Raphael Holiday

A district judge has set an execution date for an East Texas man who was sentenced to death for starting a house fire that killed three children in Madison County almost 15 years ago.

Raphael Deon Holiday, 35, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 18 at the Huntsville "Walls" Unit for the murders of his 18-month-old daughter Justice and step-daughters Tierra Lynch, 7, and Jasmine DuPaul, 5.

Holiday was convicted and sentenced to death by a Walker County jury in June 2002. The trial was moved to Huntsville from Madison County after a change-of-venue request was granted to the defense.

"I know the victims' family is relieved the execution is finally set," said Bill Bennett, Madison County's former district attorney who prosecuted Holiday. "It's been a long process for them and they are ready to get closure."

Holiday set fire to the home he once shared with his estranged wife, Tami Wilkerson, the children's mother, on the night of Sept. 6, 2000. Wilkerson was locked inside the home with her daughters at the time the fire was started, but she was able to escape. 

Beverly Mitchell, the victims' grandmother, testified at Holiday's trial that he held her at gunpoint and forced her to douse the home in gasoline. She said he bent down and that is when the fire began.

Mitchell testified that she was cut off from her grandchildren by the flames, but she was able to get out of the house through her daughter's bedroom.

Wilkerson testified that she had thrown Holiday out of their home in March shortly before Holiday was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting one of the step-daughters. A witness at the scene testified that he heard Holiday say he wasn't going to take the "rap" for the sexual assault and that "he'd burn the house down with everyone in it."

The defense contended the fire was electrical and began because an appliance malfunctioned.

Another witness testified Holiday asked him if he could purchase a firearm from him the day of the fire and pay for it at a later date. He also testified that he rode with Holiday to Wilkerson's home and Holiday got out of the car with the gun, a .38-caliber pistol, and a can of gasoline.

Holiday was apprehended by authorities when he crashed Mitchell's car after fleeing the scene during a high-speed chase that also went through Walker and Grimes counties.

Wilkerson was able to address Holiday in court after his death sentence was announced.

"You took seven years of my life and burned them in 30 minutes," she said during her victim impact statement. "I'll never see my daughters graduate, get married and have families of their own. God brought them into my world, and it was not your right to take them away."

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