Victims of the State

Includes all locations in Harris County
23 Cases

 Harris County, TX

Gordon Morris

July 11, 1953 (Houston)

Gordon Morris was sentenced to death for the murder of Ruby Lee Smith, his common law wife. Morris's jury selection, trial, conviction, and sentencing to death all occurred in one day. Morris's brother later found out that Morris was physically incapable of committing the murder and that he was the victim of mistaken ID. When the jury foreman heard of the new evidence, he reinvestigated the case, tracked down the other members of the jury, and got them as a group to urge that Morris be pardoned. Three days before Morris's scheduled execution, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Morris was paroled in 1968, reimprisoned on a parole violation in 1973, and reparoled in 1976.  (RCN)  [7/05]

 Harris County, TX

Vernon McManus

July 24, 1976 (Baytown)

Vernon McManus, a Lamar University football coach, was sentenced to death for the murder of his in-laws. His estranged wife, who was implicated in the murders, implicated McManus in order to avoid a death sentence. In addition, McManus's trial counsel was romantically involved with his estranged wife during the course of his trial. After McManus's conviction was overturned, his wife refused to testify against him, and charges against him were dropped in 1988.  (CWC)  [3/06]

 Harris County, TX

Anthony Pierce

Aug 4, 1977

Anthony Leroy Pierce (aka Yatombi Ikei) was sentenced to death for the murder of Fred Johnson during a robbery of a Church's Fried Chicken restaurant in Houston.  (IIPPI)

Harris County, TX 

Max Soffar

July 13, 1980 (Houston)

Max Soffar was convicted of murdering Arden Alane Felsher, 17, Tommy Lee Temple, 17, and Stephen Allen Sims, 25, during a robbery of the Fair Lanes Windfern Bowling Center. He was sentenced to death. Soffar, 24, a mentally impaired individual, confessed to the murders after hours of police interrogation. No physical evidence connected him to the crime. A fourth victim, Gregory Garner, survived a gunshot wound to the head but failed to identify Soffar as a participant in the robbery.
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Harris County, TX 

Gary Graham

May 13, 1981

Gary Graham, later known as Shaka Sankola, was convicted of the robbery and murder of Bobby Lambert, 53, outside a Safeway supermarket in north Houston. He was convicted primarily on the testimony of one witness, Bernadine Skillern, who said she saw the killer's face for a few seconds through her car windshield, from a distance of 30 to 40 feet away. Two other witnesses, both who worked at the grocery store and said they got a good look at the assailant, said Graham was not the killer but were never interviewed by Graham's court appointed attorney, Ronald Mock, and were not called to testify at trial. Three of the jurors who voted to convict Graham signed affidavits saying they would have voted differently had all of the evidence been available. Graham was executed on June 23, 2000.  (Justice: Denied) (TJDP)  [1/07]

Harris County, TX 

Ricardo Aldape Guerra

July 13, 1982

Ricardo Aldape Guerra, a Mexican national, was sentenced to death for the murder of James D. Harris, a Houston police officer. Harris was killed during a routine traffic stop. The gun that killed Harris was found on Roberto Carrasco some hours later, after Carrasco was killed in a shootout with police. Guerra, a 20-year-old acquaintance of Carrasco, was riding in the car with Carrasco when Harris was killed. Police theorized that Guerra shot Harris and later traded guns with Carrasco. Guerra's fingerprints were not found on the gun, but five eyewitnesses identified him as the shooter.

Beginning in 1994, evidence emerged that police and prosecutors had systematically intimidated and manipulated the eyewitnesses into identifying Guerra as Harris's killer. During a federal appeal, these witnesses testified that they had perjured themselves because they feared police and prosecutors. Guerra's conviction was overturned in Nov. 1994. The state delayed justice by appealing the ruling, but ultimately released Guerra in Apr. 1997, as they had no intimidated witnesses with which to retry him. Upon release, Guerra returned to Mexico where he was the subject of a book, a feature film and at least one popular song and music video.  (NCR)  [2/07]

Harris County, TX 

Robert Drew

Feb 21, 1983

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.
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 Harris County, TX

Pedro Torres

Apr 17, 1983

Pedro Torres was arrested for drinking beer in a Dallas convenience store. A computer check showed that he was wanted for the murder of a Houston man. He then was tried for that murder and convicted, reportedly because of eyewitness testimony. However, Torres's arrest warrant was actually issued for a different Pedro Torres. Torres's work records and and the other Pedro Torres's roommate helped to overturn his conviction. Torres was released in 1986 after 8 months of imprisonment.  [4/08]

 Harris County, TX

Calvin Burdine

Apr 18, 1983

Calvin Burdine was convicted of murdering his gay lover, W.T. “Dub” Wise, at the trailer home the two shared in Houston. Burdine allegedly was angry because Wise had asked him to prostitute himself to earn more money. The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Burdine's conviction because his lawyer, Joe Frank Cannon, was asleep during his trial. The Court ruled that “sleeping counsel is equivalent to no counsel at all,” a violation of Burdine's Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Cannon slept as many as 10 times, for as long as 10 minutes, during Burdine's six-day trial. Burdine was released in 2001 and his case came to a legal end in 2002 when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Texas' appeal of the Fifth Circuit's ruling.  [10/05]

 Harris County, TX

Everett Baily Malloy

July 1983

Everett Baily Malloy was convicted of the murder of 25-year-old William Smiddy. While Smiddy was in a North Houston nightclub, he saw a man, believed to be Malloy, take $20 from a waitress' serving tray and then leave the club. Smiddy followed the man outside, choked him, and took the stolen money back. However, the man fatally shot him with a .22 caliber pistol.

Malloy maintained his innocence and had witnesses testify that he was not at the club. But four prosecution witnesses identified him as the killer. They also said a woman accompanied him at the nightclub. Following Malloy's conviction, the woman described by witnesses was located and her information led to the filing of charges against a different man for the killing. Malloy was released from prison in 1984.  (Herald-Journal) (Star-News)  [8/10]

 Harris County, TX

Kevin James Byrd

Jan 14, 1985

Kevin James Byrd, a black man, served 12 years in prison after a rape victim identified him as her assailant. The victim originally claimed her rapist was a white male. DNA tests exonerated Byrd in 1997, but Governor George W. Bush refused to pardon him. After the story got the attention of the national press, Bush reversed himself and signed Byrd's pardon.  (IP) (CWC)  [5/05]

 Harris County, TX

Anthony Robinson

Jan 1986

Anthony Robinson, a black man, was convicted of raping a white University of Houston student. He was picked up because the victim said her assailant was a black man wearing a plaid shirt. The victim, who was white, also said her assailant had a mustache, smelled of cigarette smoke, had no money, and that he apologized to her, saying he had just gotten out of prison and had not had sex in a long time. Robinson had no mustache, did not smoke, had $169 on him, and had never been to prison. The victim identified Robinson as her assailant when he was brought to her and at trial. Robinson's fingerprints did not match those taken from the crime scene.

Robinson was paroled after serving 10 years of his 27-year sentence. He then worked to pay for his own DNA testing and hired a lawyer who had him officially exonerated. Because he was a well thought of college graduate who served two years in the Army, a state senator employed Robinson as the “poster child” for a proposed Texas law to increase the compensation for the wrongly convicted to $25,000 per year of incarceration. The law passed and Robinson was awarded $250,000 under it.  (IP) (Frontline)  [5/08]

 Harris County, TX

William Irvan

Feb 14, 1987

William Darin Irvan was was convicted in 2003 of the 1987 murder of Michelle Shadbolt. He was sentenced to death. Irvan had a relationship with Michelle who had separated from her husband, Jack Shadbolt, six weeks before. Two days before her murder she had told her husband that they were through and that she was filing for divorce.  (IIPPI) (Associated Content)

 Harris County, TX

George Rodriguez

Feb 24, 1987

George Rodriguez was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl largely because his name was George. The victim had told police that one of the perpetrators called the other George, but she did not think it was his real name because they had discussed using fake names. Rodriguez's co-defendant identified a man named Yanez as his partner, but Yanez was not charged presumably because Rodriguez was in custody while Yanez was not. A prosecutor told Rodriguez's jury that blood type matching eliminated Yanez as a suspect. Later tests showed a blood type consistent with Yanez. DNA tests exonerated Rodriguez in 2005. Because of the statute of limitations, Yanez cannot be charged with the 1987 crime.  (IP) (TruthInJustice) (HC)  [12/05]

Harris County, TX 

Frances Newton

Apr 7, 1987

Frances Elaine Newton was sentenced to death for the of murders of her husband and two children. The husband, Adrian Newton, was found shot to death in the family's apartment along with the couple's two children, Alton, 7, and Farrah, 1. The apartment was located at 6126 West Mount Houston Road, Houston, Texas. Less than a month before the murders, Frances purchased a $50,000 life insurance policy on Adrian and forged his name to complete the deal. She also purchased a separate $50,000 policy on Farrah. At the time of the murders both Frances and Adrian were seeing other people.
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 Harris County, TX

Ronald Taylor

May 28, 1993

Ronald Gene Taylor was convicted of rape after being identified by the victim. The victim's DNA tests were not available for Taylor's trial because the Houston PD Crime Lab had erroneously reported that the victim's bed sheets did not contain semen. Taylor was exonerated of the crime in 2007 after DNA tests showed that the actual perpetrator was another Texas inmate, Roosevelt Carroll. Reportedly Taylor and Carroll look remarkably similar. Carroll cannot be prosecuted as the statute of limitations for the crime has expired.  (HC)  [10/07]

 Harris County, TX

Robert Fratta

Nov 9, 1994

Robert Alan Fratta was convicted in 1996 of arranging his wife's murder. He was sentenced to death. Fratta had been in divorce proceedings with his wife. To gain custody of their children, his wife had made allegations of sexual perversion involving bathroom activities. The murder trial prosecutor used these allegations in an attempt to prejudice the jury. Fratta had no opportunity to confront the allegations, as he could not cross-examine the person who made them. Even in regard to living witnesses, Fratta's trial judge openly denied Fratta's Sixth Amendment right to confront his accusers. The judge permitted hearsay testimony from a police officer that an alleged co-conspirator had implicated himself and Fratta in the crime. Another witness testified to incriminating statements made by the alleged co-conspirator and a second alleged co-conspirator. Fratta's defense tried to call these alleged co-conspirators to refute the hearsay testimony, but the judge would not allow them to be called.  (ODR)  [11/07]

 Harris County, TX

Robert Angleton

Apr 16, 1997

Robert Angleton, also known as Bob, was a bookie who took bets on sporting events. He was charged with murdering his 46-year-old wife, Doris. Following the murder, Bob told police that he suspected his brother Roger was the killer. Despite Roger's checkered past, Bob had employed him in 1989. He fired him less than a year later. After being fired, Roger felt Bob owed him $200,000 and even tried to rob him of it at gunpoint. Roger then threatened to put Bob out of business, by reporting him to the IRS. Bob ignored him, but Roger started making phone calls to customers, posing as an IRS agent.
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 Harris County, TX

Josiah Sutton

Oct 25, 1998

Josiah Sutton was convicted of carjacking and rape based on a DNA test that was erroneously evaluated by Christy Kim of the Houston Crime Lab. Sutton was denied a request for an independent DNA test, but an independent investigation of the Houston Crime Lab brought errors in his case to light. Retesting confirmed Sutton's claim of innocence and he was released in 2003. In 2005, he was awarded $119,000.  (IP) (HC) (JD)  [10/05]

 Harris County, TX

Gilbert Amezquita

Feb 6, 1998 (Houston)

Gilbert Amezquita was convicted of aggravated assault after Kathy Bingham was severely beaten at the Houston plumbing company where he worked and which her family owned. Shortly after coming out of a 10-day coma, the still-hospitalized Bingham whispered to police that it was “Gilbert” who had assaulted her. Amezquita was a U.S. Army reservist with no prior criminal record. His appellate attorney, Roland Moore, found that prosecutors had failed to consider that a second Gilbert - Alonzo Gilbert Guerrero - also worked at the plumbing company. Moore discovered that Bingham and Guerrero had argued a few days before the attack and that Guerrero had Bingham's cell phone after the beating. Guerrero, who is now serving a seven-year prison sentence for burglary, did not have a good explanation for how he came to possess Bingham's phone.

In 2007, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended a pardon based on innocence for Amezquita. News of the Board's action did not please Bingham, who maintains that Amezquita attacked her. Governor Perry subsequently pardoned him.  (HC)  [6/07]

 Harris County, TX

Robert Justin Kaupp

Jan 13, 1999

Robert Justin Kaupp was convicted of murder and sentenced to 55 years of imprisonment. On Jan. 13, 1999, 14-year-old Destiny Thetford disappeared from her home in suburban Houston. Kaupp, 17, was a close friend of Nicholas Thetford, Destiny's 19-year-old half-brother. Kaupp went with the family to report Destiny missing. He later helped pass out flyers in the neighborhood and joined in searches for her.

Police later learned that Nicholas had a sexual relationship with his half-sister and he and Kaupp were together on the day Destiny disappeared. On Jan. 26, police questioned Kaupp and gave him a lie detector test which he passed. Kaupp was cooperative and police let him go. Nicholas was also questioned and given lie detector tests, which he failed three times. Eventually Nicholas told police that he was angry that Destiny ended their relationship and that he stabbed her to death and placed her body in a drainage ditch. He also implicated Kaupp in the stabbing and the hiding of the body.

Police did not seek to obtain a formal arrest warrant for Kaupp, as they did not believe that they had probable cause for one. Instead, using Nicholas's statements as evidence, they sought a pocket arrest warrant from the district attorney's office, but it was denied. Nevertheless, police behaved as though they had a warrant and six police cars arrived at Kaupp's home at 3 a.m. on Jan. 27. After Kaupp's father allowed officers entry, they awoke Kaupp with a flashlight. A detective identified himself and told Kaupp, “We need to go and talk.” To which Kaupp replied, “Okay.” Police then placed handcuffs on Kaupp and led him, shoeless and dressed only in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, out of his house and into a patrol car. No evidence indicated that Kaupp was told that he was free to decline to go with the officers.

At the police station Kaupp denied any involvement in the victim's disappearance, but 10 or 15 minutes into his interrogation, after being told of the brother's confession, he admitted having some part in the crime. He did not, however, acknowledge causing the fatal wound or confess to murder, for which he was later indicted.

In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Kaupp's confession had been coerced as it was the product of an illegal arrest. A Texas Court of Appeals then overturned his conviction. Since his alleged confession could not be used against him at a retrial, the charges against Kaupp were dropped.  (U.S. Supreme Court) (Court of Appeals)  [2/11]

Harris County, TX 

Carlos Coy

Sept 1, 2001

Carlos Coy, a rapper whose stage name is South Park Mexican, was convicted of the sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl. The girl had been invited over to Coy's house by his 6-year-old daughter. She claimed Coy touched her inappropriately during a supposed sleepover while a Scooby Doo tape was playing on the VCR and Coy's daughter had fallen asleep next to her. No physical evidence corroborated her accusation. During initial questioning at trial, the girl said she wasn't sure what had happened and thought it could have been a dream. She also said she did not remember the incident clearly. Given the girl's youth, she was highly susceptible to persuasion by relatives who may have wanted to target Coy because of his money and fame. Coy has at least six music albums with collective sales topping 1.5 million. The trial judge sentenced Coy to 45 years in prison. Three months after Coy's sentencing the girl's family filed a civil suit against him seeking unspecified damages.  (HC) (SPM's Music Videos)  [10/09]

Harris County, TX 

Ricardo Rachell

Oct 20, 2002

Ricardo Rachell was convicted of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy. The boy, lured by a bike-riding stranger promising him $10 for help cleaning up trash, was sexually assaulted in a vacant home south of downtown Houston. The next day, the boy's mother saw Rachell riding a bike on Cullen Blvd. She drove her son to the location and the boy subsequently identified Rachell as his assailant. Testimony from the boy and one of his friends who saw the assailant served as the core of the case against Rachell.

During deliberations, jurors asked about the boys' testimony, sending written questions to the judge. At least two wanted to know how the mother asked her son to identify his assailant and how the boy responded to her question. The boy appeared to know Rachell not as a stranger, but from seeing him around his neighborhood as a man whose facial deformity, from of a shotgun blast years before, made him drool and appear “scary-looking.” The two boys never mentioned that their assailant had an obvious facial deformity.

After Rachell was incarcerated, similar assaults occurred on at least three young boys lured by a man who promised them money in exchange for performing a task. Rachell's defense attorneys said they were never told that biological evidence existed in the case, but were later made aware of it. DNA tests of this evidence confirmed Rachell's innocence in 2008, leading to his release after more than 5 years of imprisonment. Rachell became blind from glaucoma during his incarceration. He was officially cleared in 2009.  (HC#1) (HC#2)  [5/09]