Monday, September 17, 2012
Media Advisory: Robert W. Harris scheduled for executionDALLAS – Pursuant to a court order by the 282nd District Court in Dallas County, Robert Wayne Harris is scheduled for execution after 6 p.m. on September 20, 2012.
In 2000, a Dallas County jury convicted Harris of capital murder for killing Agustin Villasenor and Rhoda Wheeler during the same criminal transaction.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, citing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal’s description of the facts, described the murder of Agustin Villasenor and Rhoda Wheeler as follows:
[Harris] worked at Mi-T-Fine Car Wash for ten months prior to the offense. An armored car picked up cash receipts from the car wash every day except Sunday. Therefore, [Harris] knew that on Monday morning, the safe would contain cash receipts from the weekend and the cash register would contain $200-$300 for making change. On Wednesday, March 15, 2000, [Harris engaged in sexual misconduct] in front of a female customer. The customer reported the incident to a manager, and a cashier called the police. [Harris] was arrested and fired.
On Sunday, March 19[th], [Harris] spent the day with his friend, Junior Herrera, who sold cars. Herrera was driving a demonstrator car from the lot. Although [Harris] owned his own vehicle, he borrowed Herrera’s that evening. He then went to the home of friend Billy Brooks, who contacted his step-son, Deon Bell, to lend [Harris] a pistol.
On Monday, March 20[th], [Harris] returned to the car wash in the borrowed car at 7:15 a.m., before it opened for business. [Harris] forced the manager, Dennis Lee, assistant manager, Agustin Villaseñor, and cashier, Rhoda Wheeler, into the office. He instructed Wheeler to open the safe, which contained the cash receipts from the weekend. Wheeler complied and gave him the cash. [Harris] then forced all three victims to the floor and shot each of them in the back of the head at close range. He also slit Lee’s throat.
Before [Harris] could leave, three other employees arrived for work unaware of the danger. [Harris] forced them to kneel on the floor of the lobby area and shot each of them in the back of the head from close range. One of the victims survived with permanent disabilities. Shortly thereafter, a seventh employee, Jason Shields, arrived. Shields noticed the three bodies in the lobby and saw [Harris] standing near the cash register. After a brief exchange in which [Harris] claimed to have discovered the crime scene, pointed out the bodies of the other victims, and pulled a knife from a nearby bookshelf, Shields became nervous and told [Harris] he needed to step outside for fresh air. Shields hurried to a nearby doughnut shop to call authorities. [Harris] followed Shields to the doughnut shop, also spoke to the 911 operator, then fled the scene.
[Harris] returned the vehicle to Herrera and told him that he had discovered some bodies at the car wash. [Harris] then took a taxi to Brooks’s house. At Brooks’s house, [Harris] separated the money from the other objects and disposed of the metal lock boxes, a knife, a crowbar, and pieces of a cell phone in a wooded area. [Harris] purchased new clothing, checked into a motel, and sent Brooks to purchase a gold cross necklace for him. Later that afternoon, [Harris] drove to the home of another friend and remained there until the following morning, when he was arrested. Testimony also showed that [Harris] had planned to drive to Florida on Tuesday and kill an old girlfriend.
On April 10, 2000, a Dallas County grand jury indicted Harris for murdering Agustin Villasenor and Rhoda Wheeler.
On September 29, 2000, a Dallas County jury found Harris guilty of murdering Agustin Villasenor and Rhoda Wheeler. After the jury recommended capital punishment, the court sentenced Harris to death by lethal injection.
On February 12, 2003, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Harris’s conviction and sentence.
On October 6, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court denied writ of certiorari.
On July 1, 2002, Harris sought to appeal his conviction and sentence by seeking an application for a state writ of habeas corpus with the state trial court.
On June 3, 2004, the trial court detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending that Harris’s application be denied.
On September 15, 2004, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals adopted the trial court’s findings and conclusions and denied habeas relief.
On September 14, 2005, Harris filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
On September 10, 2008, the district court ordered an evidentiary hearing set for January 5, 2009 on Harris’s mental retardation claim.
On December 3, 2008, Harris asked for a continuance, and the hearing was reset for March 19, 2009.
On March 5, 2009, Harris asked for another continuance, and the district court rescheduled the evidentiary hearing for May 12, 2009.
On May 7, 2009, Harris moved to cancel the evidentiary hearing and requested permission to instead supplement the record with documents, which was granted.
On November 13, 2009 the court ordered an independent evaluation of Harris to be performed by a court-appointed expert.
On February 8, 2010, the court appointed Dr. Paul Andrews to conduct a psychological evaluation of Harris.
On March 24, 2011, the district court denied Harris’s habeas petition and refused to issue a Certificate of Appealability (COA).
On April 21, 2011, Harris filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment in the district court.
On April 25, 2011 the district court denied Harris’s motion.
On March 15, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Harris’s application for issuance of a COA.
On June 25, 2012, Harris filed a petition for writ of certiorari and stay of execution in the U.S. Supreme Court which is still pending.
On August 27, 2012, Harris filed a successive petition for writ of habeas corpus in the 282nd District Court.
Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trial – which is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.
During the penalty phase of Harris’s trial, jurors learned that Harris had previously been convicted of three burglaries and evading arrest. He had also been charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. A court revoked his probation for absconding from a residential treatment program, and he spent the next eight years in prison. In prison, Harris resided mostly in administrative segregation due to several violations and aggressive behavior. He attended the Program for the Aggressive Mentally Ill Offender, but the incidents continued. The program ultimately discharged him for non-compliance. Fifteen prison personnel testified regarding Harris’s behavioral problems during his incarceration, which included setting fire to his cell, threatening to kill prison personnel, assaulting prison personnel and other inmates, dealing drugs, refusing to follow orders, and engaging in sexual misconduct.
For additional information and statistics, please go to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.