Death Watch: Rayford, Battaglia
Huntsville heats up
William Rayford faces his first execution date on Tuesday, Jan. 30, for the 1999 kidnapping and murder of ex-girlfriend Carol Hall. The 64-year-old Dallas native was on parole at the time, as part of a 23-year sentence for murdering his wife.
Last week, Rayford's attorney Bruce Anton asked that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stay Rayford's execution on grounds that testimony suggesting that Rayford's race could make him a future threat played a role in his sentence. The appeal also challenges the work of Rayford's trial attorneys, who failed to raise the issue of their client's mental health (brain damage brought on from lead poisoning), and did not pursue other alleged evidence. Anton also cites Rayford's 16 years on death row as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Rayford appealed for a new trial in 2012 on similar grounds, unsuccessfully.
Meanwhile, John Battaglia is up again – scheduled for death on Thursday, Feb. 1. He's been in Livingston since May of 2002, after he was convicted of killing his two young daughters while on the phone with their mother, his ex-wife. He narrowly avoided execution in March of 2016 when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay so the trial court could consider claims of competency ("Matters of Incompetence," Dec. 2, 2016), but in September the Court of Criminal Appeals found Battaglia competent to face his execution. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in December; justices have yet to rule.
Rayford and Battaglia would be the second and third inmates executed in the new year. Huntsville has three others already on the calendar for this spring, including Thomas Whitaker on Feb. 22. In 2003, Whitaker plotted to have his brother and parents killed by a hit man. His brother and mother died; his father, Kent, was shot in the chest but survived. Kent has never sought death for his son, and earlier this month appealed to the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles that they recommend Gov. Greg Abbott commute Thomas' sentence to life in prison.