Monday, February 3, 2014

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Media Advisory: Suzanne M. Basso scheduled for execution

AUSTIN – Pursuant to an order entered by the 232nd District Court in Harris County, Suzanne Margaret Basso is scheduled for execution after 6 p.m. on Feb. 5, 2014.

In 1999, a Harris County jury found Basso guilty of murdering Louis “Buddy” Musso during the course or kidnapping or attempting to kidnap him, and for remuneration or the promise of remuneration in the form of insurance proceeds.

FACTS OF THE CASE

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, described the murder as follows (citations omitted):

Basso met 59-year-old Louis “Buddy” Musso at a church carnival in New Jersey in July 1997. Musso was mentally retarded, but lived independently, held a job at a grocery store, and managed his own financial affairs. His niece described him as having the mind of a child, “I would say probably somewhere between 7 and 10 years [old].” In June 1998, Musso left New Jersey to live with Basso in Jacinto City, Texas.

Shortly after Musso moved in with Basso, Al Becker, Musso’s social security representative payee and friend of 20 years, began having trouble contacting Musso. Becker had numerous phone conversations with Basso, but Basso eventually refused to let Becker talk to Musso. Concerned about Musso’s well-being, Becker sought assistance from various Texas state agencies, but could not get any information about Musso’s situation.

In July 1998, Basso unsuccessfully attempted to designate herself as representative payee of Musso’s social security benefits. She was named beneficiary on an application for life insurance on Musso, describing herself as Musso’s “wife to be.” After Musso’s death, police found certificates of insurance for policies in Musso’s name, including one that provided for payment of $65,000 in the event Musso died as the result of a violent crime. Police also discovered a document titled Musso’s “Last Will and Testament,” which purported to leave Musso’s entire estate to Basso while “no one else [was] to get a cent.”

The Medical Examiner discovered a large number of injuries to Musso’s body and could not count the hundreds of bruises covering Musso from head to toe. There were contusions of different ages on his body. The examiner opined that they were inflicted over a period of five days leading up to Musso’s death. The palms of Musso’s hands and soles of his feet were bruised, and his back and buttocks had lash marks, indicating that he was whipped. He had a severely blackened eye resulting from a hinge fracture to his skull, probably caused by a blow to the back of his head. Musso sustained broken bones in his nose and ribs. He had burn marks on his back, possibly from cigarettes or a hot poker. The Medical Examiner noted skin abrasions possibly attributable to contact with a cleaning solution or scrub brush. The Medical Examiner concluded that Musso died from a skull fracture caused by an unknown object which left a large X-shaped laceration in Musso’s scalp. Musso suffered 18 or 19 blows to the head. Approximately one to two weeks before the murder, witnesses saw Musso with bruises and black eyes. Basso told people that Musso was beaten up by some Mexicans.

The evening before Musso’s body was found, Basso began an elaborate attempt to establish a story that Musso ran away. She made several phone calls to people, including Musso’s niece and local police, expressing concern about Musso’s whereabouts. Basso claimed that Musso ran away with a “little Mexican lady” he met at a laundromat, and [Basso] claimed to be worried about him. In a written statement to the police, Basso stated that she knew that her son and several friends beat and abused Musso for at least a full day before his death, and that she also beat Musso. She confessed to driving a car belonging to Bernice Ahrens, with Musso’s body in the trunk, to the site where J.D. O’Malley, who is Basso’s son, Terrence Singleton, and Craig Ahrens dumped the body. Craig Ahrens is the son of Basso’s friend, Bernice Ahrens, and Singleton was Craig’s best friend and was engaged to Craig’s sister, Hope Ahrens. Basso also admitted driving the car to a dumpster where the others disposed of additional incriminating evidence, including bloody clothes and rubber gloves. The police found these items as a result of O’Malley’s confession.

Hope Ahrens testified that, in August 1998, Basso and O’Malley brought Musso to the apartment shared by the three Ahrenses and Singleton. Musso had two black eyes, which he claimed he got when some Mexicans beat him up as he went for a walk. After arriving at the apartment, Basso ordered Musso to stay on a red and blue mat. Sometime she had him on his hands and knees, and sometimes just on his knees. Most of the time, the mat was in a hallway in the apartment. Ahrens identified Musso’s shirt. When offered in evidence, the shirt was bloody, the collar was ripped, and the buttons were torn off. Ahrens testified that it was buttoned and was not bloody when Musso first arrived at the apartment.

At some point during the weekend, Basso and O’Malley began beating Musso. Basso slapped him, and O’Malley kicked him repeatedly while wearing boots. Musso asked O’Malley to stop. When O’Malley did stop, Basso asked him why he stopped. O’Malley stated that he was tired and wanted to remove his boots. Ahrens also testified that Basso hit Musso on the back … with a baseball bat, hit him with a belt, and a vacuum cleaner, and jumped on him. Other testimony established that Basso weighed about 300 pounds at the time.

When Basso went to work, she instructed O’Malley to watch the others and make sure they did not leave the apartment or use the phone. O’Malley refused Musso’s requests to get off the mat. When Musso tried to get off the mat, O’Malley hit him. After Musso sustained injuries from the beating, O’Malley took him into the bathroom and bathed him with bleach, Comet and Pine Sol, using a wire brush to scrub Musso’s skin.

At some point, Musso asked Basso to call an ambulance for him, but she refused. Ahrens testified that Musso was moving very slowly and was clearly in pain from the beatings. The jury found Basso guilty of capital murder for murdering Musso during the course or kidnapping or attempting to kidnap him, and for remuneration or the promise of remuneration in the form of insurance proceeds.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented with information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trial – which is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.

Basso had no prior convictions at the trial but both Basso’s daughter and son-in-law testified to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse of her son. Basso also encouraged her husband to abuse both her son and daughter.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In June 1999, a Harris County grand jury indicted Basso for murdering Louis Musso during the course or kidnapping or attempting to kidnap him, and for remuneration or the promise of remuneration in the form of insurance proceeds.

A Harris County jury found Basso guilty of capital murder. After the jury recommended capital punishment, the court sentenced Basso to death. Judgment was entered Aug. 23, 1999.

On Jan. 15, 2003, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Basso’s direct appeal and affirmed her conviction and sentence.

On Oct. 6, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Basso’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

Basso also sought to appeal her conviction and sentence by filing an application for a state writ of habeas corpus with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. On Sept. 20, 2006, the State’s high court denied Basso’s application for state habeas relief.

On Sept. 20, 2007, Basso attempted to appeal her conviction and sentence in the federal district court for the Southern District of Texas. The federal district court denied her petition for federal writ of habeas corpus on Jan. 26, 2009.

On Jan. 5, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Basso’s request for certificate of appealability on her federal writ of habeas corpus.

On Oct. 4, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Basso’s petition for a writ of certiorari off federal habeas.

MISCELLANEOUS

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