AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Ponchai Wilkerson who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 14th.
FACTS OF THE CRIME
On Nov. 28, 1990, Ponchai Wilkerson and his companion, Wilton Bethony, entered the Royal Gold Jewelry Store in Houston, Texas following a month-long crime spree. While Bethony was looking at rings, Wilkerson purchased a $35 pendant from store owner Chung Myong Yi. At that time, Bethony's friend, Chris Jones, entered the store. Jones later testified that he and Bethony spoke while Bethony continued looking at rings and Wilkerson stood nearby. After Bethony bought two rings, Wilkerson exited the store for the first time and told Bethony he was going to a nearby leather store. Wilkerson returned to the store almost immediately, picked up the cars keys he had left on the counter, and exited again. Wilkerson then returned to the store a second time, one or two minutes later, stood behind Bethony, and pulled a gun from under his jacket. Without saying a word, Wilkerson shot and killed Yi across the counter. The medical examiner later found that Wilkerson's Glock pistol had been fired from within 12 inches of Yi's temple. Wilkerson and Bethony then proceeded to smash the jewelry cases and seize the rings and necklaces within. Jones immediately ran to the business next door and asked them to hide him because he had just witnessed the store owner next door being shot. While Jones hid in the bathroom, Alan Krizan stepped outside and witnessed two men running from the jewelry store carrying black boxes with chains hanging out of them. Krizan identified Wilkerson as one of the men he saw running from the store. Wilkerson and Bethony loaded the stolen jewelry into a car and drove away.
Wilkerson was indicted in Harris County, Texas, for the capital murder of Chung Myong Yi during the course of committing the offense of robbery. Wilkerson was tried before a jury upon a plea of not guilty in the 184th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas. Wilkerson testified at trial that the murder was not committed in self-defense nor was it an accident. On July 16, 1991, the jury found him guilty of capital murder. On July 26, 1991, in accordance with Texas law, the trial court sentenced Wilkerson to death.
Because Wilkerson was sentenced to death, appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence on March 23, 1994. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on Dec. 12, 1994. Wilkerson then filed an application for habeas corpus relief with the convicting court on Dec. 29, 1994. The trial court recommended that relief be denied, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed on Sept. 13, 1995.
On Oct. 31, 1995, Wilkerson filed a petition for federal habeas corpus relief in federal district court, and relief was denied on May 1, 1996. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Wilkerson permission to appeal on Aug. 18, 1999, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on Jan. 18, 2000.
PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY
During the punishment phase of the trial, the State presented evidence of Wilkerson's involvement in a crime spree in 1990. In Aug. 1990, Wilkerson pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and was sentenced to three years deferred adjudication and given probation. His probation officer testified that Wilkerson failed to report after his initial interview. On Nov. 5, 1990, Wilkerson and Bethony assaulted and robbed Anthony Jolivet of his vehicle at gunpoint in a self-serve car wash. On Nov. 13, Wilkerson, Bethony, Kenneth Joseph, and Eddie Bolden, stole Carolyn Cangemi's Suburban and drove it back to Wilkerson's apartment. After assembling in the stolen Suburban, the group proceeded to a friend's house where they acquired a 20-gauge shotgun and a ski hat full of shells. Wilkerson and Bethony then decided to rob the neighborhood Shop and Get owned by Bolden's friend Zahir Ali. Despite Bolden's refusal to participate, Wilkerson, carrying an automatic pistol, and Bethony, carrying the shotgun, robbed Ali's store. Ali survived the robbery despite being shot in the chest by Bethony with the shotgun.
On Nov. 18, Wilkerson and Bethony burglarized CoCo's Fashions by driving a vehicle into the front of the store and through the burglar bars. The pair escaped with approximately $10,000 worth of merchandise. On Nov. 19, Wilkerson, Bethony, Joseph, and Bolden located, and Bethony stole, Bernard Sezon's Plymouth Voyager. On Nov. 20, Wilkerson and his group drove into the Fondren Glen Apartments at approximately 4:30 p.m. looking for a person who had pulled a gun on Bolden earlier. While they did not locate the person they sought, Wilkerson stopped as he was exiting the parking lot, turned down the radio, and said to Jimmy Johnson and Jarrode Turner, who were sitting on a nearby fence, "You talking to me?" When they responded that they were not, he started shooting at them. Wilkerson hit both of the young boys as they ran away. Also struck by one of Wilkerson's bullets, one inch from her heart, was 13-year-old Kesia Nealy, who was walking home from school. Wilkerson did not express any regret or remorse following the shooting. In fact, he called a friend to tell her to watch the news for it.
On Nov. 20, Wilkerson, Bethony, and Bolden drove a vehicle through the front of the Alamo Gun Store. The trio threw $7,000 worth of guns into the van and drove away. Some of the guns were recovered from Wilkerson's apartment, some were used in later crimes, and others were sold on the street for $100 each. On Nov. 23, in a Buick Regal they had previously stolen, Wilkerson and Bethony entered the Westwood Village apartments parking lot around 10 p.m. Bethony stepped out of the car and declared "let's get it on LA style," firing his semi-automatic weapon into the apartments and vehicles. Bethony fatally shot Bobby Holley twice in the back as he ran away. Bethony also shot James McGowen as he ran away. After Bethony's gun ran out of bullets, Wilkerson opened fire randomly upon the apartments with another semi-automatic weapon. After another individual fired from the backseat of the car, Wilkerson and Bethony got back into the car and drove off.
On Nov. 24, Wilkerson and a companion drove into the parking lot of the Breckenridge apartments just after midnight. Using at least two of the same weapons that were used in the Westwood Village shooting a few hours earlier, and without any provocation, Wilkerson began firing into the apartments. Twenty-nine shell casings were recovered at this scene and 35 bullet holes were found in the apartments. On Nov. 25, Wilkerson and at least one accomplice burglarized Collectors' Firearms of 86 weapons worth approximately $40,000. Four days later, Wilkerson and Bethony robbed the Royal Gold Jewelry Store.
Most recently, on February 21, 2000, Wilkerson and another death row inmate, Howard Guidry, took Texas Department of Criminal Justice guard Jeanette Bledsoe hostage at knife-point for approximately 13 hours. Bledsoe was released on Feb. 22, when the inmates were allowed to meet with anti-death penalty activists at the Terrell Unit in Livingston, Texas. Wilkerson and Guidry were previously among seven death row prisoners who took part in a botched escape attempt at a prison near Huntsville on Thanksgiving Day in 1998. Only one inmate, Martin Gurule, managed to escape, but he later drowned in a nearby river.
DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL
No evidence was presented at trial demonstrating that drug or alcohol use was connected with the instant offense.
03/15/2000 Timothy Lane Gribble (Galveston County)
04/26/2000 Robert Earl Carter (Bastrop County)
04/27/2000 Ricky Nolen McGinn (Brown County)
05/03/2000 Caruthers Alexander (Bexar County)
05/09/2000 William Joseph Kitchens (Taylor County)
05/23/2000 James Davis Richardson (Navarro County)
06/12/2000 Thomas Wayne Mason (Smith County)
06/15/2000 Paul Nuncio (Hale County)
06/28/2000 Joe Lee Guy (Hale County)
07/19/2000 Oliver David Cruz (Bexar County)
08/16/2000 John Satterwhite (Bexar County)
If this execution is carried out it will be the 210th execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 46th since General Cornyn took office.
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