West Texas
Victims of the State

17 Cases

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County:   Ector   El Paso   Gray   Hale   Hutchinson
Lubbock   Pecos   Runnels   Swisher   Uvalde

Ector County, TX
James Harry Reyos
Dec 21, 1981 (Odessa)

For reasons unknown, James Harry Reyos confessed in New Mexico to police that he had killed a Catholic priest, Father Patrick Ryan, during a homosexual tryst in a West Texas motel.  However, every other piece of testimony controverted his guilt.  Reyos had an airtight alibi:  He was 200 miles away when the priest was bludgeoned to death.  Reyos could prove his alibi with time-stamped receipts, a speeding ticket, and even an eyewitness.  Father Ryan was a much beloved priest, and Reyos's allegations that the father had repeatedly solicited young men for sex shocked and offended the jurors.  Reyos was convicted and sentenced to 38 years of imprisonment.  The state's attorney responding to Reyos's appeal made himself a timeline of the crime and realized that Reyos could not have committed the crime.  The attorney put in a pardon request but it was turned down.  Reyos was paroled in 2003.  (American Justice) (Chronicle)

Ector County, TX
John Skelton
Apr 24, 1982

John Clifford Skelton was sentenced to death for the murder of a 46-year-old former employee, Joe Lee Neal.  Neal's truck was rigged with dynamite and  exploded near the intersection of of Grandview Avenue and Brentwood Drive in Odessa, TX.  The explosion, triggered by Neal putting the truck into reverse, propelled Neal's body out of the truck, ripped off his left wrist and hand as well as both legs. Medical testimony indicated that Neal bled to death.  The prosecution argued that Skelton had a motive to kill Neal, had made various threats against him, and had access to explosive materials.  However, Skelton had a strong alibi.  The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction after finding “no evidence which connects [Skelton] with the actual setting of the bomb, nor is there any evidence showing that he solicited, encouraged, directed, aided, or attempted to aid another to place the bomb.”  Skelton was released in 1990.  (PC)  [7/05]

El Paso County, TX
Kenneth Massey
May 22, 1952 (El Paso)

Kenneth Massey was convicted of the armed robbery of an El Paso drug store due to eyewitness identification.  Following Massey's conviction, police in Iowa arrested William G. Karston for the murder of a farmer.  Among the many crimes Karston confessed to was the drug store robbery for which Massey was convicted.  It was subsequently proved that Massey was working in New Mexico at the time of the drug store robbery.  Texas Governor Allan Shivers subsequently pardoned Massey in Nov. 1954.  Massey served 22 months of imprisonment.  (The Innocents) (Google)  [7/09]

El Paso County, TX
Federico Macias
Dec 7, 1983 (El Paso)

Federico M. Macias was convicted of hacking to death Robert and Naomi Haney with a machete during a home invasion.  Most of the goods stolen from the murdered couple were retrieved from the yard of 19-year-old Pedro Luevanos.  Luevanos implicated Macias as his accomplice and as the actual killer.  In return Luevanos received a 25-year-sentence while Macias was sentenced to death.  Macias's lawyer failed to call alibi witnesses who would have placed him elsewhere at the time of the crime and to present evidence that the corroborating witnesses had not in fact been at Macias's home on the day of the murders.  Macias's conviction was reversed in 1992 for ineffective assistance of counsel.  A grand jury then refused to re-indict him because of a lack of evidence.  (CWC)  [7/05]

El Paso County, TX
Brandon Moon
Apr 27, 1987

Brandon Moon was convicted of three counts of sexual assault in part because he was identified by the victim.  DNA tests later exonerated Moon and revealed that the forensic evidence presented at his trial was false.  Moon served 16 years of a 75-year sentence.  (IP) (JP)  [6/05]

El Paso County, TX
Tony Ford
Dec 19, 1991 (El Paso)

Tony Ford was convicted of shooting four members of the Murillo family, killing one of them.  The shootings occurred during the course of a robbery.  The victims identified Ford at trial, but much evidence indicates their identification is mistaken.  Ford was scheduled for execution in Dec. 2005.  Eight days before his execution, a judge issued a stay so that DNA tests can be performed.  It is expected that these tests will find that the victims' blood is on the clothes of the person believed to be the real shooter.  (Justice: Denied) (ODR)  [3/08]

Gray County, TX
Hank Skinner
Dec 31, 1993 (Pampa)

Henry Watkins Skinner, also known as Hank, was convicted of bludgeoning to death his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and stabbing to death her two sons, Randy Busby and Scooter Caler.  Hank was sentenced to death.  The murders occurred at 801 East Campbell Ave. in Pampa.  Hank, then 31, had been drinking earlier in the evening and passed out after taking codeine to which he was severely allergic.  A friend, Howard Mitchell, arrived to take Hank and Twila to a New Year's Eve Party at 9:30 p.m., but he could not rouse Hank.
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Hale County, TX
David Stoker
Nov 9, 1986 (Hale Center)

David Wayne Stoker was sentenced to death for the murder of David Mannrique (Manrique), a clerk at an Allsup's convenience store in Hale Center, Texas.  Mannrique was shot three times and robbed of $96.81.  No physical evidence placed Stoker at the store or established that he owned the gun that killed the victim.  Five months after the crime, Carey Todd told police that Stoker had confessed to him and had given him the murder weapon, which Todd then gave them.  At trial, Todd denied under oath that the prosecution gave him any incentives to testify against Stoker.  However, Todd had felony drug and weapons charges against him dropped later that same day.  He possibly faced being charged with Mannrique's murder had he not been willing to finger someone else.  Ronnie and Debbie Thompson also testified that Stoker had confessed the murder to them.

Ronnie Thompson later recanted his testimony.  Thompson said he had signed the statement written by his wife, Debbie Thompson, without reading it because she claimed Stoker had raped her, a claim he later found to be false.  He claimed prosecutors threatened to try him for perjury if his trial testimony differed from his affidavit.  During Stoker's trial, his wife left him to move in with Todd.  Both she and Todd then each received half of a $1000 Crime Stoppers reward for naming Stoker.  Police Chief Richard Cordell had testified there was no local Crime Stoppers, but later admitted he was one of the group's founders.

Prosecutors claimed that a shell casing found in Stoker's car linked him to the murder weapon.  However, Stoker did not own the car until months after the murder.  A federal appellate judge concluded that Todd was just as likely the murderer.  It would appear, however, that Todd is more likely the murderer, as the only reliable evidence in the case is that Todd possessed the murder weapon and knew that it was used in the murder.  Stoker was executed on June 16, 1997.  (TJDP) (CPIT) (Atlantic)  [8/08]

Hutchinson County, TX
Ronnie Mark Gariepy
Oct 5, 1991

Ronnie Mark Gariepy pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his 13-year-old stepdaughter after authorities persuaded him that he might have committed the crime during an alcoholic blackout.  The alleged victim recanted her allegation 18 months after he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.  After Gariepy was paroled in 1999, Gov. George W. Bush granted him a pardon based on innocence.  (CWC)  [7/05]

Lubbock County, TX
Timothy Cole
Mar 24, 1985

Timothy Brian Cole was convicted of raping Michele Mallin, a 20-year-old Texas Tech sophomore.  Mallin testified that she was kidnapped at knifepoint from the parking lot of St. John's United Methodist church about 10 p.m., driven in her own car to the city's eastern outskirts, raped and robbed.  She said her assailant smoked and identified Cole as her assailant, although as an asthmatic, he did not smoke.  In 1995, after the statute of limitations for the crime expired, a Texas inmate, Jerry Wayne Johnson, submitted a written confession to the crime.  Johnson's confession was ignored, and Cole never learned of it.  Cole was denied parole on his 25-year sentence by refusing to admit any involvement in the crime.  He died of asthma related causes while still serving his sentence in 1999.  In 2008, DNA tests showed that Johnson, not Cole, was the real rapist.  In 2009, Cole was posthumously exonerated.  (LAJ1) (LAJ2)  [5/09]

Lubbock County, TX
Jay Van Story
Convicted 1989

Jay Van Story was convicted of the aggravated sexual harassment of his 7-year-old cousin.  He allegedly had lain naked on top of her.  Van Story was sentenced to 15 years to life imprisonment.  In 2000, the cousin had gotten married and become a Christian.  She wrote to Van Story asking for his forgiveness.  The real abuser had originally forced her into naming Van Story.  When she told the truth to Children's Protective Services, they told her she would never see her mother unless she cooperated in the prosecution of Van Story.  Van Story is a prison graphics worker who designed the Texas state license plate and is still imprisoned in 2005.  (JD#1) (JD#2) (II) [9/05]

Lubbock County, TX
Butch Martin
Feb 25, 1998

Garland Leon Martin, also known as Butch, was convicted of the arson murders of his common law wife, Marcia Pool, her son, Michael Brady Stevens, age 3, and their joint daughter, Kristen Rhea Martin, age 1.  The three died in a fire at the home they shared with Martin.  The conviction was based in large part on a hypothesis that accelerants were used to start the fire.  Some samples from fire remnants in the master bedroom reportedly tested positive for Norpar and deparaffinated kerosene.

Norpar can be used as lamp oil and deparaffinated kerosene can be found in lighter fluid, but they are also common chemicals found in numerous household products.  Experts dispute the supposition that these chemicals indicate the presence of accelerants and are petitioning to check the state's evidence that the alleged chemicals were even found.  A defense investigator thought the fire started on the back porch rather than in the master bedroom near the back door.  He criticized original investigators for discounting and then disposing of an electrical cord that was used to connect a refrigerator on the back porch to an outlet inside the house.  He thought the fire marshal was looking for arson from the outset.  (IP Arson)  [7/07]

Pecos County, TX
Ernest Willis
June 11, 1986 (Iraan)

Ernest Ray Willis was convicted of murdering Gail Joe Allison, 25, and Elizabeth “Betsy” Grace Belue, 24. The victims died in a house fire that was ruled an arson.  Willis was sentenced to death.  Police said Willis acted strangely at the scene of the blaze, and they believed that they found an accelerant in the carpet.  Prosecutors used Willis's dazed mental state at trial - the result of state administered medication - to characterize him as “coldhearted” and as a “satanic demon.”  Years later, a federal court overturned Willis's conviction after finding that the state had administered medically inappropriate anti-psychotic drugs without Willis's consent; that it had suppressed evidence favorable to Willis; and that Willis received ineffective representation at both the guilt and sentencing phases of his trial.

A new district attorney, Ori T. White then reinvestigated the case.  The state's new arson specialist revealed that the “accelerant” initially suspected of causing the fire was in fact “flashover burning,” consistent with electrical fault fires.  The state dropped charges against Willis in 2004 and White commented that Willis “simply did not do the crime. ...  I'm sorry this man was on death row for so long and that there were so many lost years.”  Willis was awarded $430,000 for his time behind bars.  (San Antonio Express-News) (Texas Monthly)  [3/06]

Pecos County, TX
Sonia Cacy
Nov 10, 1991

Sonia Cacy was convicted of the arson murder of her 76-year-old uncle, with whom she shared a house.  Cacy's uncle, Bill Richardson, was a careless chain smoker who smoked several packs a day.  According to Cacy, his smoking had started about 50 fires, including one about three years earlier that burned his leased home to the ground.  Testimony described multiple cigarette burns on Richardson's furniture.  The fire marshal had been to the home three times in the month prior to the fatal fire to investigate smaller fires.

An autopsy of Richardson showed evidence he had a heart attack and that he was dead before he could inhale any of the heavy smoke from the fire.  Nevertheless, at trial, Joe Castorena, the chief toxicologist for the Bexar County Crime Lab testified that there was evidence of gasoline on Richardson's clothing remnants.  Based on this finding and no other evidence, the prosecutor convinced a jury that Cacy had doused her uncle with gasoline and set him on fire.  Cacy was sentenced to 99 years of imprisonment.

Cacy's court appointed lawyer, Tony Chavez, did little to challenge Castorena's testimony.  He did not hire an expert to rebut Castorena, and he was later convicted of being part of a multi-ton marijuana smuggling operation.  The chain of custody of Richardson's clothing remnants had been lost and the remnants presented at trial had no documentation on them to show where they originated.  Other clothing remnants of Richardson had been sent to a Houston crime lab, which found no evidence of gasoline.  After serving 6 years of imprisonment, Cacy was paroled in 1998.  However, she is fighting her conviction, in part, because she does not want to be on parole for another 93 years.  (TIJ)  [7/07]

Runnels County, TX
Luis Ramirez
Apr 8, 1998

Luis Ramirez was executed for the murder of Nemicio Nandin who was reportedly dating Ramirez's ex-wife.  Ramirez's conviction was based on the testimony of police informant Tim Hoogstra, a self-admitted “daily drug abuser,” who was paid $500 for his testimony.  Hoogstra was also granted leniency on a shoplifting charge and other pending charges.  In addition he was promised “Crime Stopper” money upon Ramirez's conviction.  Hoogstra gave testimony that when he was getting high with another man named Edward Bell, Bell told him Ramirez paid him $1000 to kill Nandin.  Bell was never called to testify nor had he ever given a statement to corroborate Hoogstra’s testimony.  Ramirez was denied his Sixth Amendment right to dispute Hoogstra's testimony by cross-examining Bell.

Ramirez told his court-appointed attorney, Gonzalo Rios, to call an alibi witness, Patricia Raby, but Rios refused to even talk to her.  Ramirez thought Rios was prejudiced against him because he found out later that Rios's brother and cousin had been murdered two decades before and another cousin shot.  Ramirez said he never met Nandin, Hoogstra, or Bell, and has no knowledge of whether or not Nandin dated his ex-wife.  Ramirez was executed by lethal injection on Oct. 20, 2005.  (IIPPI) (Statement of LR)

Swisher County, TX
Tulia 38
1999-2000 (Tulia)

Thirty-eight defendants were convicted of selling and/or distributing cocaine in and around Tulia, TX based solely on the word of a Swisher County undercover sheriff's deputy named Tom Coleman.  Texas Governor Rick Perry pardoned 35 of the Tulia defendants on August 22, 2003.  In addition to the 38, eight other defendants were falsely arrested but were able to prove their innocence.  One defendant, Yolanda Smith, had proof that she was making a bank deposit in Oklahoma City at the time she was allegedly hundreds of miles away selling cocaine to Tom Coleman.

In 2004 a lawsuit against the cities and counties belonging to the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force was settled, awarding $6 million to the 46 people arrested in Coleman's investigation.  Coleman was convicted of perjury in 2005.  At Coleman's trial, defense witness Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart forgot he was at a perjury trial and committed apparent perjury himself.  The judge dismissed him as a witness and assigned him a defense lawyer to consult with.  (Justice: Denied) (CWC)  [9/05]

Uvalde County, TX
Gilbert Alejandro
Apr 27, 1990

Gilbert Alejandro, star of the 1972 Texas state championship high school football team, was convicted of rape.  In her initial description, the victim said she could not describe her assailant other than giving his basic physical size as he had placed a pillow over her head during the assault.  She also noted that her assailant was wearing some kind of cap, a gray T-shirt, and dark-colored shorts.  The victim later picked out Alejandro from a police mug book.

At trial, forensic technician Fred Zain testified that a DNA test of the evidence conclusively matched Alejandro, when the test he referred to was inconclusive.  Two other tests were performed, one before trial, and one after trial, which were exculpatory, but Zain failed to report the results of these tests to anyone.  Later it became known that Zain had falsified results and lied about his credentials when he was employed as a state police serologist in West Virginia.  In 1994, after the results of the exculpatory tests were made known, Alejandro was released.  In 1995, Alejandro was awarded $250,000 by Bexar County, at whose laboratory Zain had worked.  (IP) (CWC) (DNA)  [2/09]