Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive


Tuesday, January 11, 2000

MEDIA ADVISORY

EARL CARL HEISELBETZ, JR. SCHEDULED TO BE EXECUTED

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Earl Carl Heiselbetz, Jr. who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Wednesday, January 12th.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

Earl Carl Heiselbetz was the closest neighbor of the Rogers family at their respective homes near Pineland, Texas. Heiselbetz's home was about two tenths of a mile away from the Rogers' home, which was secluded and not visible from the road. Before the Rogers had moved into the house, Heiselbetz had actually broken into the locked house and had stated that he could get into the house whenever he wanted.

On Friday, May 24, 1991, the Rogers family -- Rena, Bob, and their two year-old daughter Jacy - left their home to spend the Memorial Day weekend out of town. They left their two watchdogs outside to guard their home. Returning to the area on Tuesday morning, May 28th, Rena took Bob to his job in Lufkin before going home. Bob arrived at work sometime between 10:30 and 11 a.m. When Bob returned home from work that evening he discovered that the two dogs were missing. On June 2, 1991, the carcass of one of the missing dogs was discovered in the vicinity of the Rogers' and Heiselbetz's houses. The dog had been shot.

The Rogers' telephone records showed that on May 28th, at 10:01 and at 10:02 a.m., prior to the time the Rogers returned home, calls were made from the Rogers' home to the Multiquest Sweepstakes at a "900" telephone number. Also on May 28th, Heiselbetz told his wife, Becky, that he had been bitten that morning by a dog. When she saw him later, he had a bite on his finger and scratches on his arms, and he was upset. Evidence was introduced that Heiselbetz liked to participate in sweepstakes contests and that he had informed his wife of his interest in participating in the "dial 900" telephone sweepstakes, but she had discouraged him because of the cost.

On Thursday, May 30, 1991, a neighbor saw Rena and Jacy Rogers at the grocery store at about 9:30 a.m., Rena had planned to meet her sister-in-law, Natalie Whitton, at 11:30 a.m. to travel together to Nacogdoches; Rena planned to take Jacy. Even though Ms. Whitton had confirmed plans over the telephone that morning, Rena failed to show up at the appointed place and time. Her car keys, purse, and a jar of coins were discovered missing from the Rogers' home, but there was no sign of foul play at the home. Rena's car was parked in her driveway.

Almost a month later, on June 27, 1991, the human skeletal remains of an adult female and a child were found in and around a barn in nearby Tyler County. The remains were identified through dental and medical records as those of Rena and Jacy Rogers.

Heiselbetz had been questioned by the Sabine County Sheriff on the day Rena and Jacy Rogers disappeared. Because he had responded in a questionable manner when asked about his whereabouts, he became a potential suspect and was questioned again on the day the remains were discovered. At this interview, following a previous one, Heiselbetz voluntarily confessed to the murders in the presence of his wife at a relative's home.

Heiselbetz subsequently signed a written confession stating that he killed the victims at around 11 a.m. on Thursday, May 30, 1991. Heiselbetz confessed to putting the two bodies into Rena's car and driving them some miles away to the barn where they were found. He also stated that when he returned from hiding the bodies in the barn, he parked Rena's car back at her house, then went into the Rogers' home and got a package of frozen hamburger meat and canned tomato sauce, which he took home. When asked how he had killed the victims, Heiselbetz answered that he did not know. He said he had blacked out, but he noted that he remembered marks on the victims' necks. The interviewer asked if he had strangled the victims, and Heiselbetz answered that he did not think so. A few days following his confession, Heiselbetz guided the police investigators on the route that he had taken after killing Rena and Jacy and showed them where he had thrown Rena's purse in a pond. The purse, containing Rena's identification, was recovered from the pond. It appeared that an attempt had been made to burn the purse and the items in it.

The incomplete skeletal remains of the infant Jacy evidenced no trauma which could suggest a cause of death. The skeletal remains of Rena, however, evidenced a condition known to forensic anthropologists as "pink tooth." This condition appears in the teeth of those who have died of asphyxiation. A forensic anthropologist testified that strangulation was a possible cause of death of Rena Rogers.

A court appointed psychiatrist testified that he had examined Heiselbetz and that there was nothing in the examination that would explain or excuse Heiselbetz's actions. The psychiatrist also testified that head injuries sustained by Heiselbetz in a traffic accident in 1975 could not have caused the amnesia which Heiselbetz claimed in his confession.

In his confession, Heiselbetz also claimed that the offense was provoked by Rena Rogers. According to Heiselbetz, Rena Rogers had come to his gate on the morning of May 30th, with Jacy, accusing him of shooting her dogs. He turned to walk away and then felt a pain in his leg. Realizing he had been shot, he went into his house to take care of his leg. When he came back out a significant time later, Rena was still there. He claimed she threw something at him, and when he ducked, he hit his head on a fence post and blacked out. When he came to, both Rena and Jacy were dead; he guessed that he had killed them. However, the evidence supports a version of events vastly different from that related by Heiselbetz. For example, the assistant director of the Jefferson County Regional Crime Lab testified that she examined the holes in the blue jeans worn by Heiselbetz the day of the murders, and that there was no evidence that the holes were caused by bullets. Similarly, the physician who had examined the lesions on Heiselbetz's leg testified that the injury did not look like a gunshot wound, and was not characteristic of a recent wound but appeared to have been a year or two old.

It was also established that Rena Rogers was a small woman, standing under five feet tall and weighing no more than 90 pounds--compared to Heiselbetz, a large and strong man, weighing about 250 pounds at the time of the murders. Further, it was established that on the morning of the offense, Rena Rogers was preparing to depart on an out-of-town trip at 11:30 a.m. She was seen at the grocery store at about 9:30 a.m. and Heiselbetz confessed to killing her around 11a.m. Considering these facts, it is unlikely that Rena, a petite woman, on a morning in which she was preparing to go out of town, carried a gun and her infant daughter two-tenths of a mile to provoke a violent confrontation over two missing dogs with a man much larger and stronger than herself, and that after shooting him waited there for him to return.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 16, 1991, Heiselbetz was charged by an indictment filed in the District Court of Sabine County, Texas, with the capital offense of two murders. Heiselbetz was tried before a jury upon a plea of not guilty. The jury found him guilty of capital murder on November 18, 1991. On November 20, 1991, following a separate punishment hearing, the jury answered affirmatively the two special issues submitted to it, and the trial court accordingly sentenced Heiselbetz to death.

Because he was sentenced to death, appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Heiselbetz's conviction and sentence on June 28, 1995. A petition for certiorari review was not filed in the United States Supreme Court.

On April 24, 1997, Heiselbetz filed an application for state habeas corpus relief in the convicting court. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied that application on January 21, 1998, and Heiselbetz did not seek certiorari review to the Supreme Court. Heiselbetz next filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Lufkin Division, on February 5, 1998. The district court denied relief on October 20, 1998, and also denied Heiselbetz permission to appeal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit similarly denied permission to appeal on July 26, 1999. Heiselbetz then filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, which is pending before the Court. Heiselbetz also recently filed a subsequent state habeas application with the convicting court and two motions for stay of execution with the state courts. These state court matters are pending before the respective courts.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

At the punishment phase of trial, various witnesses testified to Heiselbetz's violent nature. A 72 year-old woman testified that about two years prior to the trial, Heiselbetz had became violently angry when she fired him for doing a poor job on her roof. Heiselbetz had chased her with a hammer, threatening to kill her. Heiselbetz's ex-wife testified that he had physically abused their two children, even striking them on the head. She testified that the children have needed professional psychiatric help, and that Heiselbetz no longer has parental rights over the children. She also testified that after their separation, Heiselbetz had broken into her house and raped her. Heiselbetz's former sister-in-law also testified as to his violence, stating that she once saw Heiselbetz beat his two children with the buckle end of a leather belt.

DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL

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

SCHEDULED EXECUTIONS

01/18/2000 Spencer Corey Goodman (Fort Bend County)
01/20/2000 David Hicks (Freestone County)
01/21/2000 Larry Keith Robison (Tarrant County)
01/24/2000 Billy George Hughes (Austin County)
01/25/2000 Glen Charles McGinnis (Montgomery County)
01/27/2000 James Walter Moreland (Henderson County)
02/23/2000 Cornelius Goss (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)
04/12/2000 Orien Cecil Joiner (Lubbock County)
04/26/2000 Robert Earl Carter (Bastrop County)
05/03/2000 Caruthers Alexander (Bexar County)

MISCELLANEOUS

If this execution is carried out, it will be the 200th execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 36th since General Cornyn took office. This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney Doug Danzeiser of the Attorney General's Capital Litigation Division.

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Contact Mark Heckmann, Heather Browne, or Tom Kelley at (512) 463-2050