The crowd on A-Wing A-Section at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit at Livingston is about to get thinned.
A dozen condemned inmates in the so-called “death watch” cells on Texas death row are set for lethal injection over the next six weeks.
Two are scheduled for this week. Two next week. And two more the week after that. Then six more in November, adding to Texas’ standing as the nation’s most active death penalty state.
“It’s just the way of Texas,” Alvin Kelly, who on Tuesday is the first of the 12 set to die, said last week from a tiny visiting cage at the prison.
“Will crime stop? Will my death stop what’s going on in everyday society?” asked Kevin Watts, scheduled to die two days later. “They’re just killing people.”
When the U.S. Supreme Court last year informally halted executions around the country to examine the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures, the de facto moratorium didn’t stop capital murder appeals moving through the courts.
For many of the inmates now with dates, their convictions and sentences were upheld either before or during the hiatus.
The Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision in April holding that injection was not unconstitutionally cruel allowed executions to resume, and nine have been carried out in Texas already this year, the most in the nation.
Now a flurry of those cases that were upheld is reaching the legal — and lethal — conclusions.
Kelly, unlike some of his fellow prisoners, said he’s looking forward to dying, although he insists evidence was manipulated and he’s innocent of fatally shooting of Devin Morgan, a 22-month-old child, in East Texas in 1984. The toddler’s parents, Jerry and Brenda Morgan, were gunned down at the same time.
“I’ve diligently served the Lord here,” said Kelly, 57, who already was convicted of another murder and in prison when he was charged in the Gregg County case. “It’s time for me to go home. I’m ready. I embrace it.
“I’m tired of being here,” said Kelly, who’s been on death row since 1991. “This is not life.”
The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to review his case and Kelly’s lawyer said he was not optimistic the execution could be stopped.
“I don’t want a stay,” Kelly said. insisting he posed no problems to officers taking him to the death chamber in Huntsville “unless they’re going to bring me back.”
Watts, 27, set to die Thursday, was convicted of the execution-style shootings of three people during a robbery at a San Antonio restaurant in 2002.
“I’ve never said I was innocent,” Watts said. “I said I was guilty from the get-go.”
Watts, however, contended jurors in his case never were allowed to hear anything good about him, and instead only were told of his history of violence and drug abuse.
When he returned earlier this year to Bexar County to appear before a judge and receive his execution date, he exploded in court with an obscenity-filled tirade.
“I might have screwed myself,” he said. “But I never had a chance to speak for myself, how I was railroaded, how I had an inadequate attorney, how this is not about justice.
“But there’s no hate in my heart. I understand there are consequences to my actions.”
Evidence showed Watts ordered three people at the Sam Won Garden restaurant in San Antonio to their knees at gunpoint, then shot each in the back of their heads. Killed were Hak Po Kim, 30, son of the Korean restaurant’s owner, and two cooks, Yuan Tzu Banks, 52, and Chae Sun Shook, 59. In addition, Kim’s wife was abducted, tortured and raped, but survived to testify against Watts.
Other inmates set to die this month include:
• Joseph Ries, 29, on Oct. 21, convicted of breaking into a rural home in Hopkins County in northeast Texas, fatally shooting the man who was sleeping there and driving off in his car. Ries was 19 at the time of the slaying of 64-year-old Robert Ratliff.
• Bobby Wayne Woods, 42, on Oct. 23, convicted of the 1997 murder of Sarah Patterson, the 11-year-old daughter of his ex-girlfriend. The child and her 9-year-old brother were abducted from their home in Granbury, about 25 miles southwest of Fort Worth. She died after her throat was slashed. Her brother, Cody, was choked into unconsciousness but survived.
• Eric Nenno, 47, on Oct. 28, convicted of the 1995 rape and strangling a 7-year-old neighbor girl, Nicole Benton, in Hockley, about 30 miles northwest of Houston. Two days after she disappeared, the girl’s body was found in the attic of Nenno’s home.
• Gregory Wright, 42, on Oct. 30. Wright, who was homeless, was convicted of taking part in the 1997 fatal stabbing of Donna Duncan Vick, at her home in DeSoto, about 15 miles south of Dallas. Duncan, a 52-year-old widow, regularly ministered to the homeless and had given Wright food, shelter and money.
Besides the six more set to die in the first three weeks of November, at least six other inmates already have execution dates for early in 2009.