Southeast Texas
Victims of the State

Exclusive of Houston/Harris County
24 Cases

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County:   Bexar   Burleson   Cameron   Comal
Hays   Hidalgo   Montgomery   Nueces
Orange   Travis   Williamson

Bexar County, TX
Anastacio Vargas
Aug 21, 1925

Anastacio Vargas was convicted of murdering Louisa Garcia.  Both Louisa and her husband, Gabrial Garcia, were beaten by a pair of robbers on Aug 21, 1925.  Louisa died from her injuries ten days later.  Gabrial identified Vargas as one of the assailants and testified that Louisa also identified Vargas prior to her death.  Vargas had been an employee of the Garcias for some time prior to their assaults.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment.  An appeals court subsequently overturned Vargas's conviction.  On retrial, Vargas was again convicted, but this time he was sentenced to death.

A few hours before Vargas's scheduled execution, a look-alike to Vargas confessed to the crime.  Vargas was pardoned and released in 1929.  Thirty-five years later, Vargas was awarded $20,000 by the state.  (RCN)  [4/08]

Bexar County, TX
Ruben Cantu
Nov 8, 1984

Ruben Cantu was convicted of murdering Pedro Gomez, a Mexican laborer.  Gomez was robbed and shot to death while he was sleeping in a house under construction on Briggs Street in South San Antonio.  The house was right across the street from where Cantu, then 17, lived with his father.  Cantu was executed by lethal injection on Aug. 24, 1993.  Following Cantu's execution, witnesses have come forward to exonerate him.

Juan Moreno, who was wounded during the attempted robbery and a key eyewitness in the case against Cantu, now says that it was not Cantu who shot him and that he only identified Cantu as the shooter because he felt pressured and was afraid of the authorities.  Moreno said that he twice told police that Cantu was not his assailant, but that the authorities continued to pressure him to identify Cantu as the shooter after Cantu was involved in an unrelated wounding of a police officer.  “The police were sure it was [Cantu] because he had hurt a police officer.  They told me they were certain it was him, and that's why I testified.”

David Garza, Cantu's co-defendant during his 1985 trial, signed a sworn affidavit saying that he allowed Cantu to be accused and executed even though he was not with him on the night of the killing.  Garza stated, “Part of me died when he died.  You've got a 17-year-old who went to his grave for something he did not do.  Texas murdered an innocent person.”

Sam D. Millsap, Jr., the Bexar County District Attorney who charged Cantu with capital murder, said he never should have sought the death penalty in a case based on testimony from an eyewitness who identified a suspect only after police showed him Cantu's photo three separate times.  Miriam Ward, forewoman of the jury that convicted Cantu, noted, “With a little extra work, a little extra effort, maybe we'd have gotten the right information. The bottom line is, an innocent person was put to death for it. We all have our finger in that.”  (Houston Chronicle)  [1/07]

Bexar County, TX
Kia Johnson
Oct 29, 1993 (Balcones Hts)

Kia Levoy Johnson was sentenced to death for the shooting murder of William Matthew Rains.  Rains, a store clerk was shot during a 2:45 a.m. robbery of a Stop 'N Go convenience store at 3309 Hillcrest Dr. in Balcones Heights, Texas.  The assailant was unable to open the cash register and took it with him.  The details of the crime were captured on video by a store security camera.
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Bexar County, TX
Kenneth Foster
Aug 15, 1996

Kenneth Foster drove a car that stopped to allow an occupant, DeWayne Dillard, an opportunity to get out and talk to a female (later learned to be a stripper) in a stopped car.  Dillard shot her male friend, Michael T. LaHood, Jr., allegedly in self-defense, but the prosecutor argued robbery.  According to Dillard, Foster in the car 80 feet away “appeared surprised and panicked” and started to drive away, but Dillard told him to stop.  According to Texas “law of parties,” the jury had to agree that Foster had intended or conspired to participate in the alleged robbery in order to convict him of Capital Murder, but the trial judge blatantly disregarded this law in his instructions to the jury.  Foster was convicted and sentenced to death in 1997.  (  [3/05]

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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Cameron County, TX
Leonel Torres Herrera
Sept 29, 1981

Leonel Torres Herrera was sentenced to death for murdering two police officers, David Rucker and Enrique Carrisalez.  The murders occurred at separate locations along a highway between Brownsville and Los Fresnos.  Enrique Hernandez, Carrisalez's patrol car partner, identified Herrera.  Hernandez also said Herrera was only person in the car that they stopped.  Carrisalez, who did not die until 9 days after he was shot, identified Herrera from a single photo.  A license plate check showed that the stopped car belonged to Herrera's live in girlfriend.

In 1984, after Herrera's brother Raul was murdered, Raul's attorney came forward and signed an affidavit stating that Raul told him he had killed Rucker and Carrisalez.  A former cellmate of Raul also came forward and signed a similar affidavit.  Raul's son, Raul Jr., who was nine at the time of the killings, signed a third affidavit.  It averred that he had witnessed the killings.  Jose Ybarra, Jr., a schoolmate of the Herrera brothers, signed a fourth affidavit.  Ybarra alleged that Raul Sr. told him in 1983 that he had shot the two police officers.  Herrera alleged that law enforcement officials were aware of Ybarra's statement and had withheld it in violation of Brady v. Maryland.  Armed with these affidavits, Herrera petitioned for a new trial, but was denied relief in state courts.  One court did dismiss Herrera's Brady claim due to lack of evidence.  Herrera's appeal eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was argued in Oct. 1992.

In Jan. 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that Herrera's actual innocence was not a bar to his execution.  He had to show that there were procedural errors in his trial in order to gain relief.  Justice Rehnquist wrote that the “presumption of innocence disappears” once a defendant has been convicted in a fair trial.  Dissenting Justice Blackmun wrote:  “The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder.”  Herrera was executed four months after the ruling on May 12, 1993.  (Herrera v. Collins)  [1/07]

Cameron County, TX
San Benito Three
Dec 23, 1984

Davis Losada, Jose “Joe” Cardenas, and Jesus “Jesse” Romero were convicted of the rape and murder of 15-year-old Olga Lydia Perales.  Losada and Romero were sentenced to death while Cardenas was given life imprisonment.  Perales had been found Dec. 24, 1984 in the brush on the outskirts of San Benito, Texas.  She had been bludgeoned 10 to 20 times about the head and shoulders and stabbed twice in the chest after her death.   Two weeks later on Jan. 8, Rafael Levya, Jr., age 16, told his probation officer he knew who killed Perales.  Leyra initially stated he had only seen the murder, but he would eventually admit involvement.
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Cameron County, TX
Susan Mowbray
Sept 16, 1987

Susie Mowbray was convicted of murdering her husband, J. William “Bill” Mowbray, Jr.  After incessantly protesting her innocence, she was granted a retrial in 1996 by a Texas appeals court that ruled prosecutors concealed a crucial report on the blood splatter evidence that supported Mowbray's innocence.  When retried in 1998, forensic evidence supported the defense claim that Mowbray's husband committed suicide while she was asleep next to him in bed.  Dr. Herbert MacDonnell testified that it was likely Bill Mowbray committed suicide.  Mowbray was acquitted.  [10/05]

Cameron County, TX
Paul Colella
Sept 12, 1991

Paul Richard Colella was accused of murdering David Taylor and Michael Lavexphere.  It was alleged that he murdered them because he wrongly believed they had raped his wife.  At trial, the prosecution argued that deaths occurred at 2 a.m., because Colella was known to be 240 miles away at 6 a.m.  However, death certificates that were not turned over at the time of trial, place the time of death for both men at 6 a.m.  There were other case discrepancies.  Colella was sentenced to death, but later escaped death row by agreeing to plead to two non-capital counts of murder and accept a 20-year sentence.  Colella still maintains his innocence.  (Houston Chronicle)  [5/05]

Comal County, TX
Jack Davis
Nov 17, 1989

Jack Warren Davis was convicted of the sexual assault, mutilation, and murder of Kathie Campolo Balonis, 24.  Balonis's body was found in her apartment at the Oaks complex on Landa Street in New Braunfels. Davis lived and worked at the apartment complex as a maintenance man.  The conviction was based on the forensic testimony of Fred Zain.  Zain testified that some blood found under Balonis's body came from Davis.  In a 1992 evidentiary hearing to examine prosecutorial misconduct in Davis's case, Zain changed his testimony and acknowledged that the blood came from the victim.  Davis's conviction was vacated and he was released in 1992.  Davis later received a $600,000 settlement from Bexar County.  [7/05]

Hays County, TX
Thomas Harris
Aug 1996

Thomas Harris was accused and convicted of molesting his youngest daughter.  His wife acknowledged to two witnesses that the accusation was not true.  The alleged victim also acknowledged that accusation was not true and said Susan Miller (the divorce attorney of Harris's wife) and Trine Rodriquez told her to lie.  Harris has a long but interesting story including details such as his wife poisoning his food.  (Justice: Denied)  [6/05]

Hidalgo County, TX
Valentin Moreno
Dec 15, 1995

Valentin Moreno, Jr. was convicted of murder based on the testimony of three witnesses.  The physical evidence reportedly shows that the witnesses lied.  (IIPPI)

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) (JD)  [12/06]

Montgomery County, TX
Roy Criner
Sept 27, 1986

Roy Wayne 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)

Nueces County, TX
Carlos De Luna
Feb 4, 1983 (Corpus Christi)

Carlos De Luna was sentenced to death for the murder of a convenience store and gas station clerk named Wanda Jean Lopez.  Lopez, 24, was stabbed at a Sigmor gas station on South Padre Island Drive in Corpus Christi.  Her blood splattered on the store walls, the cash register, and the floor.  Forty minutes after the murder, police found De Luna hiding under a pick-up truck on a side street a few hundred yards from the station.  He had taken off his shirt and shoes.  But there was no blood on his face or pants. And when his shirt and shoes were found, no blood was on them either.
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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]

Travis County, TX
Carlos Lavernia
June 2, 1983

A rape victim picked Carlos Lavernia's photo out of a photo spread.  At trial, on cross-examination, the victim said Lavernia's photo was the only one in the spread that “anywhere near” resembled her assailant, but such evidence was enough for a jury to convict him.  Lavernia's later requests for DNA testing were denied by the courts, but an Austin police detective who went to interview him in Nov. 1999 about a different crime, questioned his guilt, and got the DA's office to perform DNA testing which exonerated him in 2000.  (IP) (CWC)  [7/05]

Travis County, TX
Danziger & Ochoa
Nov 24, 1988 (Austin)

Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa were roommates who worked at an Austin Pizza Hut.  While visiting another Austin Pizza Hut they raised suspicions when they asked employees questions about the murder of a manager there.  The manager was twenty-year-old Nancy Depriest who was raped and killed at that location two weeks before.  The two were brought in for police questioning and under coercion Ochoa confessed first to the rape and then only to the murder of DePriest.  In order to avoid the death penalty he agreed to testify against Danziger for the other crime.  Both men were convicted and given life sentences.

Eight years later another prisoner, Achim Marino, serving three life sentences, began writing letters to police, the DA, Gov. Bush, a newspaper, and the ACLU, confessing to the rape and murder of DePriest.  He said he did not know Ochoa or Danziger or why anyone would confess to a crime he had committed.  Marino had apparently undergone a religious conversion while attending AA/NA and felt obliged to confess his responsibility for the DePriest murder.  Although Marino exhibited detailed knowledge of the crime, the letters had little effect.  Austin Police did go to interview Ochoa, but he continued to profess guilt.  Later he explained that he feared claiming innocence would hurt his chance for parole.

Three years afterward Ochoa reconsidered and contacted the Wisconsin Innocence Project.  After DNA tests were done, both he and Danziger were exonerated and released.  The tests also confirmed that Marino was the perpetrator.  While in prison, Danziger was severely beaten by another prisoner and suffered severe brain damage that incapacitated him for life.  Danziger and Ochoa were awarded $9 million and $5.3 million respectively in 2003 for 13 years of wrongful imprisonment.  (IP1) (IP2) (CWC1) (CWC2) (Frontline)  [9/05]

Travis County, TX
Billy Gene Davis
Aug 8, 1990

After twice failing a polygraph exam, Billy Gene Davis confessed to killing his ex-girlfriend, Michelle Bagley.  Bagley disappeared on Aug. 8, 1990.  Davis said he left her body in a northeast Travis County field, but he could not remember exactly where.  Ten days after she went missing, Bagley later turned up alive in Tucson, AZ.

Travis County, TX
Ben Salazar
June 1, 1991 (Austin)

Ben Salazar was convicted of the rape of a pregnant Austin woman.  He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.  DNA tests exonerated him in 1997.  (IP)  [12/05]

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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