Violent Texas man set to die for fireman's slaying

June 11, 2013 12:52:31 PM PDT
Convicted burglar Elroy Chester was out of prison and on probation when authorities say he embarked on a six-month crime spree in a southeast Texas neighborhood during which he killed five people, raped three others and stole from 25 homes.

Chester, 44, confessed to the five slayings and was set to die Wednesday evening for one of them -- the fatal shooting of a decorated Port Arthur firefighter who interrupted Chester while he was sexually assaulting the firefighter's two nieces during a home invasion.

Chester's attorneys sought to delay the punishment, contending Edith Jones, a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, was biased against Chester after comments attributed to her about the death penalty and his case during a February law school lecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

An affidavit from an attorney who attended the lecture described the judge's "outrage and incredulity" that Chester would claim mental impairment "in light of the crimes he committed," according Chester's attorney, Susan Orlansky.

Jones in 2011 was part of a majority 2-1 ruling denying Chester's claims he is mentally impaired and ineligible for execution. His lawyers wanted Jones to remove herself from the case and have a different judge now review that appeal.

Jones denied the motion Tuesday and dissented in a ruling from a three-judge panel that Chester's case be reassigned to another three-judge panel of the appeals court. James Dennis, one of the judges on the previous panel that included Jones, said Chester's scheduled execution should be postponed so the new panel had adequate time to consider the case.

"Chester's execution, of course, will moot those issues and any constitutional injury to his rights will be irreparable," Dennis said in his concurring opinion.

State attorneys had called the filing improper and "clearly a desperate, 11th-hour delay tactic." They also said 11 state and federal judges rejected Chester's mental impairment appeals over the years, while only one state and one federal judge found the arguments had merits.

Chester would be the seventh convicted killer executed this year in Texas and the 499th put to death in the state since Texas resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982 following a nearly two-decade-long hiatus.

Chester pleaded guilty to the February 1998 slaying of Willie Ryman III, 38, a two-time Port Arthur firefighter of the year, with a pistol he stole in a previous burglary. His plea left jurors to decide only his punishment.

He testified that if jurors gave him the death penalty, he'd "have one of my homies" kill a Port Arthur police officer who arrested him earlier for burglary. He said his rape victims were "lucky they ain't dead," and that committing crimes was "a whole lot of fun."

Chester, who is black, also said he hated white people because he had been assaulted while in prison. His victims, however, included blacks, whites and Hispanics, prosecutors said.

"When we started uncovering who was responsible, it became abundantly apparent how dangerous he was," Paul McWilliams, who prosecuted Chester, said last week.

A Jefferson County jury deliberated for 12 minutes before deciding Chester should die.

A description of her attacker by one of the slain firefighters' nieces led police to Chester at his father's home. They found clothing that matched the girls' attacker and jewelry taken from their home.

DNA evidence also tied him to the rapes. Ballistics tests matched his gun to the slayings of Ryman and four others.

Besides Ryman, Chester confessed to killing John Henry Sepeda, 78, and Etta Mae Stallings, 87, during burglaries; Cheryl DeLeon, 40, whom he stalked and fatally beat with his gun as she arrived home from work; and Albert Bolden Jr., 35, who was his brother-in-law and was shot in the head.

If Chester's punishment is carried out, a Dallas woman, Kimberly McCarthy, on June 26 could become the 500th Texas inmate executed in modern times.

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