Homeless man to die for killing helpful woman

October 29, 2008 10:28:30 AM PDT
Donna Duncan Vick's kindness to the homeless took her life. Now one of two homeless men condemned for her murder more than 10 years ago is set to pay with his.

Gregory Wright faced lethal injection Thursday, two days before his 43rd birthday, for fatally stabbing the widow at her home in DeSoto, about 15 miles south of Dallas. Like the generosity she had shared with others, the 52-year-old woman provided Wright and a companion food, shelter and money.

Wright, who grew up in northern Kentucky, would be the 14th prisoner executed this year in the nation's busiest capital punishment state, the second this week and fifth this month. Six more are set to die in November.

Appeals claiming evidence of Wright's innocence were turned down Tuesday by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and Wright's lawyers went to the federal courts to try to keep him alive.

Wright insisted he wasn't involved in Vick's slaying and that an acquaintance, John Adams, also on death row, was solely responsible.

"He blamed everything on me," Wright said recently from a tiny visiting cage outside Texas death row. "I'm very upset. It's a nightmare."

At Wright's trial, prosecutors told jurors the pair participated in the fatal stabbing, then packed up items from inside the house, drove off in Vick's car and traded the loot for crack cocaine.

A day and a half after the murder, Adams turned himself in to police, implicated Wright, directed officers to Vick's home and helped in the recovery of her car. DNA tests of blood on the steering wheel of the car was shown to belong to Wright. His bloody fingerprint also was found on a pillowcase on her bed, according to court records.

"What I remember that stands out is just how he took advantage of the victim's charity," recalled Greg Davis, the Dallas County district attorney who prosecuted Wright. "She was very Christian, very charitable. He was on the streets. She helped him. She took him into her home, gave him money, bought clothes for him. She was as good to him as she could be."

From prison, Wright said he'd lost his commercial truck driving license, and trucker livelihood, because of a drinking offense. He was on the streets in Dallas, getting money by holding up a cardboard sign at stop lights.

A particularly effective sign he used said: "I need a beer."

"Why lie? It worked," said Wright, whose trucker CB handle was "Maverick."

He said he eventually moved to Lancaster, where his "Work for food" sign attracted the attention of Vick, who lived in nearby DeSoto.

"She wanted to know if I mowed lawns, did odd jobs," he said.

After working for her for about a week, he said Vick asked him if he knew of anyone else she could help.

"I thought of Mr. Adams," he said, referring to another homeless man he had befriended. "What a mistake that wound up being. ... We had the right intentions. We thought we were doing the right thing."

He said Adams and Vick got into an argument about Adams smoking at her house.

"Everything went downhill from there," Wright said. "She ended up dead the next morning."

From prison, he wouldn't discuss the particulars of the crime, except to maintain his innocence.

According to Adams' statement to police, he said he watched Wright stab the woman as she lay in her bed. Evidence showed both men traded items taken from her home for drugs within hours of her slaying.

"They took her property directly to a crack house in Dallas and sold it for crack cocaine," Davis said. "We had DNA evidence, her blood on (Wright's) bluejeans. In addition, we had him identified as the person who sold the items at the crack house."

Wright, whose lawyers disputed the accuracy of the prosecution evidence, said he was trying to keep a positive attitude as his execution date neared.

"But this is a very serious situation, being killed," he said.

Adams was tried separately after Wright. He does not have an execution date.

Scheduled to die next is Elkie Taylor, 47, on Nov. 6. Taylor was condemned for strangling a 65-year-old Fort Worth man in 1993 with two wire coat hangers and then leading police on a four-hour chase in a stolen 18-wheeler. Authorities said the robbery and murder of Otis Flake at Flake's Fort Worth home was the second killing linked to Taylor over an 11-day period.

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