Death Watch: Unhappy New Year

Masterson found guilty of capital murder of Shane Honeycutt, set to die Jan. 20

Texas goes to the gurney Wednesday, Jan. 20, with its first execution of the calendar year. Set to die is Richard Allen Master­son, 43, who's spent the past 14 years on death row for the murder of Darin Shane Honey­cutt. Masterson and Honeycutt knew each other for very little time. They met at a gay bar in Houston just before 2am on Jan. 26, 2001. Dressed in drag that night, Honeycutt introduced himself as Brandi Houston. He offered Masterson a ride home from the bar and on the way proposed that they go back to Honeycutt's apartment for the night. On the morning of Jan. 27, a friend, Larry Brown, coerced Honeycutt's landlord into letting him into the apartment, and found his friend Shane naked and not breathing on his bed.

Masterson had stolen Honeycutt's car and hightailed to Georgia. He was later arrested in Florida – picked up for stealing a second car – and brought back to Harris County. Jurors reportedly took only 90 minutes to determine his sentence.

Unquestioned during the trial was whether Masterson killed Honeycutt – he admitted as much on his return to Houston. During an interrogation, in which no attorney was present, he allegedly "add[ed] elements that would elevate the case to capital murder," saying he'd rather die than serve a life sentence. But the way in which he killed his recent acquaintance – and whether or not he intended to kill him – was not so easily discernible. He said in a statement during the interrogation (which played to jurors at trial over objections from his attorney) that he killed Honeycutt by putting him into a sleeper hold as soon as the two undressed, and that he never actually planned to have sex with him that night. "Something just told me in my mind – I said to myself that I was going to kill him," Masterson said.

However, Masterson recanted on those statements in his trial testimony, saying that he lied about his actions because he was too embarrassed to tell the officer taking the confession that he planned to have sex with a man. Instead, he said, Honeycutt requested that Masterson choke him during sex. Something "went wrong" and Honeycutt fell forward, gurgling. Masterson said he got up and left the room; when he came back, Honey­cutt was dead.

The jurors didn't think long on Masterson's intentions, finding him guilty of capital murder. During the punishment phase, a litany of witnesses were brought out to testify to Master­son's violent past – including accusations of domestic violence and reported incidents while incarcerated – and the jury ruled that he represented a future danger to society. It did not help his cause that, against his attorneys' wishes, he testified that he would defend himself in prison, "whether it's against a guard or inmate or anybody else by any means necessary."

Masterson had very little chance of winning his trial all along. In a Jan. 2012 letter written to his judge, Masterson claimed his attorneys had been assigned to his case only "a few weeks" before jury selection, and that the investigator hired to "ask questions about the deceased['s] background and sex practices" never questioned Master­son, among other concerns. A Dec. 2011 letter to that same judge elaborated further, listing a number of individuals charged with heinous crimes who received lesser sentences. "They all had good lawyers they paid," he wrote. "Poor people like me get death."

Masterson has railed against his attorneys in letters and waffled on attempts to withdraw various petitions for relief. He's now represented by D.C. attorney Gregory Gardner, who on Dec. 21 filed an application requesting that Masterson be assigned to an expert doctor for a brain scan to determine whether he suffers from organic brain damage. That request was granted Dec. 22, giving Master­son 29 days to complete the necessary procedures. Gardner has not replied to the Chronicle's requests for updates.

Masterson would be the 13th Texan executed under Gov. Greg Abbott's reign and the 532nd since the state's 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty. Six inmates are currently on the death row docket with set dates, including James Freeman on Wednes­day, Jan. 27.

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Texas execution, Richard Allen Masterson, Shane Honeycutt, Gregory Gardner, Patrick McCann

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