Three killers lose US Supreme Court appeals

January 14, 2008 2:46:06 PM PST
A former Houston security guard convicted of a shooting spree that left four people dead, including his ex-girlfriend and her two children, was among three condemned Texas prisoners to lose appeals Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices refused to review the case of Virgil Martinez, convicted of the October 1996 rampage at his former girlfriend's mobile home near Alvin, south of Houston. The court also declined to hear the cases of David Lewis, convicted of killing a Lufkin woman during a burglary of her home almost 21 years ago, and Jeffery Lee Wood, convicted of killing a convenience store clerk during a January 1996 robbery in Kerrville.

The court actions move all three men close to execution although none has a scheduled death date.

Prosecutors in Texas have withheld requesting execution dates pending the outcome of a Supreme Court case out of Kentucky that challenges the drugs used in lethal injections as unconstitutionally cruel. The justices heard arguments on that case last week and a decision is expected by the end of the court's term in June.

In the case of Martinez, now 40, witnesses saw him shoot his ex-girlfriend, Veronica Fuentes, in the front yard of the Alvin trailer park. Police found 10 to 12 bullets in her body. Her two children, Cassandra, 3, and Joshua, 6, were dead in their beds. Both had been shot in the head at point-blank range.

Records show Martinez also shot John Gomez, 18, a neighbor, seven times as he ran to Fuentes' aid. Before he died, Gomez was able to tell police Fuentes' ex-boyfriend shot him.

Martinez was convicted of three counts of capital murder and sentenced to death. Brazoria County prosecutors combined the slayings of Victoria Fuentes and Gomez into a single capital murder charge.

Police concluded a single 9mm gun fired all of the bullets. Police recovered a holster for a 9mm gun in Martinez' car and a box designed to house the same caliber weapon in his mother's home. The murder weapon never was recovered.

In earlier appeals, Martinez unsuccessfully challenged the searches that recovered the box and holster.

Martinez was arrested at a mental hospital in Kerrville two weeks after the slayings. The killings were linked to Fuentes' breakup with Martinez two months earlier.

Martinez fled to Del Rio after the shootings and then wound up at the mental hospital in Kerrville under an assumed name after he called Del Rio police to complain he heard voices telling him to kill.

In the Lufkin case, Lewis, now 42, was convicted of shooting 74-year-old Myrtle Ruby in the face with a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle. The pair ran into one another in the hallway of the woman's Lufkin home as she returned from a church choir practice and while he was was burglarizing the place.

Records show he then stole her car, drove to his uncle's home and went on a hunting trip. He was arrested when he returned and confessed. At the time of the slaying, he had been paroled from prison on mandatory supervision after serving about six weeks of a two-year sentence for burglary in Brazoria County.

His capital murder conviction and death sentence were reversed in 1993 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because part of his court record was lost. He was retried later that year, was convicted and again sentenced to die.

In 2000, a federal court allowed him to appeal on grounds his legal help at the second trial did not adequately question a psychiatrist and because a state refused admission of what he argued was newly discovered evidence. A federal appeals court later denied those claims.

In the third case rejected Monday, Wood and his roommate, Daniel Reneau, were convicted of the death of Kriss Keeran, 31, who knew both men.

Evidence showed Reneau entered the store before dawn on Jan. 2, 1996, and shot Keeran once in the face with a .22-caliber pistol. Then joined by Wood, they robbed the store of more than $11,000 in cash and checks. Both were arrested within 24 hours.

At his trial, Wood had refused to allow any evidence on his behalf at the punishment phase of the trial. Then in his appeal, he argued the trial court judge violated his rights by refusing to allow him to represent himself and that his trial attorneys were incompetent.

Court records show Wood, now 34, was waiting outside the store and came in after Keeran was shot, then both fled with the store safe, a cash box and a video recorder containing a security tape showing the robbery and slaying.

Evidence showed the pair had planned the robbery for a couple of weeks and unsuccessfully tried recruiting Keeran and another employee to stage a phony robbery.

Reneau was executed in 2002.

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