Friday, April 16, 2010

Actual Innocence: Johnny Frank Garrett and Bubbles the Clairvoyant

The fine folks of Amarillo wanted justice, and wanted it toot-sweet. The Amarillo police were having trouble finding the low-life individual who raped and killed 76-year-old Sister Tadea Benz on Halloween night, 1981. The authorities had just released Fernando Flores, and that was embarrassing.

Flores had been arrested because witnesses saw a "Cuban" or a dark-skinned person outside the convent on the night of the murder. Flores fit the bill. He was Cuban, had dark skin, and black curly hair. More significantly, he had come to the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift. Among the refugees of that mass exodus were criminals and mental patients. They had been distributed by the U.S. government to cities throughout the U.S., and crime followed in their wake.

A witness identified Flores from a photo line-up as the individual seen near the convent on night of the murder. FBI testing of the crime scene evidence, however, did not lead to any matches with Flores. Flores was therefore released and the DA publicly apologized for his pre-mature "optimism" in "solving" the case.

Then the Amarillo law enforcement community got a big break, the kind that only comes from hard work. A local clairvoyant, referred to variously as Inez and "Bubbles", had a vision in which she saw the killer. Rather than contact the police, whom she claimed to have worked with previously, she called The Amarillo Daily News. The killer was a teenage male, five feet eleven inches tall, slender, olive complexion. He had dark hair and an "Abe Lincoln" face with large nose and ears. During the attack he wore an "Afro-type" wig and his face was half-black and half-white. He was somehow associated with the name "Clyde."

But wait, there was more. The killer lived in a small, white frame house with dirty hardwood floors. The house was located on the same street as the convent, Northeast 18th. The house faced the convent.

Bubbles and her fellow clairvoyant Allen (isn't that a kick in the head?) figured they should see if they could find the exact house. They cruised the neighborhood and, sure enough, came across a small, white frame house at 4000 NE 19th.  Lo! and Behold! There in the yard was a dog house with the name "Clyde" written on it.

A couple of days later, the Amarillo PD arrested Johnny Frank Garrett for the rape and murder of Sister Tadea Benz. He lived at 4000 NE 19th. He had an Abe Lincoln face, a slender build, and brown hair. He was 17 years old. More significantly, his fingerprint had been found on a bent butter knife found near the body. Another of his fingerprints had been found on the nun's headboard. 

According to the police version of events, after the release of Fernando Flores, a patrol officer recalled seeing Garrett beating some bushes with a stick on the night of the murder. When Garrett saw the officer, he ran into his house. That behavior was so suspicious, the police decided to check his prints against those found at the scene. Of the many unidentified prints at the crime scene, Garrett's prints matched two of them.

Pubic hairs found at the scene had the same characteristics as Garrett's. A steak knife found in the driveway to the convent matched steak knives found in Garrett's house. (Neither the steak knife or the bent butter knife had been used to stab the victim.) Garrett confessed, at least according to the police, without being recorded, after asking for an attorney, but then refused to sign the confession they had typed up, and denied making the confession.

A jailhouse snitch claimed Garrett told him that he had committed the murders. The state-contracted pathologist described the brutality inflicted upon the victim, and confirmed that semen had been found in a vaginal wash. There had been too little semen to test with the equipment he had available and, since no one asked him to keep it, he had disposed of the evidence.

Garrett testified in his own behalf. He claimed he sneaked into the convent  mid-day several days earlier to steal necklaces. He used the butter knife to pry open a locked cabinet. He must have left his fingerprint on the headboard when he reached across the bed to grab a cross hanging on the wall. A nun made mince meat of Garrett's testimony when she testified that no one could have sneaked in at that time without being seen, that no cabinets were kept locked, that Sister Benz never kept a cross above her bed, and that no items were missing from the convent.

The DA further minced Garrett's testimony with questions such as: 
  • "That is what is left of a 76-year-old virgin nun you killed and raped, isn't it?" [Holds up a large color photo.]
  • "Are they all lying? ... Why is everyone out to get you?"
  • "How did several of your pubic hairs get in Sister Tadea Benz room? ... Did they fall out, down your legs, over your shoes and socks, onto the floor?"
  • "Didn't it [the butter knife] get bent when you pushed it over her neck?" [Demonstrates.]
The answers were incidental because the questions weren't asked to inquire. They were asked to demean the witness and inflame the jury. Inflamed, the jury convicted the demeaned Garrett and sentenced him to death. In the midst of the years-long appeal process, the DA defended the verdict: "This is not a case beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond any shadow of a doubt." 

Nonetheless, .......

(And you knew there would be something more to this story.)

...... I scored Johnny Frank Garrett as having a 91% chance of being actually innocent of the crime, using my Actual Innocence ScoreCard system.

Garrett's case provides a good opportunity for discussing what I mean by the term "Actual Innocence." Quite simply, I mean the person being scored did not commit the crime or participate in the crime. I'm not arguing that Garrett should have been spared the needle because he was only 17 at the time, as some have argued. And I am not arguing that Garrett should have been spared because he had a low IQ, as others have argued. Nor would I be impressed by claims that the killing was an accident, or that the defendant was insane, though neither situation existed in this case. By Actual Innocence, I mean that the person being scored did not commit the crime or participate in the crime. Period.

I am not arguing that the person being scored is legally innocent. Legal innocence is for the juries and courts to decide. As matters stand, and as they will probably always stand, Johnny Frank Garrett was convicted by a jury of twelve peers, and multiple appellate rulings have found the trial to have been fair and proper. Johnny Frank Garrett is legally guilty, and he is certainly dead.

On the other hand, when I am attempting to score actual innocence, I am not bound only to that evidence heard by the jury, nor am I limited by the legal machinations of appellate justices loath to reverse a conviction. When scoring actual innocence, all available evidence relative to the case is open for consideration. I have no concern whether the evidence was discovered more than thirty days after the conviction (as is the absurd law in Texas), or should have been brought up during the trial (by an under paid and under qualified, court appointed attorney), or was ruled to be inadmissible by the court. I don't care. I want all the evidence, as much as I can get, and I'll decide how to weigh it as I fill out the scorecard.

I included evidence in my Actual Innocence ScoreCard then available but kept from the jury.
  • Numerous foreign prints not belonging to Garrett were found at the scene
  • Numerous foreign curly, black hairs not belonging to Garrett were found at the scene
  • A foreign, bloody V-neck T-shirt not belonging to Garrett was found at the scene
  • A foreign, athletic sock not belonging to Garrett was found at the scene
  • Shoe prints found outside the convent did not match Garrett's
  • Blood on an exit door was not tested by by the police
  • A 14-year-old boy testified, outside the presence of the jury, that he had gone with Garrett into the convent 2 days before the murder to steal necklaces, just as Garrett claimed.
The murder of Sister Tadea Benz was just the most recent in a long string of vicious assaults on elderly women living in the northeast section of Amarillo. As many as 10 elderly women had been beaten and raped since the arrival of those from the Mariel boat-lift. It was possible that someone among that group had brought evil to the plains of Texas.

Among that group was Fernando Flores, the person initially arrested for the rape and murder of Sister Benz. Also among that group was Leoncio Perez Rueda, Flores' friend and occasional room mate.  Just two weeks before the murder, Rueda had been arrested after being caught peeping in the window of an elderly woman in the same neighborhood as the convent. He was charged with trespassing, and released without being seriously investigated.

The most recent attack on an elderly woman from northeast Amarillo had occurred four months earlier. In July, Narnie Box Bryson, 77, had been beaten, raped, mutilated, and strangled to death, in her home, within walking distance of other similar and recent crime scenes. Remember the name: Narnie Box Bryson.

The DA and the investigators had initially taken the position that the two crimes were "too similar" not to have been committed by the "same man."
  • Witnesses reported a Hispanic male in the vicinity of each murder near the time of the each murder.
  • Both victims were associated with religious groups assisting Cuban refugees.
  • Both victims were elderly women, attacked in the early morning hours, raped, strangled with a rope or cord, and mutilated in similar fashion.
  • The murders occurred within blocks of each other, in the same part of town as 10 other rape victims.
  • Curly black hairs were found at the scene of each murder.
These parallels prompted the DA to tell the Amarillo Daily News: "I have a strong feeling that there is one person involved in the deaths of the Bryson woman and the nun."  However, the authorities made no effort to tie Garrett to the murder of Narnie Bryson, though semen found at that scene should have prompted comparative testing. Garrett's court-appointed defense attorney made no effort to use the similarities of the two crimes as exculpatory evidence for Garrett.

Johnny Frank Garrett was executed on February 11, 1992. He used his last words to proclaim his innocence, thank those who had tried to help him, and told everyone else they could kiss his ass.

Twelve years after Garrett's three injections, in March 2004, the Amarillo police department was informed by the Texas Department of Public safety that a random DNA match was made between semen samples collected from the body of Narnie Box Bryson, the woman killed four months before Sister Benz, and Leoncio Perez Rueda, the man caught peeping in the window of an elderly woman just two weeks prior to Sister Benz' murder. At the time of the murder, Rueda had been receiving assistance from Catholic Family Services and living with a Catholic family.

Five months after he was arrested, Rueda gave a jailhouse interview to Jesse Quackenbush, an attorney hired to by the Garrett family to clear Garrett's name. In that interview, Rueda admitted to sexually assaulting Narni Box Bryson and [insert dramatic drum roll here] a nun. He claimed, however, he was forced to rape the women by none other than [another drum roll here] Fernando Flores, his long time friend (some friend) and occasional room mate.

Rueda also admitted that she (I believe he meant Sister Benz) had previously given him a white, V-neck T-shirt, possibly the very T-shirt found near her body.

In January of 2005, Rueda pled guilty to the murder of Narnie Box Bryson. In return for his plea, he received a 45 year sentence, with the possibility of parole.

So there you have it. Johnny Frank Garrett was probably innocent but certainly executed.

And that brings us back to Bubbles the clairvoyant. How is that she failed to "see" Leoncio Perez Rueda as  person who killed Narnie Box Bryson, as the person who was caught peeping in the window of an elderly woman, and as the person who, by his own omission, raped Sister Tadea Benz? How is it that Bubbles instead "saw" so many specific details about Johnny Frank Garrett?

I suspect, of course, that Bubbles is no more clairvoyant that I am, no more clairvoyant than the last pimple on my pasty white butt. I invite her to prove me wrong by competing for James Randi's $1,000,000 prize for the first properly-controlled demonstration of psychic power.

I suspect (but cannot prove) that Bubbles instead obtained her insight about Johnny Frank Garrett from the Amarillo law enforcement community, and by that I include the district attorney's office. I suspect (but cannot prove) that Texas realized they had a weak case against Garrett and decided to contaminate the jury pool. Anticipating the possibility of a mildly competent defense attorney (they need not have worried), the State fed Bubbles the absurd story about Garrett wearing an Afro wig and having his face painted half-white and half-black. That would help them rebut any defense argument that black curly hairs were found at the scene, or that witnesses saw a dark-skinned individual near the convent on the night of the murder. (Again, they need not have worried.)

I suspect (but cannot prove) that Texas also compared Garrett's blood type against that of the semen donor from the Narnie Bryson rape, discovered they didn't match, and never spoke of it again.

I suspect (but cannot prove) that Texas did not pursue the death penalty in the case of Leoncio Perez Rueda, even though they had a DNA match between Rueda and the semen taken from Narnie Bryson, because they feared re-opening the Sister Benz case.

And I suspect, in fact I'm unfortunately confident, that such misconduct is all too common.

------------------

A Note From The Skeptical Juror
I add this note on 16 June 2012.

More than two years have passed since I wrote this post on Johnny Frank Garrett. In the interim, this post has received (and continues to receive) more hits than any other I have written.

Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that I should be spending at least as much time reviewing cases of people awaiting execution as I was spending reviewing cases of people already executed. No amount of writing can bring Johnny Frank Garrett back to life. On the other hand, I am unfortunately confident that there are scores of innocent people on death row awaiting execution, and living under horrific conditions as they wait.

Circumstances have pulled me to one case in particular, the case of Preston Hughes III. He has been sitting on death row for more than two decades awaiting execution by the people of Texas. He was convicted of murdering a young woman and her very young nephew in a dark, overgrown field in Houston.

The evidence against him is superficially compelling and seemingly irrefutable. The young woman used her dying breath to identify him to the police. The murder weapon was found in his apartment, as were her glasses. He confessed not just once, but twice.

Nonetheless I declare Preston Hughes to be absolutely, unequivocally innocent. Of that I have no doubt. My certainty has nothing to do with any personal involvement with the man, for I have yet communicate with him in any fashion. My certainty is based solely on the evidence of the case.

In a series of more than thirty extended posts, I have poured over the evidence in excruciating detail, but still I am not done. I'm guessing, and it is only a guess, that I have another twenty extended posts within me before I am finished demolishing the State's case. I have shown already that crucial evidence was manufactured by the Houston Police Department. I intend to show that the Houston PD was abetted by its infamous crime lab, and by the medical examiner's office. I intend to identify possible legal avenues for attacking and reversing his conviction. I intend to find competent, aggressive, pro bono counsel to represent him.

I intend not only to save Preston Hughes III from the needle, I intend to see him walk free.

I welcome you to join me. It will not be easy stepping so late into an investigation so complex and far advanced. I have therefore taken steps to assist you. I have prepared (and I attempt to maintain) a Table of Contents for all my posts related to the case of Preston Hughes. There you can read through the post summaries to gain an overview of where the investigation so far.

Also, at the bottom of each post, I have added navigation buttons that will help you move easily to the next or the previous, or to return to the Table of Contents. You can therefore insert yourself anywhere in the investigation as you wish, and move around easily from there. I suggest that you might want to begin on Shandra's Trail.

If you are sincerely troubled by the execution of an innocent person such as Johnny Frank Garrett, I hope you will become involved with (at least aware of) the case Preston Hughes III.

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

so sad.

Michael H. Fox said...

I have just seen the documentary for the second time. It is excellent, but I wonder if the director has sensationalized/created quotes that are not factual. One of the film's underlying premises is that the executed boy cast a curse on his antagonists and gave a last statement saying that "all of them could kiss my everlovin' ass." But the book "Texas Death Row," available on Amazon, which details the crimes, personal data, last meals and final statements of everyone executed since 1977, shows no last words or statement for Johnny. If the director or anyone else would like to correct what I perceive as fictive fluff, I will stand corrected. Still I recommend the DVD.

Michael H.Fox
Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Center
www.jiadep.org

Jack Jones said...

Just saw "The Last Call" last night. What a story! It's amazing all the bad stuff that happened to everyone involved with his prosecution in the end.

Michelle said...

I'm reading the book "Texas Death Row" and as is stated by Michael Fox (above)there is no last statement by Johnny.
When I started reading what Johnny had done, it turned my stomach, but I felt a need to google his name. From what I have read on the Internet it does appear that there has been a miscarriage of justice! I'm appalled to think that this boy was put to his death because someone would loose face.
I live in the UK and our system is very different to yours in the US, but is there no way a private case could be put before the courts by Johnny's parents or family?
God Bless Johnny's family and may he now rest in peace.

tsj said...

Michelle,

I'm not an attorney, so my response should be weighed in that light.

There are lots of cases where people have successfully sued the government for wrongful incarceration after a prisoner was legally exonerated. I'm unaware of any case where someone sued the government for the wrongful conviction of someone who has not been legally exonerated.

I suspect a case could be filed in the name of Johnny Frank Garrett. Anyone can file a case. I suspect, however, it would be tossed out by the judge as frivolous, since Garrett was legally convicted, legally executed, not legally exonerated, and only allegedly innocent.

Judges are allowed to prevent frivolous cases from going to trial. Consider for example a family suing you personally because you ordered aliens to abduct them, examine them, and return them to their house without leaving any evidence. They could file the suit, but it would not go to trial. The judge would exclude it as frivolous.

Hopefully, someone with some actual legal expertise will provide a better answer.

Anonymous said...

In theory, if the statute of limitations has not run, Garrett's family could file a wrongful death case against the state of Texas. Normally, Res Judicata applies in cases where a case has been adjudicated in criminal court since the burden of proof is higher for those cases than civil cases. But the complaining party could claim later discovery of evidence - in particular DNA evidence or post conviction confessions by the guilty party. Then you run into immunity issues for state officials and whether or not Texas permits these sorts of law suits. If it were me, I would sue all of the living people individually based on their misconduct, as well as jointly. This sad case shows a number of issues that are always evident. You have a false confession scenario involving a young kid with limited mental capabilities. You have the ever-present expert seer. You have poorly educated local officials who dine on old wive's tales and urban myths about crimes. You have the ever-present jail house informer who gets a cut on his sentence for lying about the accused. This case reminds me a great deal of the Memphis 3 case from Arkansas. Also, more recently, another case in Texas has been proven to have been faulty and it might be instructive in how to proceed. A case involving a purported arson led to the execution a few years ago of a most certainly innocent man who also claimed his innocence at execution. It was profiled in the NYT. Garrett's family might want to contact the lawyer for that case and see if he'll take them on for a cut of the punitive damages. Even if Garrett's family loses, they win -- they can punish the guilty parties with the press coming from the case.

tsj said...

I'm not an attorney, and I certainly mis-state matters of law on occasion, but I believe Garrett's family may be precluded from a wrongful death suit because Garrett has not been legally exonerated. Any wrongful prosecution case, and I believe this would be an extreme example of a wrongful prosecution case, requires that the would-be plaintiff had prevailed in court. As it stands now, Garrett remains guilty in the eyes of the law. That is a prima facie case that he was not wrongfully executed.

Steve said...

Pardon me, but I think there is a factual error in the article. Johnny Frank Garrett was executed on February 11, 1992, not March 1, of 2000.

The movie, The Last Word, also has at least one factual error. It shows the clock ticking down to 6:00 as the time of execution. Johnny Garrett was executed at midnight. The time of execution was not changed to 6:00 until 1995.

In spite of these minor flaws, I still find the whole case deeply, deeply disturbing. I have spoken and written against the death penalty, and Johnny Frank Garrett used to be my poster child about execution of juveniles and the execution of battered children. I was only recently made aware of the probability of the appalling miscarriage of justice involved in his prosecution.

tsj said...

Steve is correct about the date and time error. I corrected the date error in my post. The time error is beyond my reach.

Anonymous said...

there is a lot of people in amarillo that are upset about what happened to johnny. i'm glad that it is coming to light again. we love you johnny

tsj said...

Anon,

If you have any information about the case that you can and are willing to share, I'd like to hear about it. Email me at skepticaljuror@gmail.com

Steve said...

I think the people that are so anti-death penalty get a little caught up in any alternative explanation for excuted killers they can find. Not sure why my last post on this wasnt accepted but people who are trying to "prove" his "innocence" are intentionally leaving critical information out. Garrett was executed in Texas in 1992 for the rape and murder of a 79 year old nun, when he was 17. His defense brought in renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis to examine him. To his defense, she found him to have severe childhood trauma and significant brain damage. He also had multiple personalities, one of which ("Aaron") not only committed the rape and murder but described it to Dr. Lewis. This is why "Johnny" acted like he was innocent. He thought he was. All this stuff about a Cuban claiming the murder later have no support in facts. Why is there no mention of Otnow's book or posuition on this case here? Read Guilty By Reason of Insanity, 1998, Otnow-Lewis, Ivy Books, NY.

Anonymous said...

No matter what any book states, DNA evidence linking another individual to a crime very closely resembling the murder of Mrs. Bryson, and very close to the home of the murdered nun, cannot be ignored. The doctor whom professed that Johnny had another personality was not working for the defense. His own lawyers were not working for him, and seem to have too many ties to the proscecution. Its clear that many doctors are paid to state whatever state officials need them to testify, despite the fact that these professionals are under oath.

A confession from the Cuban man later convicted of the murder of Narnie Bryson, and his confession of the rape and murder of the nun in the same neighborhood cannot be ignored. Johnny was wrongfully convicted and executed, despite any brain injury, child abuse, or mutiple personality disorder he possibly endured or suffered. It seems a little hard for anyone to review the facts of this case, and not see it for what it was: a set-up. Johnny was an example of how politicians will refuse to admit mistakes in order to save face, and in order to ensure re-election. Unfortunetly, in our criminal justice system, closing a case as quickly as possible ("a means to an end") for the sake of re-election purposes, as well as to calm the minds and fears of the public are the only factors that seem to matter in some cases.

I feel so much sympathy for Johnny and his family, especially after viewing the documentary, The Last Word; it seems that his mother was not very clear on what legal rights her son had, and placed a lot of faith in the old belief that the truth will prevail. In this case, it certainly did not.

Anonymous said...

FREE The West Memphis Three

Anonymous said...

Only in the Texas judicial system. It's the good old boy system. Always has been and always will be. I would not be surprised of Johnny Garrett was actually completely innocent of this crime. Out of the many, many people Texas kills, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few more that this has happen to.

Frank L. Ludwig said...

LAST WORDS

I am currently researching the cases of Johnny Garrett and Carlos De Luna for a poem against the death penalty, in which the Skeptical Juror is assisting me.

As I am trying to stick to the facts, I looked into the discussion about his last words and checked the net. I didn't locate the original source for his quote, but I found it in a discussion forum, posted in July 2006 (http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?87381-Any-last-words-...), which - to my knowledge - was 2 years prior to the documentary. And while this doesn't prove that the quote isn't fictional, it does prove that at least it wasn't made up by the film director.

Anonymous said...

This case is a classic example that religion breeds ignorance. How many times over and over people kept mentioning prayer and God etc.. Yet according to the Bible (which they claim to believe in) God is shown to be a bringer of justice..and Jesus talks of protecting the innocent..Something that these phony Christians forgot all about. I am so sick and tired of phony Christians..People who use religion for their own purpose.

Karen said...

I just watched "The Last Word" last night and I was deeply disturbed by what happened to this poor family. Ignorance and crooked politicians led to this man's wrongful death and the family, due to poverty, have no idea what their legal rights are. Johnny's mother sent a letter requesting that the State of Texas exonerate her son and in return she would not bring suit. Texas instead sent her a nice note stating that they would not exonerate her son and if she tried to file any suit the State would counter-sue.

On top of the fact that the State will not admit to any wrong-doing, Johnny's family will have a difficult time clearing his name because DNA testing is not allowed on the executed and the State encourages all evidence be destroyed after execution.

I have a hard time reconciling my conscience with the death penalty because of Johnny Frank Garrett and so many cases like his. I truly believe that it is better for 100 guilty to walk free than for 1 innocent to be put through what Johnny faced. May those who did this to him face punishment many lifetimes over...

Keir said...

Shocked by this horrific case, and by the incompetence allowed by the state which still refuses to make any effort to admit its responsibility. In fact, has it sought to actually sue the victim's mother for seeking justice?

tsj said...

Keir,
I am unaware of any suit brought by Texas against Johnny Frank Garrett's mother.

If by victim you meant Sister Benz, I am unaware of any suit brought by Texas against her mother.

If you have information of such a suit, feel free to share it in a comment. Alternatively, you can write me directly at skepticaljuror@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

As a veteran prosecutor (24 years), I am always skeptical of other prosecutor's cases, but I have to say this: your analysis that the "clairvoyant" was "fed information", as you admit, is pure speculation. ASSUMING that any evidence lost or destroyed would have cleared Garrett is erroneous. Chiding another contributor for believing half of "Aaron's" story, and none of Johnny's, fails to recognize that, gosh, criminals DO lie, and they tell half truths.

Would I, as a juror, have convicted Garrett for the crime? Maybe or maybe not. I wasn't there to evaluate the evidence. But that's really not the question. The question is whether or not he got a fair trial.

I think there is more than ample evidence of his guilt. The fact that there were contrary witnesses doesn't surprise me at all. I have had cases where someone, years later, with nothing to lose, "confessed" to crimes where the evidence of the convicted party's guilt was overwhelming. I have had sexual assault victims "recant" their testimony years later, after making up with their attackers, even though DNA evidence proved the case. I have had numerous alibi witnesses and other defense witnesses parade through the courts over the years, largely to be destroyed on cross examination.

The premise that Texas is a "hang 'em first and ask questions later" state provides a stereotypical launch point for the Monday morning quartebacks. Texas has several safeguards for criminal defendants not found in the federal system or in other states. The prosecutors in the State are generally well meaning and conscientious. Law enforcement is not the "boogyman" that people want to believe.

Yes, we are tough. We don't like crime. We execute the heinous criminals who deserve it.

Texans would not have let Casey Anthony walk - is that so wrong?

Anonymous said...

@tsj

REALLY COUNSELOR!?! What about the fact that the appeal process failed as well, what about the fact that even the Govenor refused to touch the case? Do you really have fail in such a justice system. Aside from that, and knowing what you do now, do you honestly call this justice. A word of advice for you counselor: "Open your closed mind, and close your open mouth"!!

tsj said...

Just to clarify, the @tsj notation on the previous comment does not indicate that I am associated in any way with the comment. I do not endorse, edit, or delete comments. At least not yet.

Those who comment are free to speak their minds, though I ask for decorum and prefer reasoned argument to invective.

With regard to the vetern prosecutor's comment that I merely presume Bubbles was fed information about the case, I will concede the point. I presumed she was not in fact clairvoyant. Perhaps the veteran prosecutor would like to make the case that she was.

Anonymous said...

The documentary shows one of the jurors saying if they (jurors) had known there were other fingerprints, etc. etc. etc. they may have ruled differently. There was a lot of other evidence the jurors didn't see that could have put serious dents into the prosecutions case. But poor Johnny got stuck with inexperienced, idiotic counsel. That also happened for his appeals. It was the state that unfairly chose his counsel. Why did they do that for a capital case? Something must be wrong here. It certsainly isnt fair. It does make it look like he was railroaded by the good ole' boys.

Anonymous said...

After watching the excellent documentary "Last Word" this evening and reviewing other available writing on the subject of Johnny Frank Garrett, I am left with a nauseating feeling that I can't shake. There is no question in my mind that the State of Texas executed an innocent man 19 years ago. It is shameful that this travesty has not been corrected, at least as best as can be done now that an innocent man is long dead. How can the people of Amarillo live with themselves? Why are they not demonstrating outside the District Attorney's office right this minute? How can the fine people of Amarillo not find it in their heart to stand up for Johnny and his family still residing in the Amarillo area? I could not find one article in the sub-standard Amarillo newspaper even questioning the validity of the verdict after mountains of evidence that at a minimum raises significant reasonable doubt. Taken in totality, I believe that it proves innocence beyond a shadow of doubt. I am usually a death penalty supporter, but I feel my beliefs shifting - and after learning of this debacle, I can now be counted as an opponent.

God bless Johnny and his family and friends and I am glad that they are now at least finding some small measure of solace as people begin to open their eyes regarding the memory of a loving son and brother.

tsj said...

Anonymous,

You might consider also the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham and Frances Elaine Newton. I have two books available on the sidebar regarding Willingham and a post in this blog regarding Newton.

For a recent case consider Eric King of Arizona, of whom I wrote a five part series.

We not only execute the innocent in relatively small numbers, we imprison them in great numbers. I estimate we have a quarter million of our fellow citizens behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Search for "rate of wrongful conviction" in this blog.

Anonymous said...

I was there. Many of my friends were lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and the D.A. involved with this case I have no doubt whatsoever that this conviction was manufactured. I was witness to and heard discussions about numerous cases, payoffs, corruption, and I tried to make a difference. Money and power won. I lost my family and friends, and I would do it again. 40 convictions have been overturned in Texas, some convicts having served almost 30 years, before being freed with DNA tests. This is NOT just a Texas problem. You get just about as much justice as you can buy. It's that simple.

Anonymous said...

I went to school with Johnny and was in the same grade as his older brother Jesse...I lived in the Neighbor hood when it happen.. We even had a detective come to my house and ask us questions. If we seen anyone.. O knew Johnny was 100% GUILTY.. I was 19 or 20 yrs old at the time... I believed the The Police and the System... Now that I am 49yrs old today.. I have learn not to believe myself and I have learn not to believe other people... I am learning to except the TRUTH about most things in this Life. and the pure simple truth is, I DO NOT KNOW... But with this DNA.. Johnny is innocent... I know I had nothing to do with this injustice of one of my school mates.. But I am sorry for being a FOOL and believing things that I DID NOT KNOW...

Anonymous said...

I was only a school mate,, With everything I was told from the Media I to believed Johnny was guilty... Hell is too good for EVERYONE who KIlled Johnny Garrett... We as a people need to learn not to believe our own self.. but learn to listen to our self... The EVIL that killed Johnny is the Same EVIL that Killed Jesus Christ..

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
tsj said...

As you see above, I have removed a comment from this blog. It is the first time I have done so. I felt the commentor had become a bit too personal in his attacks against someone only remotely related to the case. (It wasn't me.)

Please argue the facts, express an opinion, and skip the invective.

A Voice of Sanity said...

Anonymous said: "Texans would not have let Casey Anthony walk - is that so wrong?"

Since Anthony is clearly innocent - it's no surprise for Texas although it IS clearly wrong.

Anonymous said...

Having just seen the documentary about Johnny Garrett I am left with a truly sick feeling... I have also felt undecided about the death penalty as a sentence. After becoming a mother I had thought to myself if, G*d forbid, someone harmed my child how would I feel then? After talking with my husband ( we have lively debates ) I do recall saying that if it were proven beyond ANY doubt that this person was the one who committed the "crime" against my child, I would have no problem with the death penalty. In fact, I think I said something like, "if the state doesn't do it then I probably would". However, after viewing this travesty that happened in the real world I now must admit that I am now against the death penalty. If this type of "justice" is allowed to happen even once then the death penalty should not be an option ever again. The state of Texas should be ASHAMED of how it responded to the mother after the execution. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME...

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of emotions on this post. Unfortunately, as a group, I do not believe we have all of the facts. What I do believe is that what happened to Johnny is wrong. Not because I believe he is innocent, but because I do not necessarily believe he is guilty. I think that for a government (any government) to execute someone for a crime there can be no doubt. The death penalty is not worth it if one innocent person is killed.
I agree that criminals do lie, but the legal system is far from perfect or fair and I think most of us as individuals are naturally prejudice in our thinking. I would challenge those of you that only saw "Last Word" to dig a little deeper before coming to a conclusion on this case, otherwise you are no better that those who assume guilt because someone else said it was so.
When I was 15 I drove the car while my boyfriend (18 at the time) went in and robbed a subway shop. A person in the store followed us and my boyfriend shot several shots at the car as the person followed behind us. Luckily the man was not harmed. We were caught and I was sentenced to 20 year do 10 and received a release date for 9 years later. After another inmate won an appeal, my case was reviewed and I was released after serving 6 years in prison
With that said I have been able to experience the true walk of the legal system first hand. It is not a walk you want to be a part of. There is injustice at every turn, but as much as the prosecutor stands behind the guilt of someone, I see advocates proclaim innocence long after DNA and other such testing proves guilt. Both are to blame in their own ways as far as I am concerned.
One post mentioned Cameron Todd Willingham. I do not think that Willingham should have been executed because of the circumstances behind his case (it you want to get mad about false testimony and coercion here you go) but I do not think Willingham was innocent. Actually after everything I have researched I believe he was guilty of killing his daughters. I do not think that the prosecutor had enough evidence to convict him of this though. They lied about the integrity of evidence to the jury and fabricated a conviction. It’s pretty sad to think he could be innocent. BUT he did not have to be innocent for an injustice to be done. Neither does Johnny. I think we miss that when discussing the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

so one told me that he did not do this crime,it was the richerson boy that killed that sister

Anonymous said...

Anyone that defends his execution can rot in hell and may no one have mercy on your soul.

Anonymous said...

I think that anonymous who served time in prison for driving the car during a robbery has a right to her own opinion but it is my belief that the prosecutors and the others involved knowingly executed an innocent man. My husband is currently serving life and 24 years in the State of Alabama for a crime that he did not commit. So yes, people lie. Not just those arrested, imprisoned, etc. However, I know that my husband is innocent and turned down a sweet deal because he believed that telling the truth on the stand would set him free. Our case is much different in that it is racially motivated but there was just as much cover-up and collusion involved. People in power have just that, the power to make innocent men and women guilty in the eyes of the public. We all know it. What is in the hearts of those individuals is what determines whether which path they choose. Let us not judge, lest we be judged. Man was not meant to decide who lives or dies. There is a higher power reserving that right. Thou shalt not kill. This is meant for one and all. There are ways to protect society from the criminally insane and pure evil individuals that inhabit this earth without murdering them. Also, I do not believe in Johnny's curse, I believe in his innocence. You cannot knowingly do wrong and expect to never reap the consequences of your actions. Again, there is higher power in charge of all of our fates. As far as the suicides go, I personally believe that those individuals were haunted with the knowledge that they participated in the murder of a human being. I would imagine that would be difficult to live with. Now at last, they have also been judged for their actions.

Anonymous said...

we like to call our selfs christians?? ARE WE??
I SEEN THE documentary Johnny cursed them
in the GOD OF JUSTICE

Exo 22:22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.
Exo 22:23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;
Exo 22:24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

Anonymous said...

Pro 26:2 As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.

Anonymous said...

I was also friends with Johnny for years...never once did I believe that he did that..he was a goodhearted and sweet person. I spent lots of time with Johnny..yes we were just kids...but honestly sometimes kids know moe than the idiot adults around them....may you always Rest In Peace my Friend.

Anonymous said...

I have a question....I'm not sure exactly how the legal system operates; however I'm wondering how would one go about trying to get him exonerated. I mean obviously DNA did not match him but rather another individual so why hasn't he been exonerated?

tsj said...

Anonymous,
I believe it is extremely unlikely that Texas will ever admit error in this case. While they have never conceded the executed (or even may have executed) an innocent person, they did exonerate one death row inmate posthumously. That was Timothy Cole. Search the internet for the name. You'll have no problem finding information for that case and how the posthumous exoneration came to be.

Anonymous said...

Where are copies of the letters that Johnny wrote on death row, particularly the one revealed in the documentary that was cursing all involved in Johnny's injustice? The letter was very intellect for a mentally handicapped young man.
Was the letter written in Johnny's behalf by someone else? Afterall, the sequence of events that led to the demise of all who partook in Johnny's injustice was revealed in the letter that I feel Johnny did not write.

ChristiMcCoy said...

I practice criminal defense law in Mississippi and handle some federal death penalty habeas proceedings.

Not familiar with Texas law, but surely there is a way to get the evidence/DNA to exonerate Johnny.

I am sure someone has thought of this before, but what about this:
Texas would contend that the DNA evidence belonged to Johnny, right? If it belongs to Johnny, then wouldn't it be personal property to pass through his estate? Could his Mother go through family court (chancery in MS) and ask that the evidence be given to her as his heir?

I sure would like a competent lab to test that evidence. I can see why Texas would not want the same thing. . .

I always like Ann Richards, but she really let everyone down in this case.

tsj said...

Christi,
The multi-year ongoing battle between Hank Skinner and Texas is whether or not the defendant has a right to have DNA tested. I think the case relates directly to your point. If Hank Skinner can't get the case DNA tested before they execute him, then it seems there is so way that a relative of Garrett would be able to get hold of DNA when someone's life is not at stake.

You are correct in that Texas has no desire to have any of its verdicts questioned in any fashion.

Anonymous said...

I think the documentary was great and what this town and the state of Texas done to this kid was horrible. But i also feel that his mother should not get to profit off of his death, she wronged him just as much. This kid had a horrible life, a horrible death and nothing but sadness and pain from beginning to end. His life starts out with him being slow and learning disabled, then raped and sold to other men by his step-father, then raped by another step-father and burned with cigars... where the hell was his mother?? Not only did she "NOT" protect him, she brought these people to him. This kid had no one to help him or protect him. No one in his family cared, no one in the community cared and he became an easy target for the greedy law officials who wanted a quick solved and closed case. And his last words and letter were wonderful and it seems a little justice was done, not by dark but maybe by God himself. People like Johnny should be helped not have these kind of things happen to them or others like him. I was so angry watching the documentary until the letter he wrote and his last words, i thought what he wrote was great, and sorry, kind of funny the things happened like they did to the people that help to murder him....

Anonymous said...

It was mere chance that I happened upon the documentary "The Last Word". When I checked it out of the public library I didn't even realize it was about Amarillo. I've lived in Amarillo for about 15 months, and after being completely shocked and disgusted by what happened to Johnny Garret as detailed by the documentary, I can tell you that I am not at all surprised that that could happen here. The small-mindedness here is amazing, as well as all the religious BS one has to listen to here on a daily basis. If it's that bad in 2012, I can only imagine what it was like in 1981. Johnny never really had a chance. What the corrupt lawyers, judges, doctors, district attorneys, and stupid Amarilloans did to Johnny Garret, they can do to any one of us.

Misterman337 said...

OK to our esteemed,prosecutor thank you for your years of service. Your assertion the we (Texas)would not have let Casey Anthony walk,is a slap to the face of your peers in Florida. Florida did not let her walk, a jury of her peers let her walk. Of course, you may know something about jury selection and persuasion in Texas that we lay people don't. But I think that all of the talk about deadlines to file motions and submit evidence when a man is on death row is ridiculous. Prosecutors are just like the marksman that may have fired the blank cartridge, in a firing squad: you are absolved of any feelings of guilt, because "Lady Justice is blind". People in the judicial industry are wired different, most other occupations, from doctor, to police officer, oil and gas worker; to mistakenly kill someone is devastating, but not to judges, prosecutors, and governors. In industry, if we make a mistake, we perform what's called a root cause failure analysis, we don't suppress evidence, we wanna know if we were at fault and if we could have done anything different. Even wardens have stepped down after not being able to deal with doubt surrounding some executions. But the "truth" that a prosecutor narrates, is the only "truth" they will accept, and they will suppress,discredit, and ultimately undermine anything to the contrary. And the arbitrary notion of a "Fair trial" is all it takes for you to sleep at night. Guilt or innocence is just a statistic to you. "Justice" is personified as this deity that meanders along this unpredictable path, and if there is collateral damage, then no one is at fault because that's the will of justice.

tsj said...

Misterman,
You raise some good points about prosecutor responsibility. I hope to write about that sometime.

Alison said...

I was reading an article from the Texas Observer published in 1992 which had a few interesting tidbits. Just two days before Garrett's original Jan 7th execution date, Ann Richards granted a 30-day reprieve and transferred the case to the Pardons and Paroles Board. The article refers to the hearing that ensued as unprecedented. What was unprecedented about it? Quackenbush glossed over this in the documentary a bit only mentioning the outcome of the hearing.

The article also quoted Danny Hill as claiming Garrett had stabbed a fellow Death Row inmate. Does anyone know if this was true? I personally do not know how anyone could believe a word that guy said.

Finally this article made me think about the possibility that Johnny Frank Garrett may be a free man today or at least on his way to being a free man. Had the Pardons and Paroles Board voted to commute Garrett's sentence to life and in light of the Rueda confession and DNA etc., could Johnny Frank have his case re-opened? With the right team of attorneys prepared to debunk the entire case could it happen? Or would the same system that caused this mess prevent it from being fixed?

The best we can hope for is that one day Garrett will be exonerated posthumously, which does not look like it is going to happen any time soon.

(Sorry I am not very knowledgeable on legal matters of this magnitude just very interested in this case.)

Anonymous said...

I moved there end of jan. 81. My girl friend and I with her son. A month or so prior to the sister's death.My girlfriend and I were at the hospital E.R. her son had chewed a box of asprin gum we were there after midnight early before the sun came up we are sitting there.E.M.T'S came running in with a women on a gurney. She looked awful has a husband or male friend come in. We are sitting there trying to guess what has happend fire,car crash what? the women tells her husband she has been beating up and raped. That this A hole tried to bite one of her breast off. She says he's black doesn't speak english to well. All of this went on for month's cop's knowing a black man that didn't speak english well.We moved to Elpaso just before JAN. 82 never heard more about it. Moved here and there forgot all about it. Tell I Saw the movie but I am shocked & scared to think in are country this poor kid who doesn't match the profile,is slow and don't know his rights could get railroaded to the death house. SHAME ON YOU AMARILLO,SHAME ON YOU TEXAS AND SHAME ON THE GOVEROR OF TEXAS AT THE TIME.I HAVE SEEN FIRST HAND HOW TEXAS WORK'S.TEXAS THERE ARE SOME GOOD PEOPLE THERE BUT YOU LET IDIOT'S WITH THIS BUBBA'S RIGHT AND GOD ON HIS SIDE ATTATUDE. THIS POOR POOR MOTHER HER SON COULD HAVE BEEN ANY1 OF ARE SONS. I WISH TEXAS WAS ANOTHER COUNTRY THAT WAY. I COULD SAY AT LEAST WE HAVE RIGHT'S HERE. THIS POOR POOR MOTHER HER SONS LIFE TAKEN HIS NAME AND HERS RUINED.IT IS REALLY IRONIC AND PROFOUND THAT IN THE HEART OF THE BIBLE BELT. A KID BORN ON CHRISTMAS EVE AND IS INNOCENT IS ACCUSSED OF THE HORRIFIC RAPE AND MURDER OF A NUN ON A HALLOWEEN NIGHT AND PEOPLE WHO CLAIM TO FOLLOW JESUS. I WOULDN'T BE SURPRIZED IF THE ONE'S INVOLED IN THIS KIDS MURDER AND RAIL ROADING DID NOT HAVE ACESTORS THROWING CHRIST TO THE ROMANS. IF YOU ALL HAD ANY PRIDE AT ALL YOU WOULD CLEAR THIS POOR MOTHER'S SONS NAME AND BEG FOR FORGIVENESS. P.S. HOPE THAT WHEN YOU STAND BEFORE GOD HE DOESN'T JUDGE YOU THE WAY YOU DID THIS KID. ANONYMOUS BUT VERY GRATEFUL I DON'T LIVE IN TEXAS...ANYMORE

Crafton Barnes said...

Absolute Texas insanity. Multiple Personality Disorder is NOT a clinical term anymore either. There is NO such thing as multiple personalities. This 17 year old CHILD was railroaded and thrown to the wolves to stop a hillbilly group panic attack. I am personally disgusted with this family's torment and loss at the hands of inexperienced law enforcement and so called "psychics" who obviously could SEE Johnny at any given time living in that house with it's dog house blaring the name "Clyde" for all the world to see. Disgusting. She should be the one they bring a defamation suit against. How can we make THAT happen? I would gladly donate my resources to see it happen.

Anonymous said...

This is very sad. I see the justice system all across America run by political groups and corrupt lawyers and judges. Our liberties at every level are disinigrating as the governments on a local and national level no longer acknowledge our rights as outlined in the constitution. The so called Christians are such hypicrits. The feeling I get from johnny is that he was hoping that the truth would set him free. The confidence he displayed in his final moments and how he handled himself shows that judging a man based on the IQ is also wrong. He had a horrible childhood and no matter, he still was kind and a decent person. He was not book educated, but that means nothing? I have very little faith in our legal system and or government. I have very little faith in people. I know this injustice would never happen to a wealthy person. It's wrong that we as a nation are so rich but so poor to see that all are treated equal. Hypocrites are the majority of Americans.

Anonymous said...

Wow, anything for a win.
Let's make the angry masses happy by sacrificing someone. Poor poor choices by the people who are supposed to trust.

Anonymous said...

I was a field patrolman when Johnny and Jessie were juveniles.
They were scum. Several times drug them to mamma having caught them out window peeping. Momma could never accept her boys were wrong. Justice was served, all else is hype and monna looking for $,

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