Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Monday, Nov. 18, 2002

MEDIA ADVISORY

William Wesley Chappell Scheduled to be Executed

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on William Wesley Chappell, who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2002.

On Nov. 22, 1989, William Wesley Chappell was sentenced to die for the capital murder of Alexandra Heath, which occurred in Fort Worth, Texas, on May 3, 1988.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

William Wesley Chappell was charged with murdering Alexandra Heath in the course of committing or attempting to commit burglary of a building owned by her mother, Martha Lindsey, with the intent to commit the felony offense of retaliation against Lindsey or her husband, Elbert Sitton, or commit theft of property belonging to Lindsay or Sitton. Heath, Lindsey and Sitton were all killed inside Lindsey's home.

The evidence illustrates that Chappell had a strained relationship with Lindsey, Sitton, and their daughter, Jane Sitton - Alexandra's half sister. Chappell, who was then 43 or 44 years old, and Jane, who was then 14 or 15 years old, began dating in 1981 or 1982 and stopped seeing each other in 1983 or 1984. In May 1984, Chappell was indicted for molesting Jane's daughter. Lindsey had reported the offense to police. In May 1987, Chappell was found guilty of one count of indecency with a child and was sentenced to five years confinement. Chappell was released on bond pending appeal.

After the indecency trial, the Lindsey/Sitton family congregated outside the courtroom. When Chappell came out, he informed Lindsey that "it wasn't over yet" and that he "would get her for that." Chappell related this threat to his then-wife Sally Hayes, denied molesting Jane's daughter and said that Lindsey and the Sittons were after his money. Chappell stated that he wanted to "do away" with the Lindsey/Sitton family.

In January 1988, Hayes drove Chappell to Lindsey's home where Elbert and Jane also resided. Chappell had purchased gasoline and put it in jugs. Hayes let Chappell out near Lindsey's home and drove around for 15 minutes. When Chappell signaled Hayes with his flashlight, she picked him up. Chappell no longer had the jugs and said that he had set fire to Lindsey's house. Chappell became upset when he later learned that the home suffered relatively little damage and that none of the occupants were injured.

In February 1988, Chappell and Hayes went to a gun show. Hayes testified that she purchased ammunition, an extra barrel, a spring, and a "small round thing with holes in it" that fit over the barrel of the gun. Thereafter, Chappell began working on a silencer for the gun. In March 1988, Chappell and Hayes purchased two walkie-talkies at Radio Shack.

In April 1988, Chappell settled an unrelated personal-injury suit against a church and received a cashier's check for $66,000. That same month, Chappell and Hayes went to Hornbeak, Tennessee, where Hayes owned a house. Chappell brought $60,000 of his settlement to put into certificates of deposit in hopes of preventing the Lindsey/Sitton family from getting it. Hayes testified that Chappell planned to return to Texas and the Lindsey home in order to kill anyone who happened to be in it.

On May 3, 1988, Chappell and Hayes left Tennessee at 10:30 a.m. in a van. They arrived in Fort Worth around 8:30 p.m. and stopped at a grocery store. While Hayes went into the store, Chappell changed into dark clothing, makeup and a wig. Chappell also had a black ski mask, brown gloves and a nylon tote bag containing a walkie-talkie, the 9-mm gun, a pistol, the silencer, clips for the guns, a crowbar, and wire cutters.

Sometime after 9:00 p.m. Hayes let Chappell out of the van near Lindsey's home. Hayes then drove around the neighborhood waiting for Chappell to contact her by walkie-talkie. Fifteen to 20 minutes later, Chappell contacted Hayes, and she picked him up. When he got into the van, Chappell stated that he had "shot Jane, her mother, and her daddy." He also said that he had taken some money to make it look like a robbery. The pair then drove back to Tennessee, where they disposed of as much evidence as possible. Chappell was shocked when he learned that it was not Jane, but her half sister, Alexandra Heath, whom he had killed.

Heath was shot several times while lying in bed and died at the scene. Before his death, Sitton told a Fort Worth police officer that an intruder wearing a ski mask had confronted Sitton and Lindsey in their bedroom. After Lindsey complied with the intruder's demand for money, the intruder shot the couple several times. Lindsey died two days later. Sitton, who survived for two months in the hospital, was able to tell the emergency room physician that he believed the intruder was the same man who raped his daughter or granddaughter. [The physician could not remember whether Sitton said "daughter" or "granddaughter."]

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

May 3,1988 - Chappell murdered Alexandra Heath, Martha Lindsey and Elbert Sitton.

Feb. 7, 1989 - Chappell was charged by an indictment returned in Tarrant County, Texas, for the capital murder of Alexandra Heath.

Nov. 19, 1989 - A jury found Chappell guilty of capital murder.

Nov. 22, 1989 - Following a separate punishment hearing, the trial court sentenced Chappell to death.

Feb. 3, 1993 - On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judgment and remanded the cause for retrial because the trial court erred in granting the State's motion for second shuffle of jury venire.

April 7, 1993 - The Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the State's petition for rehearing.

Oct. 1993 - On remand, sometime after voir dire began but before the entire panel was sworn, the trial court declared a mistrial.

Oct. 9, 1996 - On retrial, a jury again found Chappell guilty of capital murder.

Oct. 9, 1996 - Following a separate punishment hearing, the trial court sentenced Chappell to death.

Oct. 29, 1998 - Chappell filed his Brief on direct appeal raising seven points of error.

May 21, 1999 - Chappell filed a state writ of habeas corpus petition raising six grounds for relief.

Oct. 13, 1999 - On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Chappell's seven claims and affirmed his conviction and sentence. Chappell did not petition for certiorari review from the United States Supreme Court.

Nov. 24, 1999 - On state habeas, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief on all six of Chappell's claims based on the Court's own review and on the state trial court's findings and conclusions.

Dec. 26, 2000 - Chappell filed a federal writ of habeas corpus petition raising seven claims.

Jan. 26, 2001 - The State (through Gary Johnson, former Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Institutional Division) filed an answer and moved for summary judgment.

Feb. 7, 2001 - The United States District Court for the Northern District, Fort Worth Division, issued a memorandum opinion and order denying habeas relief and issued final judgment.

Feb. 21, 2001 - Chappell filed notice of appeal and an application for certificate of appealability ("COA") raising seven claims.

March 1, 2001 - The district court denied a COA.

May 14, 2001 - Chappell filed an application for COA in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

June 13, 2001 - The State (through former TDCJ Director Gary Johnson) filed its opposition to COA.

April 9, 2002 - The Fifth Circuit denied a COA in an unpublished opinion.

June 10, 2002 - Chappell petitioned for a rehearing, and the Fifth Circuit denied the request.

Sept. 5, 2002 - Chappell petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari review of two claims.

Oct. 10, 2002 - The State (through current TDCJ Director Janie Cockrell) filed a brief in opposition.

Oct. 16, 2002 - Chappell moved for DNA testing in the Criminal Court No. 2 of Tarrant County.

Nov. 4, 2002 - The trial court denied Chappell's motion for DNA testing.

Nov. 13, 2002 - Chappell filed a successive state habeas application and moved for a stay of execution in the trial court. Chappell also appealed the denial of DNA testing.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

Evidence was introduced that in May 1987, Chappell was found guilty of one count of indecency with a child and was sentenced to five years confinement. Because it was theorized that Chappell killed his three victims in retaliation over his conviction and imprisonment, this testimony was introduced during the guilt/innocence stage of trial.

During the punishment phase, the State presented a daughter of the victims who testified that in January 1984, her parents' home in Fort Worth caught fire and the kitchen area was destroyed. This witness also testified that Chappell was 43 or 44 years old when he started dating Jane Sitton (who was 14 or 15 years old at the time); that Ms. Sitton already had a child, but had not been married; and that while they were dating, Chappell attended high school functions with Ms. Sitton, including football games and the senior prom. The State also called Ms. Sitton's daughter to testify regarding several incidents where Chappell sexually molested her, including once at Chappell's boat shop and once in a car. According to this witness, the molestation ended when she was four years old, after she reported the events to her uncle.

An additional State's witness testified that in the mid-1980s, Chappell was involved in a fraudulent theft whereby the witness falsely reported that his 1986 Dodge van had been stolen, when, in reality, Chappell had taken the van from a shopping mall parking lot by using the keys provided by the witness. On May 8, 1988, Chappell brought the Dodge van to the witness' property; however, 12 days later, the police seized the van because it had been used in the commission of the Heath/Lindsey/Sitton murders. This witness also testified that he later learned that Chappell was accusing him of the murders, and felt that Chappell left the van at his property in order to frame him.

MISCELLANEOUS

For additional information and statistics, please log on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, www.tdcj.state.tx.us.

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