Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive


Friday, July 6, 2001

MEDIA ADVISORY

James Joseph Wilkens Scheduled to be Executed

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on James Joseph Wilkens, who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 11, 2001.

On October 15, 1993, James Joseph Wilkens, Jr. was sentenced for the capital murder of Richard Wood (his former girlfriend's current boyfriend) and Larry McMillan, Jr. (the former girlfriend's four year-old son), during the same criminal transaction occurring in Tyler, Texas, on December 27, 1986.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

In the summer of 1986, Wilkens and Sandra Williams began dating. Both were employed at the Pit Grill restaurant. Shortly thereafter, Wilkens moved in with Williams and her four-year-old son. By October, 1986, problems began to develop between Wilkens and Williams. Wilkens moved out shortly thereafter. Wilkens had become very jealous of the time Williams spent with her son. The problem was exacerbated when Richard Wood, Wilkens's ex-roommate, began taking Williams to her chiropractor. As the relationship between Williams and Wood became closer, Wilkens became jealous of Wood.

By December, Williams and Wood had begun dating. On December 27, 1986, Williams, her son and Wood were returning from Oklahoma after spending Christmas with Wood's relatives. Upon their return, the three went to Wood's mobile home at the South Point Mobile Home Park. Williams carried her son inside and placed him on the couch next to the front door. After Williams and Wood unloaded the car, Wood left to lock the car while Williams went into the bathroom. There, she saw Wilkens standing with a rifle in his hands. Williams began screaming and ran towards the front door.

As Williams reached the front door, Wood was entering the trailer. Wood saw Wilkens and told Williams to go get help. As she left the trailer, Williams heard a shot and saw Wood drop to the floor. Williams continued down the stairs but fell to the ground when she was shot in the back. Williams heard her son crying and screaming, and turned to see Wilkens leveling the gun at the child. Williams managed to rise and start running back towards the trailer when Wilkens turned the rifle on her and fired two or three more times. Williams fell to the ground. As she heard Wilkens descending the stairs and coming closer, Williams began holding her breath and closed her eyes, hoping that Wilkens would leave. Williams then felt her legs being lifted.

As she pretended to be dead, Williams continued to hear her son screaming. After her legs were dropped, Williams heard seven or eight shots from inside the mobile home after which she no longer heard the screams. She blacked out and later awoke in the hospital where she learned that her son and Wood had been killed.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Wilkens was indicted on February 5, 1987, in the 7th Judicial District Court of Smith County, Texas, for the capital offense of murdering Richard Wood and Larry McMillan, Jr. during the same criminal transaction on December 27, 1986. A jury found Wilkens guilty of capital murder on February 18, 1988, and, following a separate punishment hearing, the court assessed his punishment at death. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his conviction and sentence on June 10, 1992, based on psychological testimony which was improperly admitted during the punishment phase of trial. The rehearing was denied November 4, 1992. The United States Supreme Court denied the State's petition for certiorari on March 29, 1993.

Upon re-trial, on October 12, 1993, Wilkens was again convicted of capital murder in the 7th Judicial District Court of Smith County, Texas. After a separate punishment hearing, on October 15, 1993, the jury answered affirmatively the two special issues on deliberateness and future dangerousness, and answered negatively the third special issue on mitigation. The trial court then assessed Wilkens's punishment at death. Wilkens's conviction was affirmed by the Court of Criminal Appeals in an unpublished opinion on November 15, 1995. Wilkens did not seek certiorari review to the United States Supreme Court.

On April 20, 1997, Wilkens filed an application for state writ of habeas corpus. Following an evidentiary hearing, the state habeas court entered detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending that habeas relief be denied. The Court of Criminal Appeals later denied relief in an unpublished order on January 12, 1998, based on the trial court's findings and the court's own review. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on October 5, 1998.

Wilkens filed a federal writ of habeas corpus petition on January 16, 1998. On February 2, 1999, United States Magistrate Judge Robert Faulkner issued a report and recommendation that the writ of habeas corpus be denied, to which Wilkens later objected. On June 17, 1999, United States District Judge Paul Brown overruled Wilkens's objections, adopted the magistrate's report and recommendation, and issued final judgment denying habeas relief. Appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit followed. On January 4, 2001, the appellate court issued an opinion dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction because Wilkens filed his notice of appeal in an untimely manner. Wilkens's petition for rehearing was denied on January 31, 2001.

By order dated February 9, 2001, the 114th Judicial District Court of Smith County, Texas, scheduled Wilkens's execution for July 9, 2001, more than 150 days after the appellate court's January 31, 2001, denial of rehearing. Wilkens filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on May 2, 2001, challenging the dismissal of his appeal. While his petition was pending, on June 19, 2001, Wilkens filed a request for clemency and a reprieve with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. The matter is presently pending before the Board of Pardons and Paroles. On June 29, 2001, the Supreme Court denied certiorari review.

On July 3, 2001, Wilkens filed a writ of habeas corpus with the United States Supreme Court accompanied with a request for stay of execution. The petition is currently pending in that court. On July 6, 2001, Wilkens filed with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals a motion asking leave of court to file an out-of-time petition for rehearing en banc, which, in turn, asks the entire court to reconsider its January 4, 2001, dismissal of the appeal as untimely filed.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

Evidence was introduced that Wilkens had previously been convicted of robbery on October 4, 1982, and was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

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