The Year That Wasn't

Top 10 Executions of 2000

2000 was a very good year for Texas executions. Indeed, it was the best ever: 40 living souls bucked their last mile on the Huntsville Bronco, *easily surpassing the previous record of 37, set in 1997.

Along the way this year we set some particular headstones:

1. Gary Graham, June 22. The Graham case became a subject of national and international protest, sparking weeklong demonstrations outside the state Republican convention and a large demonstration outside the Ellis Unit for the execution.

2. Larry Robison, January 21. Robison was a paranoid schizophrenic. When his family tried to get medical help, they were turned down because he'd "never been violent." After he slaughtered five people, evidence of his mental illness was ruled inadmissible at trial. Robison tried twice to commit suicide in jail, and was twice revived to resume his death watch.

3. Odell Barnes, March 1. Evidence against Barnes may have been directly tainted by prosecutors and almost certainly pointed to another suspect. Last words: "Life has not been that good to me, but I believe that now, after meeting so many people who support me in this, that all things will come to an end, and may this be fruit of better judgments for the future."

4. Juan Soria, July 26. Soria repeatedly tried to kill himself in prison before the state finally completed the job, and he nearly succeeded in severing the hand of an elderly death row minister. Last words: "We know that Allah is with us now and forever. They say I am going to have surgery, so I guess I will see everyone after this surgery is performed. It is finished."

5. Betty Lou Beets, February 24. Beets, a victim of lifelong physical abuse from parents and spouses, was defended by an attorney who attempted to market her story for his own profit, and who was later disbarred. At her death, the frail, 62-year-old Beets was brain-damaged from childhood beatings and nearly deaf, but apparently remained a continuing threat to society.

6. Ponchai Wilkerson, March 14. Wilkerson refused to cooperate with the preparations for his death, and was overheard to say, "The secret, as of Wilkerson," before he coughed and spit out a handcuff key, leaving a minor mystery for his keepers and executioners.

7. Billy Hughes Jr., January 24. Convicted of the 1976 murder of state trooper Mark Frederick during a highway stop, Hughes maintained his innocence for 24 years (at the time the longest stay on death row). Selected last words: "I want the guys to know out there not to give up, not to give in, that I hope someday the madness in the system, something will come about, something will be resolved."

8. Miguel Flores, November 10. The Mexican-born Flores is one of a series of foreign defendants who were denied consular rights on arrest, and the psychiatrist who ruled him a continuing danger to society never met him. Last words: "I want to say I am sorry and I say a prayer today for you so you can have peace and I hope that you can forgive me. God is waiting and God is waiting now."

9. Brian Roberson and Oliver Cruz, August 9. In what the AG's office called "a coincidence," the 27th and 28th executions of 2000 were a twofer. Roberson died, angry and defiant, for the 1986 murders of his elderly Dallas neighbors James and Lillian Boots. Selected last words: "To all of the racist white folks in America that hate black folks and to all of the black folks in America that hate themselves, the infamous words of my famous legendary brother, Nat Turner: 'Y'all kiss my black ass.'" Cruz was executed despite evidence that he was mentally retarded, with an IQ of 63. Selected last words: "I am sorry. I am sorry for hurting my family, for hurting my friends. Jesus forgive me. Take me home with you. I am ready. I love you all."

10. James Beathard, December 9, 1999. Strictly speaking, Beathard belongs to last year's Huntsville Hit Parade, but we included him in this year's cut. Beathard, convicted in a 1984 triple-murder in Trinity County, was probably not guilty and certainly received an inadequate defense: His original lawyer was working simultaneously for him and for his chief accuser, who later confessed to the crime and to using Beathard as a "patsy." On the eve of Beathard's execution, the prosecutor recalled "evidence" which never existed.

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