Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive



Thursday, May 25, 2000

Media Advisory:

James Edward Clayton Scheduled to be Executed

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on James Edward Clayton who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m.,Thursday, May 25th.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

Lori Barrett was last seen alive as she left her night job, at the Dillard's department store in Abilene, Texas, on the evening of Sept. 17, 1987. That night, Barrett's co-worker, Pamela Cummings, unsuccessfully attempted to call Lori at home, between the hours of 9:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. The next morning, Cummings again unsuccessfully tried to contact Lori. Lori, also a teacher at the Hawley, Texas, elementary school, failed to report to work on the morning of Sept. 18. Cummings was alarmed because Lori should have arrived home from Dillard's between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m on Sept. 17. Cummings then contacted Lori's school principal to determine if she was ill, and, finding that the administration had not heard from her, Cummings informed the Hawley School District's superintendent of her inability to make contact with Lori. The superintendent, Cecil Davis, was familiar with Lori's usual work habits and decided that her unusual absence warranted a visit to her house. Davis drove to Lori's house in Abilene, knocked on the door and, receiving no response, asked her neighbors if they had seen her. The neighbors stated that they had not seen Lori, and Davis immediately went to an Abilene police station. His report (along with another similar report by Lori's sister) prompted the Abilene Police Department to begin a missing person investigation.

Later that day, members of the Abilene Police Department, escorted by Lori's brother-in-law, entered Lori's house. The locked house appeared to be in normal condition (although the security chain had been left latched on the front door), but on closer inspection it was discovered that a bathroom window was slightly ajar, that a sink tile had been dislodged and that a small amount of grass was in the sink. The bathroom window was known to be difficult to operate, and Lori had always needed the assistance of her brother-in-law to open it. A police officer also found scrape marks on the outside of the window frame that were consistent with prying with a flat blade screwdriver. A screwdriver was found on a brick ledge nearby. Lori's car was also missing. Police also found an earring Lori had worn on Sept. 17, and a curling iron with the cord cut off.

Shortly thereafter, the Abilene police were called to the Abilene Christian University (ACU) campus to investigate a wrecked and abandoned car. The police determined that the car belonged to Lori Barrett. In the interim, Lori's family had decided to hire William Hurley, a private investigator.

Hurley began to investigate the circumstances surrounding the wrecked car, and eventually questioned one of James Edward Clayton's acquaintances who had seen Clayton with the car around 11:00 p.m. on the night of Sept. 17, and also at the time of the wreck on the morning of the 18th. The acquaintance told Hurley that Clayton said that he had borrowed the car from someone named Lori.

On Sept. 23, police officers went to Clayton's residence, a garage apartment approximately half a block away from Lori's house. Clayton was told that the police were investigating the accident involving Lori's car, and Clayton admitted that he had been driving the car without her permission. Clayton was advised of his rights and then consented to a search of his apartment. Following questioning, Clayton declined to voluntarily accompany officers to the Abilene police station, and was arrested for unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

In a trash dumpster outside Clayton's apartment, Lori's sister discovered the license plate from Lori's car, mail with Lori's name on it, and a bag. The bag contained a belt which Lori had worn on Sept.17th and a partially eaten hamburger. A search warrant for Clayton's residence was obtained on Sept. 24, and, once inside, the police discovered an insurance card with Lori Barrett's name on it.

Following publicity in the local media and at Barrett's church, a large scale search for her began in the Abilene area. Her body was ultimately found on Sept. 29 in neighboring Jones County. The body, already in a state of advanced decomposition, was wrapped in a blanket, secured with black electrical wire. A Remington Peters .243 caliber cartridge case was also found. Lori Barrett's body was identified through the use of dental records.

The police then obtained an evidentiary search warrant for certain items they had previously observed in Clayton's apartment. Among the items seized there were a pair of boots, a Winchester .243 caliber rifle, and .243 caliber ammunition. Lab analysis of the rifle and ammunition produced a positive match with the cartridge case found at the scene. Clayton was then charged with murder and capital murder.

Clayton had been extremely agitated because his girlfriend, in the days prior to Lori's disappearance, was trying to end their relationship. Clayton was reportedly upset and wanted to "kill his girlfriend and her parents and their dog." Clayton told a friend that he had been in the military, that he "was trained to kill," that "killing was the only way he could vent his anger, and it was the only thing he could do about it."

Lori's neighbor recalled having heard screams at approximately 9:55 p.m. on the night of her disappearance, and the volume and duration of the screams prompted him to arm himself prior to investigating the sound. Although he was unable to locate the source, the screams were loud enough to be heard over the sounds of a rainstorm that night.

The coroner, Dr. James Weiner, stated that there had been two "through-and-through" high velocity gunshot wounds to Lori's head and neck. He also noted that a ligature and gag had been applied to her neck and mouth, respectively. The doctor explained that although Lori's body had only been deceased for a maximum of 12 days, the mechanics of decomposition had been accelerated by the mid-Sept. heat. This had produced a body condition in which it was impossible to determine whether other factors, e.g., manual or ligature strangulation, had contributed to Barrett's death. Thus, the medical examiner could only be certain as to the rifle wounds, and he announced that although strangulation could not be ruled out as a theoretical cause of death, the gunshot wounds were certainly fatal and that the proper cause of death should be listed as "homicidal violence."

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Clayton was indicted in the 104th District Court of Taylor County, Texas on Dec. 10, 1987, for the capital offense of murdering Lori Barrett, in the course of committing burglary, kidnapping, and robbery, on or about Sept. 17, 1987. Clayton pleaded not guilty and a jury found him guilty of three counts of capital murder on Nov. 3, 1988. Following a separate punishment hearing, the trial court sentenced Clayton to death on Nov. 10, 1988.

Clayton's conviction and sentence was automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and the court affirmed his conviction and sentence on Jan. 27, 1993. Clayton's petition for a writ of certiorari was denied by the United States Supreme Court on Oct. 4, 1993.

On Feb. 4, 1994, Clayton requested an appointment of counsel for the purpose of filing a state habeas corpus appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied the motion on Mar. 1, 1994. Clayton then requested counsel in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. On Feb. 25, 1994, the district court denied federal habeas counsel on the grounds that Clayton had not exhausted state court remedies by filing an application for writ of habeas corpus in state court. Clayton appealed the denial of counsel to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court remanded the matter to the Fifth Circuit, which sent the case back to the district court. The district court granted Clayton's request and appointed counsel to prepare a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus.

Before filing his federal petition, Clayton requested expert and investigative assistance on Feb. 3, 1995, and his request was denied. Clayton appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which denied the request on June 27, 1995. Clayton then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, which was denied on Feb. 20, 1996. Clayton then filed a federal habeas corpus petition, which was dismissed on Dec. 15, 1995, for failure to exhaust state court remedies.

The Court of Criminal Appeals then granted Clayton's second request for counsel on Dec. 16, 1996. Clayton filed an application for writ of habeas corpus in state court on Apr. 24, 1997. The trial court recommended that relief be denied on Dec. 5, 1997. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief based on the trial court's recommendation on Jan. 28, 1998.

On Aug.. 19, 1998, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas appointed counsel for the filing of a second federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The habeas petition was filed on Sept. 17, 1998, but the district court denied relief on Dec. 17, 1998. The district court denied permission to appeal on Jan. 19, 1999.

Clayton requested permission to appeal from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Apr. 20, 1999. Permission was subsequently denied on Oct. 1, 1999. The Supreme Court denied Clayton's petition for writ of certiorari on Apr. 3, 2000.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

Clayton claimed that he had stolen the rifle that was used as the murder weapon from a former roommate's home about a week before the murder. Clayton also bragged that he had broken into people's houses and that he considered himself a good burglar. Clayton told acquaintance Andy Vitez that his mind was "criminally oriented" and that he would never get caught in his actions. He thought of himself as "very intimidating and violent and aggressive." He had also charged an "enormous" telephone bill on a phone card stolen from Andy Vitez. Clayton had confessed to using a credit card stolen in a burglary. He was found in possession of property taken from a neighbor's home, as well as property taken from others' homes.

While on a skiing trip, Clayton told several acquaintances that he could "just go kill a guy . . . because he didn't like him," referring to an unknown man who was walking by. Clayton said he would stick an ice pick into the back of the man's neck and into his brain, and that he would scramble his brain and turn him into a vegetable. Then Clayton performed a demonstration of how he would do this and how the man would flop around on the ground afterward. He said he would hide the man's body and be long gone before anyone smelled it. Clayton entered a shuttle bus while on the skiing trip, saying that he wanted to "hotwire" it. He also stated that he wanted to break into a motel room and kill everybody in it. Clayton stated that he admired his father for killing his neighbor's dog because it barked. He also said that he wanted to be in the army because it was "a license to kill."

Also while on the ski trip, Clayton told a female classmate how to poke or pull someone's eyes out and how he could snap someone's neck. He further told the woman that he was mad at his girlfriend and would kill her, that he knew the layout of her house, that he would break into her house, disarm the burglar alarm, smother her to death, and be gone so that no one would ever know who did it. This woman described him as very full of hate, and as being very frightening. Clayton told her that he wanted to hit someone so hard that it would crush his or her skull and make a loud noise. The woman believed that Clayton was not concerned with right and wrong and that he wanted people to be afraid of him.

Earlier in his life,Clayton was removed from his home as an alternative to incarceration as a juvenile offender for a burglary and for carrying a firearm. At the Boles home for children, he had "worn out his welcome" by the time he was a senior in high school because of discipline issues. Clayton had been in trouble at school for crawling into the windows of girls' rooms at the school. He had been barred from the school for a year. Clayton had also stolen from a family who allowed him to stay in their home.

DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL

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

SCHEDULED EXECUTIONS

05/31/2000 Robert Earl Carter (Burleson County)
06/01/2000 Ricky Nolen McGinn (Brown County)
06/12/2000 Thomas Wayne Mason (Smith County)
06/14/2000 John Albert Burks (McLennan County)
06/15/2000 Paul Selso Nuncio (Hale County)

MISCELLANEOUS

If this execution is carried out, it will be the 217th execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 53rd since General Cornyn took office.
This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Catherine Hayes of the Capital Litigation Division.

- 30 -


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