Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive


Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Media Advisory:

James Lee Beathard Scheduled to be Executed

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on James Lee Beathard, who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Thursday, December 9th

FACTS OF THE CRIME

James Lee Beathard and Gene Hathorn, Jr., became acquainted while working at the State Hospital at Rusk, Texas. The men continued their friendship after Beathard left his job at the hospital. Recurrent topics of conversation included Hathorn's desire to commit "the perfect murder" and his wish to kill his father, stepmother, and half-brother, a wish motivated by animosity and the prospect of an inheritance. Hathorn, whose parents lived in a trailer located in an isolated and wooded area of Trinity County, Texas, planned to shoot everyone in the trailer using a number of different weapons, take several items that would be missed, and plant African-American hairs and cigarette butts that had been smoked by African-Americans. In addition to his plan for the scene of the crime, Hathorn wanted to have an accomplice. The accomplice was to provide an alibi as well as to help with the shootings. Hathorn proposed his plan to a few different people, but Beathard was the only interested party. Beathard requested $12,500 from the proceeds of the estate for his participation in the murders.

On October 9, 1984, Beathard and Hathorn left Rusk and went to Nacogdoches, ostensibly for Beathard to check some books out of the library at Stephen F. Austin University, where Beathard had formerly been a student. The two went to Nacogdoches by way of Gallatin, in Cherokee County. Beathard had relatives who owned property near Gallatin. There, Beathard and Hathorn conducted some target practice with Hathorn's shotgun. When finished, they went on to Nacogdoches. While in Nacogdoches, the two went to several highly visible places in addition to the library. When finished, they drove on to Hathorn's parents' home in rural Trinity County.

Hathorn testified that when he and Beathard arrived at his parents' home he gave Beathard a .380 pistol, a Ruger Mini-14 rifle, and cellophane packets containing the hair and cigarettes butts that they were going to leave at the scene. Hathorn kept the shotgun. Thus armed, the men cut through the woods until they got to the driveway leading to the Hathorns' trailer. The two followed the driveway until they reached the clearing around the trailer. At this point, they followed the tree line around the clearing to the trailer. Hathorn went behind the trailer, and Beathard went to the back door. Once positioned, Hathorn fired a shot through a large back window. When the shot was fired, Mr. Gene Hathorn Sr. was sitting with his back to the window with his head visible above the top of the sill. Upon hearing the shot, Beathard was to enter the back door with the remaining two weapons in order to finish any job that the shotgun blast failed to do, plant the evidence, and remove agreed upon items of property. Hathorn said that he heard shots fired from inside the trailer. A few minutes later, Beathard came out the front door of the trailer carrying a video cassette recorder, a video disk player, and a number of the Hathorn family's guns. They both loaded the items into the car. Hathorn drove a van belonging to the victims, and Beathard drove the car in which they had arrived.

Hathorn drove to an area of town which was predominantly occupied by African-Americans. There, he left the van on a residential street and joined Beathard in the car they had brought. Next, they drove to Nacogdoches, stopping twice to drop the items removed from the trailer, the pistol, and the rifle off of two different bridges into two different rivers. Arriving in Nacogdoches, they returned to the library to check out an additional book. Completing this, they returned home.

Crime scene investigators and a forensic pathologist testified about the physical evidence discovered. The evidence and testimony of these witnesses corroborated Hathorn's version of the facts. The forensic pathologist testified that all three victims had wounds from a shotgun blast or blasts. In addition, Mr. and Mrs. Hathorn had fragments of glass and other debris in their wounds which would be consistent with a shotgun being fired through a window. He went on to say that, based on his examinations, the shotgun wounds of the victims were the first gunshot wounds to be inflicted. Assuming that the shotgun wounds occurred simultaneously, the additional gunshots to Mr. and Mrs. Hathorn, whose bodies were found in the living room, were inflicted next, and the additional wounds to Marcus, the Hathorns' son, whose body was discovered in a bathroom, were inflicted last. Investigators at the crime scene stated that the pattern of buckshot which hit the ceiling and opposite wall of the trailer was consistent with Hathorn having fired his shotgun from the position he testified to at trial. The locations of shell casings found inside the trailer and the projected trajectory of the shots fired would be consistent with an individual entering through and firing from the trailer's back door. Ballistics tests matched the bullets recovered from the bodies to bullets known to have been fired by Hathorn's pistol and rifle.

Beathard testified at trial and denied his complicity in the murders. He admitted that he accompanied Hathorn to Gallatin and to Nacogdoches. However, he said that he agreed to leave Nacogdoches with Hathorn because he was offered an opportunity to make $2,000 by participating in a drug transaction. Beathard's account of the trip to the Hathorn residence coincided with that of Hathorn until the two arrived at their destination. Beathard said that the two drove all of the way up the driveway and to the trailer. He said that Hathorn instructed him to stay outside while he went into the trailer to conduct his transaction. Hathorn went to the door, knocked, and entered the trailer for a short while. After leaving the trailer, Hathorn went to the car and retrieved the shotgun. Hathorn, who was now wearing rubber gloves, then went to Beathard, who was standing away from the mobile home near a camper trailer parked in the yard, and told him, "I don't want to have to do it this way." Hathorn then rapidly turned and fired the shotgun through the back window "as if he were shooting skeet" and shouted "Mommy and Daddy get down somebody's shooting at us." He then said to [Beathard] "If I go down you go down. Shoot anything that moves" and handed Beathard the shotgun.

According to Beathard, Hathorn then ran off, but Beathard did not see where Hathorn ran because he laid down on the ground. At this point, Beathard said that he did not see Hathorn in possession of any other weapons and had not seen any weapon, other than the shotgun, during the evening. "A few seconds later," Beathard heard three or four shots fired rapidly, a pause, and a similar group of shots. Unsure of what was happening, Beathard said that he crept into the edge of the woods and hid. After a while, Beathard worked his way back to the camper and shouted for Hathorn. Hathorn shouted back for Beathard to get back in the car. From the point Beathard returned to the car, the two men's stories again coincide.

In addition to his own testimony, Beathard also presented the testimony of numerous family members, friends, and co-workers who told the jury that Beathard's character simply was not consistent with the commission of the capital murders of Hathorn's family. Co-workers testified to his competence on the job, honesty, reputation for nonviolence, and above-average intelligence. Several of his co-workers who were psychiatrists and psychologists at Rusk State Hospital testified that Beathard did not exhibit traits of an antisocial personality. One co-worker testified, however, that Beathard exhibited some signs of an antisocial personality. Some of Beathard's co-workers were aware of his drug use, but others were not.

Many witnesses also testified to the bad reputation of Gene Hathorn. Some co-workers were afraid of Hathorn, and described him as short-tempered, dishonest, and violent. Hathorn also had a history of abusing patients. Some co-workers characterized Hathorn as having an antisocial personality.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 15, 1984, a grand jury in Trinity County, Texas, indicted Beathard for the capital offense of murdering Marcus Hathorn in the course of committing burglary, which occurred on October 9, 1984. Beathard was tried before a jury upon a plea of not guilty, and on March 4, 1985, the jury found him guilty of the capital offense. Later the same day, following a separate punishment hearing, the jury answered affirmatively the two special sentencing issues submitted pursuant to former Article 37.071 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. In accordance with state law, the trial court assessed Beathard's punishment at death.

Because he was sentenced to death, appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Beathard's conviction and sentence on March 8, 1989, and denied rehearing on May 10, 1989. Beathard did not file a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.

After the convicting court scheduled Beathard's execution for February 13, 1991, Beathard filed an application for state writ of habeas corpus with that court. On May 3, 1993, following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court recommended that relief be denied. On May 26, 1993, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief.

On October 14, 1994, Beathard, with the assistance of new counsel, filed a motion for the appointment of counsel in order to assist him with preparing a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus to be filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division. The federal district court granted Beathard's motion, and Beathard thereafter filed his federal petition on April 20, 1995. The district court denied relief on January 29, 1996, and denied Beathard permission to appeal on August 9, 1996. On May 26, 1999, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted Beathard permission to appeal but affirmed the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief. The United States Supreme Court denied Beathard's petition for writ of certiorari on October 18, 1999.

On or about November 30, 1999, Beathard filed a second application for state writ of habeas corpus. The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed that application as an abuse of the writ on December 3, 1999. A clemency petition is pending before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

No evidence was presented at trial reflecting that Beathard had previous criminal convictions.

DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL

No evidence was presented at trial reflecting that drugs or alcohol were used during the commission of the instant offense.

SCHEDULED EXECUTIONS

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)
01/27/2000 James Walter Moreland (Henderson County)
02/23/2000 Cornelius Goss (Dallas County)
02/24/2000 Toronto M. Patterson (Dallas County)
03/01/2000 Odell Barnes, Jr. (Wichita County)
03/15/2000 Timothy Lane Gribble (Galveston County)
03/22/2000 Dennis Bagwell (Atascosa County)

MISCELLANEOUS

If this execution is carried out, and if David Martin Long is executed December 8, 1999, it will be the 197th execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 33rd since General Cornyn took office. This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Gena Bunn of the Attorney General's Capital Litigation Division.

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