Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive


Wednesday, October 27, 1999

MEDIA ADVISORY: DOMINGO CANTU, JR. SCHEDULED TO BE EXECUTED

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Domingo Cantu, Jr., who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Thursday, October 28th.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

In 1988, 94-year-old widow Suda Eller Jones was not as mobile as she once had been, recently requiring the assistance of a cane to walk about. Nevertheless, Ms. Jones had a morning routine of walking around the yard of her home which she had resided at in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, Texas, since 1928. On Saturday morning, June 25, 1988, at approximately 8:00 a.m., Fred Oakes, a neighbor of Ms. Jones, was working in his yard when he heard screams of "help." Oakes recognized the screams as Ms. Jones', and, when he turned toward her yard, he saw Domingo Cantu dragging Ms. Jones from her front yard, down her driveway, and into her backyard. Oakes ran to Ms. Jones' yard where he observed a slipper, a cane, and a hairnet lying on the ground. Oakes ran down Ms. Jones' driveway calling out for her. After receiving no reply and not seeing Ms. Jones, Oakes telephoned the police.

Two Dallas police officers arrived at the scene at approximately 8:08 a.m., where they spoke with Oakes, receiving a description of the man he had seen dragging Ms. Jones into her backyard. The officers called for additional support then drove around the block to an alley which ran behind the row of homes on Ms. Jones' side of the street. As the officers entered the alley, they observed Cantu jump from some bushes and run away from them. Cantu was not wearing a shirt, matched the description the officers had received from Oakes, and had blood on the shirt he was holding in his hand, blood on his face, hands, legs, and shoes, and what appeared to be feces on his pants, legs, and shoes. Cantu stopped when ordered to do so, and when the officers approached him, they noticed that he had a faint smell of alcohol on his breath. Cantu did not appear to be intoxicated by drugs. Rather, he was coherent and rational and appeared to understand everything being said to him. Cantu was handcuffed, read his rights, then placed in the police car while the officers went to search for Ms. Jones.

After Ms. Jones' cane and hairnet were found in the front yard of her home, Ms. Jones was located in the backyard of an adjoining property. This property was separated from Ms. Jones' backyard by a four-foot-tall chain link fence. Ms. Jones was lying face down in a pool of blood, her upper torso and buttocks exposed. A paramedic at the scene observed that Ms. Jones had apparent massive head injuries, which included large gashes protruding several inches into her head.

On the side of the fence where Ms. Jones was located, a crime scene technician collected one shoe and a torn and bloody nightgown. Drag marks leading from where the cane was found to the fence in the backyard were also observed and photographed. Injuries to Ms. Jones' back were consistent with her having been dragged over the top of the chain link fence. A large piece of wire with blood on it was also found near Ms. Jones. A hair, consistent with Ms. Jones' hair, was recovered from the zipper of Cantu's pants. Serology tests indicated that Ms. Jones' blood type was on Cantu's shirt and underwear and the piece of wire.

An autopsy revealed that Ms. Jones was 63 inches tall and weighed 97 and a half pounds at the time of her death. She had multiple injuries to her head, neck, trunk, and extremities. On Ms. Jones' head, the medical examiner found lacerations on both sides of the forehead, bruising around both eyes, abrasions above the right eye and below the left eye, abrasions on the right side of the nose and the left side of the chin, a laceration on the inside of the lower lip, and fractures of the cheek bones and nasal bridge. An internal examination revealed multiple hemorrhaging under these head injuries, lacerations on the brain, and a skull fracture caused by a "marked force" like that commonly seen with car accident victims. On Ms. Jones' trunk, the medical examiner found bruising on the left breast, abrasions over the left clavicle, abrasions on the back, and fractures of the rib cage on both sides (eight ribs on each side were broken). The sternum was broken in two places. Ms. Jones was alive when her ribs and sternum were broken. On Ms. Jones' extremities, the medical examiner found bruising and abrasions on Ms. Jones' arms, thighs, and heels. Injuries to Ms. Jones' back, thighs, and heels, were consistent with her having been dragged across the ground and over a fence.

Injuries to Ms. Jones' vagina included a laceration of the posterior wall which extended to the rectal area. Although the presence of seminal fluids was not detected, the vaginal injuries were consistent with having been caused by a penis or some other object (including the large piece of wire with blood on it recovered near Ms. Jones' body). An anal assault could not be ruled out. Ultimately, the medical examiner opined that the cause of Ms. Jones' death was "multiple blunt impact injuries to head, neck, trunk, and extremities." The injuries to her head alone were fatal.

After being arrested, Cantu remained in the police car at the scene for approximately two hours then was transported to the county jail. At the jail, Cantu was given a change of clothing and his clothes were collected as evidence. Cantu was then transported to the lead detective's office, arriving at approximately 10:45 a.m. At approximately 11:25 a.m., the lead detective arrived back at his office, then went to an interview room to speak with Cantu. Cantu was again warned of his rights and, by 11:55 a.m., had given two written statements confessing to the rape and murder of Ms. Jones. Cantu did not appear to be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol at the time of the statements. Shortly after noon, Cantu was transported to a physical evidence facility then back to the county jail. At approximately 4:30 p.m., Cantu was arraigned before a magistrate judge. The magistrate judge did not observe any signs of intoxication, rather Cantu appeared to be perfectly in control of his faculties.

Approximately two weeks after being arrested, a detention officer with the Dallas County Sheriff's Department checked Cantu's cell and found him hanging from a beam. Cantu had apparently tied a sheet to the vent and attempted to hang himself. A nurse was called, and Cantu, who was unconscious, was sent to a nearby hospital. Cantu later told the officer that he did not remember the incident.

Recently, in October 1999, the state trial court granted Cantu permission to have DNA testing, which was not available at the time of trial, conducted on his t-shirt and underwear. The victim's DNA was positively matched to the blood on Cantu's t-shirt (a 1 in more than 4 billion match). Additionally, the victim's DNA matched several genetic profiles of the blood found on Cantu's underwear and she could not, therefore, be excluded as the donor of that blood.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On August 26, 1988, Cantu was indicted by a Dallas County grand jury for the intentional murder of Suda Eller Jones in the course of committing and attempting to commit the offense of aggravated sexual assault on Suda Eller Jones, a capital offense. Cantu was tried before a jury upon a plea of not guilty, and, on October 26, 1988, the jury found him guilty of the capital offense. On November 1, 1988, following a separate punishment hearing, the jury answered affirmatively the two special sentencing issues, and in accordance with state law, the trial court (the 195th District Court of Dallas County, Texas) sentenced Cantu to death.

Cantu's conviction and sentence of death were automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed on June 3, 1992, and denied rehearing on September 30, 1992. The United States Supreme Court denied Cantu's petition for certiorari review on June 28, 1993, and denied rehearing on August 9, 1993.

Cantu filed an application for state writ of habeas corpus in the convicting court on April 7, 1994. On June 6, 1994, the convicting court entered an order adopting the findings of fact and conclusions of law set forth in the state's response and recommending that the application be denied. On June 22, 1994, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief upon the basis that the findings and conclusions of the convicting court were supported by the record. Cantu did not seek certiorari review to the United States Supreme Court.

Cantu proceeded into federal court by filing a federal habeas petition in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas on July 1, 1994. On July 28, 1997, the district court entered an order adopting the findings of a magistrate judge and denying habeas relief. The district court also denied Cantu permission to appeal. After briefing and oral argument by the parties, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit similarly denied permission to appeal on August 18, 1999, affirming the district court's denial of habeas relief. Cantu then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. The matter is pending before the Court.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

At the punishment phase of trial, the State introduced evidence reflecting a number of juvenile offenses Cantu had committed. In May 1981, Cantu admitted to stealing money from a teacher's assistant's purse and money from a desk drawer that the teacher's assistant had collected from other students for their lunch tickets. On November 8, 1983, Cantu was arrested, after fleeing from the police, for burglary of a building (a car wash). On July 10, 1983, at 1 a.m., Dallas police officer Judith Skibinski arrested Cantu in front of a grocery store after observing him burglarize a newspaper vending machine. While being transported to the station, Cantu informed an accomplice not to worry about being arrested because he had been there before and nothing would happen to them because they were juveniles.

In February 1984, Cantu was convicted as a juvenile for the car wash burglary and placed on probation for one year. On May 13, 1984, Officer Skibinski arrested Cantu for another burglary of a coin operated vending machine. Cantu remarked that he had gotten away with the burglaries so many times that the few times he had been caught were worth it. On July 16, 1984, Cantu was convicted as a juvenile for the May 13, 1984, burglary, and his probation was extended for another year.

The State also introduced evidence reflecting a number of offenses Cantu committed as an adult. On October 16, 1985, Cantu was arrested, after fleeing from, then struggling with, the police, for burglary of a motor vehicle and resisting arrest. On November 15, 1985, in cause no. F85-91107-PV, Cantu pled guilty and was convicted of the felony offense of burglary of a vehicle, and was placed on three years probation by the 292nd District Court of Dallas County, Texas. On November 19, 1985, in cause no. MA85-60353, Cantu pled guilty and was convicted of the misdemeanor offense of resisting arrest, and was placed on probation for one year by the County Criminal Court No. 8 of Dallas County, Texas. Thereafter, Cantu committed a number of probation violations and, eventually, the conditions of his felony probation were modified to require him to be admitted to a halfway house type facility for six to twelve months. However, prior to completing the program, Cantu absconded from the facility on March 10, 1987, resulting in a warrant being issued for his arrest.

On July 3, 1987, Cantu was a passenger in the back seat of vehicle stopped for failing to signal. When officers approached the vehicle, they observed that Cantu had an open container of paint thinner between his legs. Cantu refused to identify himself and struggled with the officers while being removed from the vehicle. Eventually, the officers subdued Cantu, placing him in handcuffs and leg restraints. Cantu became increasingly violent while being transported to the jail and threatened, "When I get loose, I'm going to blow your fucking brains out. If I ever see you in West Dallas again, I'm going to kick your ass." Cantu continued to be physically uncooperative once they got to the jail, and he had to be loaded onto a flat dolly and wheeled into the jail.

On July 8, 1987, Cantu's felony probation in cause no. F85-91107-PV was revoked and Cantu was sentenced to two years in the Texas Department of Corrections. Cantu was released onto parole on October 6, 1987.

Gary Lashley, a potential juror at the instant trial who ultimately was excluded as a potential juror, described Cantu's attempt to escape during jury selection. While Lashley was being questioned by the defense, Cantu jumped up and ran to the back door of the courtroom. However, Cantu was knocked down because the door he slammed into was locked. At the time, Cantu had a leg brace on one leg that held the leg straight. The officer in charge of transporting Cantu to and from the courtroom overheard Cantu say to other inmates that he would try again.

DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL

According to Cantu's testimony at the punishment phase of trial, his life of crime was attributable to alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine abuse, as well as the use of inhalants such as paint thinner. Regarding the instant offense, Cantu testified that he was "coming down" from an all-night cocaine binge and had no recollection of committing this offense.

SCHEDULED EXECUTIONS

11/16/1999 Desmond Jennings (Tarrant County)
11/17/1999 John Michael Lamb (Hunt County)
11/18/1999 Jose Angel Gutierrez (Brazos County)
12/08/1999 David Martin Long (Dallas County)
12/14/1999 Robert Ronald Atworth (Dallas County)
12/15/1999 Sammie Felder (Harris County)
01/12/2000 Earl Carl Heiselbetz, Jr. (Sabine County)
01/13/2000 Johnny Paul Penry (Polk County)
01/18/2000 Spencer Corey Goodman (Fort Bend County)
01/20/2000 David Hicks (Freestone County)
01/25/2000 Glen Charles McGinnis (Montgomery County)

MISCELLANEOUS

If this execution is carried out, it will be the 192nd execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 28th since General Cornyn took office. This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Tommy Skaggs of the Attorney General's Capital Litigation Division.

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Contact Ted Delisi, Heather Browne, or Tom Kelley at (512) 463-2050