim's blouse that had a blood type other than the victim and Brandley.  The defense would only later learn that Caucasian hairs that did not match the victim were found upon her body – a fact that was extremely exculpatory of Brandley.  One of the arresting officers had told him, “We need someone for this.  Since you're the nigger, you're elected.”

Brandley's first trial resulted in a hung jury, but Brandley was convicted at his second trial and sentenced to death.  His story was reported by 60 Minutes in 1987.  On the night before his scheduled execution, Centurion Ministries brought forward an eyewitness who named two of the white janitors and vindicated Brandley.  Brandley was freed in Jan. 1990 and is the subject of the book White Lies by Nick Davies.  (CM) (PC) (CWC) (JP)  [7/05]


Montgomery County, TX Arthur Mumphrey Feb 28, 1986 (Dobbin)
Arthur Mumphrey was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl.  He was convicted because of the testimony of his co-defendant, Steve Thomas, who testified in exchange for a reduced sentence.  The victim claimed two men had raped her, but could not identify Mumphrey as one of them.  DNA tests later implicated Thomas and an unknown male as the rapists.  Mumphrey was released and pardoned in 2006 after 18 years of imprisonment.  Because of Texas law, the pardon does not erase his rape conviction.  Mumphrey is eligible for about $500,000 in compensation under Texas law.  (IP) (JD31 p4)  [12/06]


Montgomery County, TX Roy Criner Sept. 27, 1986
Roy Criner was charged with aggravated sexual assault when prosecutors lacked the evidence to prove a charge of murder against him in the rape and murder of Deanna Ogg.  Criner was convicted on shaky evidence and sentenced to 99 years.  DNA tests of recovered semen exonerated Criner in 1997, but in 1998, an appeals court insisted on upholding his conviction on the prosecution theory that there could have been an unindicted co-ejaculator.  Gov. George Bush pardoned Criner in 2000.  (IP) (TruthInJustice) (CWC)  [3/06]


Montgomery County, TX LaBonte & LaFleur June 8, 1997 (Conroe)

Lonnie LaBonte and Russell LaFleur were convicted of the murders of Misty Morgan and Sarah Cleary.  LaBonte knew Morgan because she was the girlfriend of his friend, Gerald Barton.  LaFleur was a young man who stayed at LaBonte's residence for about two weeks around the time of the murders.  During a police interrogation, LaFleur confessed to witnessing LaBonte commit the murders.  He said the confession was coerced because police had put a syringe to his arm and threatened to kill him while making it appear that he killed himself with an overdose of drugs.

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Montgomery County, TX Larry Swearingen Dec 1998 (Conroe)

Larry Swearingen sentenced to death for the strangulation murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter.  Trotter disappeared on Dec. 8, 1998.  Swearingen was one of the last known persons to see her alive.  He was arrested three days later on outstanding traffic warrants and put in jail.  An extensive search for Trotter was organized, but her body wasn’t discovered until Jan. 2, 1999.  She was found in the Sam Houston National Forest by a couple of hunters – in an area that had been already searched three times.  Swearingen was still in jail at this time.

Following the scheduling of Swearingen's first execution date for Jan 2007, he began getting medical science on his side.  Unanimous medical opinion, based of various signs of body decay, is that Trotter could not have been murdered until some time after she disappeared and after Swearingen was put in jail.  One pathologist puts the earliest possible date of Trotter's murder as Dec. 18, another puts it at Dec. 23.  Dr. Glenn Larkin, a retired pathologist, said “No rational and intellectually honest person can look at the evidence and conclude Larry Swearingen is guilty of this horrible crime.”  (IIPPI) (Texas Monthly)


Navarro County, TX Shannon & Clements Mar 15, 1925 (Currie)

Earl Shannon and H. A. Clements were convicted of the robbery of a Currie grocery store.  Two armed men had robbed the store, which was owned by two partners, Phipps and English.  English had been present during the robbery, but Phipps had not.  English identified one of the masked and hatted robbers as Clements.  Clements ran a shop about two miles away with his partner Shannon.  English later identified the robbers' lookout man as Shannon after Phipps found circumstantial evidence that implicated Shannon.

Just before Shannon's trial, Phipps told Shannon's attorney that English could not identify any of the persons who robbed the store except Clements.  The trial judge would not permit Shannon's attorney to testify to Phipps's statement.  Shannon's conviction was later overturned for that reason.  He was never retried.

While in prison, Clements met another inmate, Blackie Davis, who confessed to the grocery store robbery and signed a deposition to that effect.  The Governor was unconvinced by Davis's admission, and refused to pardon Clements.  However, a sixty-day furlough was granted, to enable Clements to locate the accomplices implicated by Davis's confession.  On his furlough, Clements found one of the accomplices.  Backed by an application endorsed by the district judge, the prosecutor, and all the jurors, the Texas Governor pardoned Clements in May 1929.  (CTI)  [11/07]


Navarro County, TX Todd Willingham Dec 23, 1991 (Corsicana)

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murdering his three daughters by setting his house on fire.  Under police interrogation, Willingham said that his wife, Stacy, had left the house around 9 a.m.  After she got out of the driveway, he heard his one-year-old twin daughters cry, so he got up and gave them a bottle.  The children’s room had a safety gate across the doorway which his two-year-old daughter, Amber, could climb over but not the twins.  He and Stacy often let the twins nap on the floor after they drank their bottles.  Since Amber was still in bed, he went back into his room to sleep.  Willingham's house was warmed by three space heaters, one of which was in the children's bedroom.  This heater had an internal flame.  Amber had been taught not to play with the heater though she reportedly got “whuppings every once in a while for messing with it.”

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Orange County, TX Clarence Von Williams Apr 30, 1979

Clarence Von Williams was convicted of raping at gunpoint a Bridge City woman and her teenage daughter.  The assailant wore a ski mask, blindfolded his victims, and assaulted them in a dark room.  Nevertheless the victims claimed to have caught a glimpse of their assailant from underneath their blindfolds.  Following the assault, the adult victim's boyfriend convinced her that assailant must be someone she knew because he took great steps to avoid being seen by her.  The victim called her friend Lois, who mentioned that Von Williams, her boyfriend, had been out drinking till the wee hours of the morning.  The victim had met Von Williams just once, two weeks before, at a two-hour dinner party.  The victim then convinced herself that Von Williams was her assailant.  At trial, both the victim and her children identified Von Williams as the assailant.

Two months after Von Williams' conviction, another man, Jon Barry Simonis, known as the “Ski-Mask Rapist,” confessed to 77 crimes in 7 states, including the rapes for which Von Williams was convicted.  Simonis knew details about the rapes that no one outside the prosecutor's office knew.  When shown a videotape of Simonis's confession, the adult victim repeated, “no, no, no, no, no, no,” refusing to admit that someone other than Von Williams had committed the assaults.  However, it seemed clear from the shocked expressions of her teenage children that they recognized Simonis.  After prosecutors saw the videotape, they joined the defense in a Dec. 1981 motion to vacate Von Williams' conviction and dismiss all charges.  (Witness for the Defense) (Google)  [5/08]


Smith County, TX

Kerry Max Cook

June 10, 1977 (Tyler)

Kerry Max Cook was sentenced to death for the murder of Linda Jo Edwards, a 21-year-old secretary.  Edwards was a college student who was having an affair with her married professor.  Cook was arrested in a club where he worked as a bartender.  The club was chiefly known as a gay bar, and police theorized that Cook was a degenerate homosexual who hated women.

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Smith County, TX Andrew Lee Mitchell Dec 26, 1979
Andrew Lee Mitchell was convicted of murdering Keith Wills, a clerk at a fireworks stand near Troup, Texas.  Mitchell was sentenced to death and spent 13 years on death row.  He was exonerated in 1993 after exculpatory evidence surfaced showing the victim had been alive hours after Mitchell had allegedly killed him.  The sheriff's department had suppressed this evidence.  [1/07]


Smith County, TX A. B. Butler, Jr. May 20, 1983
A. B. Butler Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping and rape.  The victim, a young white female, was kidnapped at knifepoint from a motel parking lot in Tyler, TX.  Her assailant, a black male forced her to drive to a field in a rural area where he raped her.  The victim later made a tentative identification of Butler as her assailant while reviewing police mug shots.  At trial several witnesses vouched for Butler's whereabouts on the night of the alleged rape.  Years after his conviction, Butler pleaded for DNA tests to be done, but to no avail.  Finally, in 1999, these test were done and they excluded Butler as the rapist.  He was freed in Jan 2000 and issued a full pardon in May 2000 by Gov. George W. Bush, who said the pardon was “based on innocence.  (Justice: Denied) (CM) (IP) (CWC)  [5/05]


Tarrant County, TX Mark Webb Feb 9, 1985
Mark Webb was identified by an assault victim as the man who abducted and raped her.  The victim, an aerobics instructor, was abducted as she left a Fort Worth health club.  Several defense witnesses testified that Webb was at work at the time of the incident.  Webb was convicted and served 13 years of 30 years sentence before DNA tests exonerated him.  (IP)  [7/05]


Tarrant County, TX John Michael Harvey 1989
John Michael Harvey was convicted of molesting the 3-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend.  The victim, identified as S. R. and now 17, denied that Harvey was her molester and only named him under pressure from the prosecutor, Lisa Mullen.  In a sworn statement the victim said, “I am also very angry with the prosecutor.  I feel that she took advantage of me because she wanted to win her case.”  [10/05]


Upshur County, TX Jason Barber Sept 21, 1996 (Pritchett)
Jason Barber was convicted of the shooting death of Johnny Escalante, 15.  Escalante was shot in the back of the head while sitting in the passenger seat of his brother's truck.  At the time of the shooting, Escalante and his brother were leaving a party at a Barber family property.  Barber was sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment.  Barber's attorney later received a tip about the gun used to kill Escalante, which was found under a barn in Upshur County.  The gun convinced experts that Barber had not fired the shot that killed Escalante.  Barber was released in 2000 and police arrested a different man for the crime.  (AP News)  [7/07]


Williamson County, TX Henry Lee Lucas Oct 31, 1979

Henry Lee Lucas was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder of an unidentified woman whose body was found along I-35 near Georgetown, Texas.  The case was known as the “Orange Socks” case because the victim was found nude except for a pair of orange socks.  Lucas had confessed to the crime.  In his videotaped confession, Lucas said that he had consensual sex with the victim, but this statement was edited out when played at trial, because the prosecution needed to maintain that the victim was raped in order to make Lucas eligible for the death penalty.  The medical examiner had found no evidence of rape.  The victim had an advanced case of syphilis, but Lucas had no venereal disease.  It was later proven that Lucas was in another state at the time.  In 1998, three days before his scheduled execution, Texas Governor George W. Bush pardoned Lucas.

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