Death Watch: Two More Executions Will Make Three in Five Weeks

Executions accelerate in 2015

Death Watch: Two More Executions Will Make Three in Five Weeks

Texas has set a brisk pace for executions in 2015: Two men are scheduled for the gurney this week, which will bring the tally to three in the first five weeks of the year. That would have been four, but Garcia Glen White received a stay Tuesday, Jan. 27, of his scheduled Jan. 28 execution.

White was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murders of Bonita Edwards and her twin 16-year-old daughters, Annette and Bernette (see "Death Watch: Homicide, Drugs, Mental Incapacity," Jan. 23). Earlier this month, his attorneys Mandy Miller and Patrick McCann had asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to consider White's "borderline intelligence," as well as the murky situation surrounding his 1995 confession (which he offered without counsel despite indicating to authorities that he'd prefer an attorney be present). Miller and McCann also asked the judges to appoint a special administrator to ensure that the drugs used to kill White wouldn't cause any constitutionally barred suffering.

Miller told the Chronicle on Tuesday that the CCA did not explain why it had decided to stay the execution, only providing that a reprieve had been issued. Said Miller: "That's a good thing."

Robert Charles Ladd is set for execution today, Thursday, Jan. 29. The 57-year-old was convicted of raping and killing Tyler resident Vickie Ann Gardner in 1997, while he was out on parole for the 1978 murders of Dallas woman Vivian Thompson and her two infant children, Latoya and Maurice.

After being handed his death sentence in August 1997, Ladd and attorney Sydney Young stayed quite busy trying to spare his life. Ladd was originally scheduled for execution in April 2003, but he received a last-minute stay after Young dug up records indicating Ladd had scored 67 on an IQ test when he was 13. (The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that anyone with an IQ below "approximately 70" is mentally incompetent and thus ineligible for the death penalty. Prison testing conducted in 1978 registered Ladd's IQ at 86.) In the end, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the finding that Ladd was competent, and he was sent back to death row.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal last October, and Ladd was briefly scheduled for execution on Dec. 11, 2014. That date got rejected by the Texas Depart­ment of Crim­inal Justice, and on Dec. 4, he received the January execution date.

Donald Keith Newbury
Donald Keith Newbury

Last week, through American Civil Lib­erties Union attorney Brian Stull, Ladd filed for a stay of execution on the grounds of mental incompetence.

The state will follow Ladd's execution with Donald Keith Newbury's on Wed­nes­day, Feb. 4. The 52-year-old made national headlines 14 years ago when he and six other inmates escaped from the John B. Connally Unit 60 miles south of San Antonio and embarked on a six-week crime spree through Texas and Colorado.

Newbury – an experienced burglar serving a 99-year sentence for the 1997 robbery and aggravated assault of a woman in an Austin-area hotel – and his six cohorts escaped from Connally Unit on Dec. 13, 2000, by overpowering nine civilian maintenance supervisors, four correctional officers, and three unassociated inmates, stealing their money and clothes, robbing the prison armory, and making off in a truck owned by the prison. They left the truck at a Wal-Mart in nearby Kenedy; the next day, they robbed a Pearland Radio Shack.

No one caught a trace of the "Texas Seven" for two weeks. But on Christmas Eve in Irving, Texas, an off-duty cop responded to a call reporting that Newbury and his fellow escapees were in the midst of robbing an Oshman's Sporting Goods. The cop, 29-year-old Aubrey Hawkins, showed up at the store, immediately came under fire, and was ultimately shot 11 times. Newbury and company completed the robbery (reportedly stealing at least 40 more guns in the process), ran over Hawkins' body with the truck they'd also stolen, and set off for Colorado, eventually settling into an RV park outside of Colorado Springs. They spent the first weeks of 2001 posing as a religious group within the area.

Hawkins' murder set off a multistate manhunt. One man, Larry Harper, killed himself when he learned that authorities were closing in on them. Four of the remaining escapees were found in the RV park on Jan. 21. Two days later, authorities arrested Newbury and one other in a Colorado Springs hotel.

Newbury had amassed a long rap sheet before he went to prison in 1997. He was arrested at the age of 18 for robbery. Awaiting trial in Travis County Jail, he got in a fight, was sent to a section of the jail for misbehaving inmates, and became part of a failed escape attempt. He got a 10-year sentence for the robbery, was eventually released, but stopped reporting to his parole officer after he decided he might be accused of a robbery committed by his roommate. While in violation of his parole, Newbury robbed a Chief Auto Parts and went back to prison on a 15-year sentence. Out on parole after five years, Newbury struggled to support his extended family and began committing robberies again after losing a job.

At Newbury's trial for the murder of Hawkins, defense attorneys tried to portray him as a product of his abusive upbringing, citing an absent father, unloving mother and sister, and other troubles at home. The jury, unmoved, sentenced him to death, along with the other surviving members of the Texas Seven. Two of the men, George Rivas and George Rodriguez, were executed in 2012 and 2008, respectively.

Attorney William Harris has filed a number of appeals claiming insufficient counsel during Newbury's trial. In 2012, Newbury won a stay of his original execution date – Feb. 1, 2012 – after Harris argued that New­bury should be spared while justices consider an Arizona case that questioned whether death row inmates are entitled to a certain standard of counsel during initial appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court also ordered a review of allegations (for all four of the remaining Texas Seven) in June 2013, but the 5th Circuit of Appeals upheld the sentences during that review in early July. On Jan. 2, 2014, a final motion for a stay of execution was denied.

If Ladd and Newbury are both executed, they will be the 522nd and 523rd inmates executed since Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

capital punishment, death penalty, Texas Seven, Garcia Glen White, Robert Charles Ladd, Donald Keith Newbury

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