Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive


Tuesday, December 14, 1999

MEDIA ADVISORY:

SAMMIE FELDER SCHEDULED TO BE EXECUTED

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Sammie Felder who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Wednesday, December 15th.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

In March 1975, Emma Carroll and Sammie Felder were employed as attendants with Independent Life Styles, a company which provided daily services for handicapped people at the Westbury Country Village Apartments in Houston, Texas. The Westbury was an apartment complex that had been converted into a nursing home facility. On March 13, 1975, Felder worked his usual day shift, 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., while Carroll worked the night shift. As part of her duties in the early morning hours of March 14th, Carroll was assigned to care for James Hanks, a quadriplegic. When Carroll was making her second round to Hanks's apartment to reposition him in his bed as she was required to do every two hours, she noticed that his door was open. Carroll thought this was unusual because she remembered closing the door when she had checked on him two hours earlier. After calling out for Hanks and receiving no reply, Carroll left the apartment and called Bronchee Watson, the staff supervisor who was also a personal friend of Hanks.

When Watson arrived, Hanks's door was open so he walked straight to the bedroom to determine whether there was anything out of the ordinary. Watson found Hanks in his bed. However, Hanks's breathing was faint, his head was turned over his shoulder in a very awkward position, and he had knots on each side of his head. Watson also noticed blood on the mattress underneath Hanks. After making sure that an ambulance had been called, Watson tried to stimulate Hanks's breathing until medical help arrived. Watson also began looking for Hanks's wallet, which Hanks always kept underneath his pillow when he was sleeping and usually contained between $250 and $300 cash. Watson was unable to locate the wallet.

Houston police officer B.G. Stilley responded to the scene. When Stilley arrived, an unconscious Hanks had already been loaded into an ambulance and was leaving the scene. Stilley proceeded to Hanks's apartment. In the bedroom, Stilley noticed that the sheets on the bed were covered with blood and that the pillows were on the floor. He did not notice blood anywhere else in the bedroom or in the apartment. A complete search of the apartment was conducted to try to determine the type of weapon used or whether anything unusual had occurred in any other part of the apartment. Nothing else was observed. Stilley then left the scene to determine the status of Hanks's condition. Stilley was informed that Hanks had sustained puncture type wounds to his left and right temples and to his neck. Hanks was subsequently placed on life support.

Watson testified that after about three hours at the hospital he returned to Hanks's apartment to try to determine what had happened that evening. Besides the missing wallet, which Watson stated that he had seen Hanks place under his pillow that evening, Watson noticed something else. A pair of stainless steel surgical scissors that were usually kept on a table near the bed also were missing. Watson related that other residents and staff may have known where Hanks kept his wallet, and, while there was no sign of forced entry into the apartment, the door to Hanks's apartment had been unlocked and accessible to anyone.

As with Carroll, Watson was Felder's supervisor. Felder was scheduled to work the day that Hanks was found but failed to report to work that day or any day thereafter. Felder did not leave a forwarding address in order to receive his paycheck.

Hanks remained on life support for several days. He was unable to communicate during that time and, after it was determined that he was brain dead, his family decided to discontinue the life support. Hanks was in his early forties at the time of his death on March 18th. He had become a quadriplegic as a result of a car accident he had while serving in the Korean War. An autopsy revealed that Hanks was 68.5 inches tall and weighed 104 pounds. A stab wound to the left temple had penetrated his skull and into his brain to a depth of approximately three inches. This wound was determined to be the fatal injury and was consistent with having been inflicted by a pair of surgical scissors. Hanks also suffered a one-inch long wound to the right temple and eight cuts to the neck. These wounds were also consistent with having been caused by a pair of surgical scissors.

Edith Cobb, a dispatcher with the Denver Police Department in Colorado, met Felder in Denver in August 1974 and helped him get a job. By November 1974, Felder left Denver and traveled to Texas. Cobb did not see Felder again until the end of March 1975, when he appeared at her father's house and asked for a ride to the liquor store. When they arrived at the liquor store, Cobb asked Felder if he would like some help in finding a job. Felder informed her that "he could not work because he had killed a man in Houston." Felder explained that while he was in Houston he worked at some type of hospital and one day he saw a paralyzed man who lived there and noticed that the man had a lot of money on him. Felder stated that he got off of work at two o'clock in the afternoon but returned to the man's room at about two or three in the morning to rob him. Felder said he carried a gun with him in case someone tried to stop him. Felder said that as he was trying to take the money when the man woke up, called him by his name, and asked him what he was doing. Felder said he grabbed a pair of scissors next to the bed and started stabbing the man in the head and throat. Felder told Cobb that he then took a pillow and tried to smother the man because the man was crying, "please don't hurt me." Felder stated that he nevertheless continued stabbing the man until it looked as though he was no longer breathing. Afterward, Felder said he took over $300 from underneath the pillow, went to his car, and threw the scissors out the window as he was driving. Felder said that later that same day his brother drove him to the airport where he caught a plane to Denver. When Cobb asked why he killed the man if he was paralyzed, Felder replied, "a dead man tells no tales." Cobb related that she was not sure whether she believed Felder because he was not remorseful and was "kind of laughing" as he told her what he had done.

In the next several days, Cobb saw Felder at her father's house almost every day. Felder informed her that he had been telephoning his sister on a daily basis to determine if the police were looking for him. Eventually, Felder told Cobb that his mother told him not to return to Houston because the police were looking for him. On April 10, 1975, Cobb informed the Denver police of what she had learned from Felder. Four days later, Felder was stopped for a traffic violation by an Idaho police officer. When asked to produce identification, Felder produced a draft card with the name Alvin Eugene Yost on it. Felder was arrested after a driver's license number and date of birth under Yost's name could not be confirmed. Eventually, the officer found some identification with Felder's name on it and subsequently learned of the outstanding warrant in Houston.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

After having been previously convicted twiceand sentenced to death and obtaining relief from those convictions, Felder was convicted a third time on February 14, 1989, of capital murder for a murder committed while in the course of a robbery. Following a separate punishment hearing, the jury affirmatively answered the two special sentencing issues submitted to it, and the trial court accordingly sentenced Felder to death.

Because he was sentenced to death, appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Felder's conviction and sentence on September 16, 1992. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on October 4, 1993.

Felder then filed an application for state writ of habeas corpus with the convicting court. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied that application on October 18, 1995. Felder next filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. The district court denied relief on June 2, 1998. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief on June 30, 1999. Felder then filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, which is pending before the Court.

In early December 1999, Felder filed a second application for state writ of habeas corpus with the convicting court. On December 10, 1999, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the application as an abuse of the writ.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

At the punishment phase of trial, the State presented evidence of Felder's three prior felony convictions for burglary and burglary of an automobile, which arose between 1963 and 1969. Additionally, at the time of his arrest for the instant offense, Felder was carrying a concealed weapon. Edith Cobb also testified that Felder had told her that he had burglarized apartments in low-income housing projects and carried a gun during those burglaries. Cobb related that Felder had once ducked down below window level in her car as she drove past a barber shop. Felder explained that he had previously robbed the barber shop.

DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL

There was no evidence of drug or alcohol use connected with the instant offense.

SCHEDULED EXECUTIONS

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)
01/24/2000 Billy George Hughes (Austin 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)
05/03/2000 Caruthers Alexander (Bexar County)

MISCELLANEOUS

If this execution is carried out, and if Robert Ronald Atworth is executed on December 14, 1999, it will be the 199th execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 35th since General Cornyn took office. This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Doug Danzeiser of the Attorney General's Capital Litigation Division.

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