Monday, November 15, 1999
AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Desmond Jennings who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Tuesday, November 16th.
FACTS OF THE CRIME
On December 27, 1993, Eric Gardner was standing outside the Ambassador Apartments in the "Stop Six" area of Fort Worth, Texas. Gardner saw Jennings and John Freeman driving along in Freeman's white Honda Accord sometime after midnight, and, wanting a ride home, Gardner flagged them down. Freeman and Jennings agreed to drive him home; however, after driving some distance, Freeman said he wanted to get some heroin before taking Gardner home. Freeman mentioned a drug house on Langston Street, and Jennings suggested, "Let's jack the house." Freeman was amenable, but Gardner objected, to which Jennings responded, "Well, ain't nothing but two dope fiends in the house."
Freeman drove up to the Langston Street house and then traveled further along the street before stopping. Jennings and Freeman exited the car and approached the house. Jennings pulled his hood over his head and had both his hands inside his jacket pockets. Freeman's hands were free of objects. Gardner remained in the car, turned on the car's radio, and watched through the rear window. Jennings and Freeman went inside the house. At one point, when Gardner turned the radio volume down, he heard two shots and then saw Jennings and Freeman walk calmly out of the house. The men had been inside the house for two or three minutes.
Once back inside the car, Jennings and Freeman sat quietly as they drove away. Jennings eventually pulled out a pouch which he had obtained in the drug house, checked the contents -- thirteen cents and empty capsules -- and then threw it out the window, saying, "There ain't nothin'up in here." Instead of taking Gardner home, they drove him back to the Americana Apartments, situated in close proximity to the Ambassador Apartments where they had picked him up previously.
At the Americana Apartments, Derrick Price and his friend, Victor Walker, joined the group. When Jennings climbed out of the car in front of Price's apartment, he called Gardner a derogatory term which translated to a "coward." Next, Jennings excitedly told Gardner, "I dropped that [person] in the front room." He continued by explaining that as they approached the house, a man inside stood up and asked what he wanted. Jennings responded by shooting the man in the face. Jennings related that he advanced into the house and, on seeing a woman raising herself on the bed, he shot her in the head too. Next, he returned to the male victim, shot him again, rifled through his pockets, and stole his pouch. As Jennings and Freeman were leaving the house, Jennings heard the woman moaning so he returned and shot her a second time. After recounting the killings, Jennings observed, "I messed my Chucks up. I got blood all over my Chucks and my khakis." Gardner noticed blood on Jennings' "Chuck Taylor" All-Star tennis shoes. Jennings did not appear scared, and he showed no remorse. Jennings spent that night with Robert Anderson, who lived at the nearby Ambassador Apartments. When Anderson observed that Jennings had blood on his tennis shoes, Jennings said he had messed them up killing people for nothing. Gardner did not tell the police about the killings because he thought either Jennings or Freeman would have shot him. Price testified that, in that area of town, if a person is labeled a "snitch," his life is in danger.
Willie Charles Washington, his wife Tosha, Floyd Roberts, and Dietrich Irvin drove to the Langston Street house to obtain heroin on December 27, 1993. Washington and Irvin approached the house and noticed the screen door was closed but the main door was ajar. Washington saw a man lying on the floor gurgling and coughing. The men left the house, drove to a nearby fire department building, and alerted the staff.
Firefighters and medical personnel reported to the scene, followed shortly by Fort Worth police. There they discovered the body of a black male lying on the floor just inside the door of the residence and the body of a black female lying on a bed. The house appeared unkept inside and contained a great deal of drug paraphernalia. Police recovered a spent bullet from inside a pillow on the female victim's bed and several fired bullet casings from on and around the bed. The male victim's pants pockets had been turned inside out.
The autopsy of the male victim, Sylvester Walton, revealed that he had sustained a gunshot wound to the head. The bullet entered through his left nostril, traveled through his brain, and lodged in his left occipital scalp. The bullet was recovered from Walton's body and turned over to police. Tremendous brain swelling due to the wound track caused Walton's death. The autopsy of the female victim, Wonda Matthews, indicated that she had been shot three times. One bullet, fired from less than six feet away, entered on the right side of her nose and exited through her jaw in front of her left ear. Although the bullet passed underneath the base of her skull, it did not cause her death. A second bullet entered the left side of her head and traveled down and to the right before lodging in her left nostril. This bullet caused massive brain damage and was the cause of death. A third bullet entered near her left eye, traveled down and to the rear causing damage underneath her brain, and lodged in her left neck muscle. Two bullets were recovered from Matthews's body and turned over to police.
On January 3, 1994, Fort Worth police officers stopped a white Honda Accord traveling with only one functioning headlight. Earlier the same day, a robbery victim had reported the same vehicle to the officers. Freeman was driving the vehicle, and there were four passengers. Freeman was wearing a Dallas Cowboys Starter jacket that was similar to one stolen during the robbery five hours earlier. The officers arrested Freeman and one of the passengers for possession of a controlled substance. When the car was inventoried, a loaded nickel-plated .32-caliber handgun was discovered in the trunk of the car. Ballistics comparisons subsequently conducted on the handgun revealed that the bullet recovered from the crime scene and the bullets recovered from the victims' bodies were all fired from this handgun.
Jennings was indicted on March 10, 1994, in the 213th Judicial District Court of Tarrant County, Texas, for the capital offense of murdering Sylvester Walton and Wonda Matthews during the same criminal transaction, which occurred on or about December 27, 1993. Jennings was tried before a jury following his plea of not guilty, and on July 19, 1995, the jury found him guilty. On July 26, 1995, following a separate punishment hearing, the jury answered the three statutory special issues submitted pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 37.071 "yes", "yes", and "no", respectively. In accordance with state law, the trial court assessed Jennings's punishment at death.
Jennings appealed his conviction and sentence to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed on April 2, 1997. The court denied Jennings's motion for rehearing on June 11, 1997, and the United States Supreme Court denied Jennings's petition for writ of certiorari on December 8, 1997.
Pursuant to amended Article 11.071 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides for state post-conviction proceedings to proceed simultaneously with the direct appeal, Jennings filed his initial state application for writ of habeas corpus in the state trial court on February 24, 1997. By order dated May 8, 1997, the trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending that the relief sought be denied. On June 11, 1997, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Jennings's application for writ of habeas corpus on the basis of the trial court's findings and conclusions. On January 8, 1998, the state trial court scheduled Jennings's execution for April 28, 1998.
Jennings proceeded into federal court by filing motions for appointment of counsel and for stay of execution in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, on March 10 and 11, 1998, respectively. On March 11, 1998, the federal district court appointed counsel, and the court granted Jennings's request for a stay of execution on March 12. Jennings filed his petition on April 24, 1998. On June 12, 1998, the district court entered final judgment denying Jennings's petition for writ of habeas corpus and vacating the previously issued stay of execution. The district court denied Jennings permission to appeal on July 16, 1998. Similarly, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Jennings permission to appeal on January 21, 1999, and denied rehearing on March 10, 1999. The United States Supreme Court denied Jennings's petition for writ of certiorari on October 4, 1999.
PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY
At the punishment phase of trial, the State introduced evidence demonstrating Jennings's participation in three additional murders. As outlined below, this evidence showed that Jennings was the triggerman in a small band of men who shot to death five people (including the two victims of the instant offense) at three different Fort Worth crack houses (including the instant offense) in October and December of 1993.
On October 23, 1993, Jennings, Freeman, James Edward Donald Jr., Joseph L. Griffin, and Robert Anderson drove to a drug house on Eastland Street in Fort Worth intending to rob the occupants. Griffin remained in the car and Anderson stood watch on the street, while Jennings (armed with a twelve-gauge shotgun), Freeman, and Donald approached the house. Freeman knocked on the door, and, on hearing an invitation to enter, Jennings burst in and commanded, "Drop out." One of the two men inside appeared to comply, but Jennings shot him anyway, and both men fell to the ground. When Freeman walked into a back bedroom, a woman there began screaming, leapt through the bedroom window, and ran away down the street. Jennings ordered Donald to search the couch for money and then search the dying victim who was lying on the floor moaning. When Donald refused to search the man, Jennings himself went through the victim's pockets. The men then left the house. The victim, Larry Wilson, died as a result of blood loss twenty to forty-five minutes after being shot.
Traveling back to the Ambassador Apartments, Jennings advised the others, "The trigger man gets the most, gets the most money." The men had obtained approximately $100 cash and $30 worth of marijuana. Jennings warned the others that if they said anything he would kill them. Later that night, Jennings told Donald and Anderson, "If anybody snitches, I am killing both of y'all."
In the early morning hours of Christmas Eve 1993, Jennings and Freeman were seen fleeing a residence on Sunshine Street in Fort Worth. Jennings was carrying a gun. Inside the residence, Dino Beasley had sustained multiple gunshot wounds; he lost consciousness and died almost immediately. Charlotte Dickerson had sustained a gunshot wound to the top of her head and lacerations to the left side of her brain, but she remained conscious long enough to call 911. However, she died Christmas morning as a result of her injuries. While only Jennings was seen carrying a weapon, police recovered both .32-caliber and .25-caliber cartridge cases from the crime scene. The .32-caliber bullets recovered at the Sunshine Street crime scene were positively identified as having been fired from the weapon used in the instant offense.
DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL
There was evidence of drug use related to the instant offense.
11/17/1999 John Michael Lamb (Hunt County)
11/18/1999 Jose Angel Gutierrez (Brazos County)
12/08/1999 David Martin Long (Dallas County)
12/09/1999 James Lee Beathard (Trinity 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)
01/26/2000 Anzel Jones (Lamar County)
02/24/2000 Toronto M. Patterson (Dallas County)
If this execution is carried out, it will be the 193rd execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 29th since General Cornyn took office.
This case was handled by the Assistant Attorney General Gena Bunn of the Attorney General's Capital Litigation Division.
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