Man on death row loses appeal

HOUSTON Willie Earl Pondexter, 34, is one of two men sentenced to die for the October 1993 shooting death of Martha Lennox at her home in Clarksville, about 60 miles west of Texarkana. Also on death row for the slaying is a Pondexter's partner, James Lee Henderson, who was tried separately.

Neither man has an execution date. Pondexter was scheduled to die in early 2005 before a judge withdrew the date because appeals were pending in a federal court.

Pondexter, from Idabell, Okla., was 19 when he and Henderson were arrested driving Lennox's car in Dallas, about 140 miles to the southwest. It was a few hours after authorities believe Lennox was shot while asleep in her home, not far from the town square. Besides fleeing with her car, they took about $18 from her purse. Clarksville police, alerted by Dallas authorities after the arrests of the men driving Lennox's car, went to her home and found her body.

Lennox's family had a long history in the Red River County area and had accumulated substantial real estate holdings. Lennox herself had donated a 374-acre forest preserve north of Clarksville to the Nature Conservancy of Texas.

In the appeal rejected by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Pondexter argued his trial lawyers were deficient because they didn't consult with a pathologist to dispute testimony from a medical examiner called by prosecutors.

Pondexter's defense at trial was that while he shot Lennox in the head, he didn't fire the fatal shot. In his appeal, he said the prosecutor's closing argument blaming him for the fatal shooting was improper and his trial lawyers should have objected. A medical examiner testified either of two wounds the woman suffered could have killed her.

Pondexter also said his lawyers failed to interview a fellow inmate whom he'd told that the woman already was dead when he fired. He alleges that prosecutors improperly withheld that information from the defense.

He also argued that prosecutors violated his due process rights by telling Henderson's jury that Henderson fired the fatal shot and Pondexter's jury that Pondexter fired the fatal shot.

The New Orleans-based 5th Circuit rejected each of the claims.

The panel said that jurors "cognizant of overwhelming evidence of guilt" would have convicted Pondexter even if they had the findings of a second pathologist.

The appeals court also said that if Pondexter knew he made statements to a fellow jail inmate while awaiting trial, "It was Pondexter who was in the best position to notify his counsel of the need to obtain that information."

The judges said jurors "could have reasonably concluded Pondexter's shot to the victim's face was the cause of death." And they said it was "well-established" that the use of inconsistent theories in separate trials of co-defendants "is not a violation of the due-process clause."

At the time of the slaying, Henderson was on parole from Oklahoma, where he had been convicted of auto theft. Pondexter had no previous record. In 1997, he nearly escaped with another condemned inmate from death row by cutting through a recreation yard fence with a hacksaw blade.

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