The average Texas Death Row tenure for Houston Cop killers has risen to 22 years – and counting

Tom Kennedy

On average, the eight men on the Texas Death Row for the murder of Houston police officers have experienced more than 22 years of life while waiting for the painstakingly show appellate process to unfold.

The timeframe was determined by adding up the years between the death date of the officer and today’s date.

Also, this number, compiled by the Badge & Gun with data supplied by Josh Reiss, District Attorney Kim Ogg’s chief of the Post-Conviction Writs Division, shows the vilest of criminals are getting more free appellate time than their share of prompt execution dates.

Process Gets Longer

We have kept track of this trend since 2007 when the average amount of “bought time” by these inmates was just more than 13 years. By 2013 the number was 17 years.

It keeps on getting longer, thereby delaying closure for the families, partners and HPD colleagues of the murder victims.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg thusly responded:

“As the death penalty falls under greater scrutiny nationally, the job of defending such verdicts in capital cases grows harder for prosecutors.  Every claim must be reviewed and defended during the appellate and writ process with individual care.

“Our administration is dedicated to ensuring a fair process for all parties and to advocating to the very end for the brave officers who died at the hands of proven killers.”
By far the granddaddy of this infamous Death Row contingent continues to be Arthur L. Williams, who killed Detective Daryl W. Shirley on April 28, 1982 – 35 years ago!

Reiss said the case has been through myriad procedures in the state and federal appellate process. Most recently, a federal court reversed the case on a jury charge error, thus remanding it to state court for a new punishment hearing. “No date has been set yet,” Reiss said.

Nothing in the court systems gives priority to processing the cases of cop killers. The evidence of the slow-moving process continues to be overwhelming. All you must do is cite the cases of those individuals who killed Houston officers.

Let’s go down the list.

On Oct. 17, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider a review of Anthony Haynes’ case about two and half hours before he was scheduled to be put to death for the murder of HPD Sgt. Kent Kincaid.

Haynes’ case is currently being considered by the U. S. 5TH Circuit Court of Appeals.

In May 1998, Haynes, then 19, shot Kincaid to death after the sergeant pulled over Haynes’ vehicle. Kincaid was reaching for his HPD identification when the shot was fired. Kincaid and his wife were on an outing to meet some friends when an object thrown from the Haynes vehicle struck Kincaid’s windshield.

Second to Williams in Death Row tenure is Robert M. Jennings, who killed Officer Elston Howard on July 19, 1988 – 29 years ago. By a narrow 5-4 vote, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Jennings’ execution on Sept. 2, 2016. “They’ve never set another date,” Reiss said. “He filed a pleading claiming one of the jury instructions was flawed.”

Then we have the frustrating case of career criminal Carl W. Buntion, whose murder of HPD Solo Motorcycle Officer James Irby arguably was the most cold-blooded in modern policing history. The heinous crime took place on Aug. 27, 1990 – 27 years ago.

Irby encountered Buntion on a routine traffic stop on the near northside. Buntion shot Irby three times, once in the forehead and twice in the back in what prosecutors termed “execution-style.”

Buntion was retried and received the death penalty again on March 6, 2013. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied his state writ on June 5 of this year. “His remedy now is to go into federal court,” Reiss explained.

Such a process always takes many years.

On April 12, 1991 – 26 years ago – Shelton D. Jones killed Sgt. Bruno D. Soboleski. Jones’ death sentence was appealed to the Fifth Circuit, where it now languishes.

 On April 6, 1997 – “only” 20 years ago – Chuong Dong Tong killed Officer Tony Thrinh. He is still on Death Row. This case is currently pending in the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. “That court recently held an evidentiary hearing regarding his claims for habeas corpus relief,” Reiss said. “There are no time limits for this procedure. Some judges move more quickly than others.”

No Corroborative Evidence

We now come to the unprecedented case of Officer Charles Clark, killed one day short of his 20th anniversary with HPD. It’s safe to say that most Houstonians are by now familiar with the individuals initially charged with capital murder in the death of Officer Clark on April 3, 2003, 14 years ago.

Evidence at trial showed that A. D. Brown and Elijah Joubert killed Clark and a store clerk. Joubert remains on Death Row; Brown was released.

Brown was granted his habeas corpus and his case was dismissed, while the subject of a crusade by Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg, who earned a Pulitzer Prize for her work.

Officer Clark and another individual were both gunned down at a check-cashing business on the South Loop. Joubert was a party to the shootings but Brown was alleged to be the triggerman of Officer Clark. A jury found both men guilty and sentenced them to die by lethal injection administered by the state of Texas.

However, when Brown was successful in his habeas effort, the state dismissed the case due to lack of evidence. Brown had contended that he was not at the scene of the crime but rather at his girlfriend’s residence, an alibi supported by heretofore unadmitted phone records.

Reiss said witnesses at the trial changed their testimony and all that was left was the testimony of the third suspect, who agreed to truthfully testify as to the events at the capital murder in exchange for a plea to aggravated robbery.

That third individual was Dashan Glaspie.

Since the law requires corroborative evidence to back up the testimony of an eyewitness such as Glaspie, the state dropped its case against Brown.

There is no statute of limitations in capital murder cases. As such, it remains an open file in the Homicide Division. No other suspects besides Brown have turned up.

There is one more HPD case.

On Dec. 7, 2008, Mabry Joseph Landor III murdered Officer Timothy Abernethy – nine years go. His death penalty appeal went through the direct appellate process. After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Landor habeas corpus relief, his attorney took the case to federal court, where it now resides.

Reiss reflected:

“These are death penalty cases and they are unquestionably the most serious and heinous crimes. Juries have determined they are to be given the ultimate punishment. As a result, there is  extensive due process.

“And that due process requires that they are allowed appeals in state court and federal court and they can ping pong back and forth for years, even decades.

“It can be very frustrating to the families of the victims to understand why it takes so long. But it is our job as prosecutors handling these writs to let these families know all the time that we are here for them, working for them and that we are going to work as many years as possible to make sure they get justice.”

Some Justice Served

Recent history shows that sometimes justice gets its own proper due process. There are three examples:

 

  • Craig N. Ogan received a lethal injection in 2002 after serving 13 years on Death Row for murder in the Dec. 9, 1989 death of HPD Officer James “Bos” Boswell. Houstonians would go through 11 more years before another of its cop killers got justice.

 

  • On May 15, 2013, Jeffrey D. Williams was executed for the murder of Officer Troy Blando on May 19, 1999. Williams got exactly 14 years of life up until his scheduled date of execution.

 

  • Edgar Tamayo Arias, a Mexican national, was executed Jan. 22, 2014. Tamayo, 46, was convicted of the 1994 murder of Officer Guy Gaddis, who was fatally shot after arresting Tamayo and another man for robbery. Tamayo lived 10 years longer than his victim.

 

So far, three individuals have avoided Death Row because juries chose instead to sentence them to life without patrol. Those individuals and their cases are:

 

  • Antoin Marshal and Brandon Zachary, who killed Officer Rueben Deleon on Oct. 26, 2005. They were sentenced to life without parole and remain in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

 

  • Illegal and once-deported immigrant Juan Leonardo Quintero murdered Officer Rodney Johnson on Sept. 21, 2006. A jury found Quintero guilty of capital murder but sentenced him to life without parole. He also resides in the TDCJ after attempting to escape.