Dallas woman's killer faces execution

June 11, 2008 4:17:02 AM PDT
Condemned prisoner Karl Eugene Chamberlain says he had run out of excuses when he owned up to the rape-slaying of a Dallas woman 17 years ago."If the best thing I can do for my victim is die, I'll do that," Chamberlain, 37, said recently from death row outside Livingston.

He was set to die Wednesday in Huntsville for killing Felecia Prechtl, a 30-year-old single mom with a 5-year-old son, at her apartment in 1991. At the time, Chamberlain was living in the same apartment complex.

"I'm so terribly sorry for what I did," Chamberlain told The Associated Press. "I wish I'd had the courage to kill myself instead."

Lawyers for Chamberlain were at the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a reprieve and a review of his case. In their arguments, attorneys contended Chamberlain's initial appeals attorney following his conviction was inept. Since indigent capital murder convicts have a right to lawyers, the state should "provide counsel who are both competent and who provide effective legal assistance to their clients," the appeal said.

Precthl's slaying went unsolved for five years until a thumbprint lifted from a roll of duct tape used to bind her led detectives to Chamberlain, a former neighbor. His print surfaced in a database after he was arrested and received probation for an attempted robbery in Houston.

When he was taken into custody, he confessed to the killing.

"I was weeping so bad I was incoherent," Chamberlain said of signing the confession. "I don't want to say they treated me horribly, but I don't think they treated me fairly or justly. They took advantage."

While acknowledging his guilt, Chamberlain insisted prosecutors, jurors and his trial lawyers ignored the fact that while on probation he managed to stay out of trouble. And that, combined with what he said was their failure to consider an abusive childhood, should have mitigated prosecution arguments that he posed a future danger ? one of the questions jurors consider when deciding whether to impose the death penalty.

"I think my role in life would be better served to live my life in prison, knowing that nothing I could ever do could make up for what I have done, but still try anyway," he said.

Prosecutors characterized the Plano East High School graduate as a sexual predator.

"That's what the jury caught ? the predatory nature of the crime," said Toby Shook, the former Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case. "He waited and watched and pounced on the victim."

Relatives had taken Prechtl's 5-year-old son to a video store to get a movie while she got ready to go out with friends. Chamberlain knocked on her door and asked to borrow some sugar. After she filled the request, he returned with a rifle and the roll of duct tape, attacked her and shot her in the head.

"It makes absolutely no sense," Chamberlain said from prison. "It was like I lost all control."

When Prechtl's son and babysitters returned home, they found her body in a bathroom.

"That image is hard to forget," Shook said.

After 26 executions in Texas last year, Chamberlain's lethal injection would be the first in the state in nearly nine months.

Executions around the nation were on hold since late September after two Kentucky prisoners challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures. When the U.S. Supreme Court in April upheld the method, the de facto moratorium was lifted and executions resumed.

Chamberlain would be the sixth prisoner executed nationally this year, all in recent weeks. He's among at least 13 Texas inmates with execution dates in the coming months.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals late Monday refused to stop Chamberlain's punishment. The court also lifted a reprieve it gave a week ago to another Texas inmate, Derrick Sonnier, just 90 minutes before he was supposed to be executed for killing a suburban Houston woman and her young son. Sonnier, like Chamberlain, had argued the Texas lethal injection procedures were unconstitutionally cruel.

Lawyers for both condemned inmates had cited unresolved cases before the Court of Criminal Appeals that raised the same issues. The appeals court Monday also dispensed with those cases, clearing the way for executions in Texas to resume.

Another execution is set for next week in Huntsville. Charles Hood faces injection June 17 for the slayings of Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace at Williamson's suburban Dallas home in 1989.

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