Associated Press & Rick Halperin
Milton Mathis executed for Houston double slaying
Convicted killer Milton Mathis was executed Tuesday evening for fatally shooting 2 people inside a Houston crack house in 1998. The lethal injection was carried out shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from his defense attorneys, who argued that Mathis was mentally impaired and therefore ineligible for execution. Mathis, 32, was condemned for a shooting spree that killed Travis Brown III, 24, and Daniel Hibbard, 31, less than two weeks before Christmas in 1998. A 15-year-old girl, Melony Almaguer, also was shot and left paralyzed. Almaguer, seated in a wheelchair and accompanied by her husband, was among a small group of people who watched Mathis die from behind a window at the Huntsville Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "I never meant to hurt you," Mathis, strapped to a gurney with tubing taped to his arms, told Almaguer. "You were just at the wrong place at the wrong time." Her husband stood with his hand on her shoulder and at one point brushed her face with his hand. They declined to speak with reporters after leaving the prison. Mathis thanked his friends and relatives, and asked for mercy for himself and "these people carrying out this mass slaughter." "The system has failed me," he said. "This is what you call a miscarriage of justice. Life is not supposed to end this way ... I just ask the Lord, when I knock at the gates, you just let me in." He yawned and gasped, then began snoring as the lethal drugs began taking effect. 9 minutes later, at 6:53 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead. An unsuccessful late appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals briefly delayed the punishment. In their appeal filed Monday with the Supreme Court, his attorneys also argued that Mathis' claims of mental impairment hadn't been reviewed by any federal court because of a "procedural quagmire" and "freakish coincidence" of state and federal legal issues involving the timing of his appeals. Attorney Lee Kovarsky also argued that if Mathis was executed, he likely would have the lowest IQ of any Texas inmate put to death since the Supreme Court 9 years ago barred execution of the mentally impaired. One test cited in Mathis' appeals put his IQ as low as 62, below the threshold of 70 considered by the courts to be the level for deciding mental impairment. Other tests showed Mathis' IQ considerably higher. State attorneys cited a federal appeals court ruling declaring it was a "mystery how Mathis could have scored 10-20 points higher on his IQ test before trial as compared to after his conviction." State attorneys said the low test results could have been the result of his heavy drug use, including PCP and "Fry," a marijuana cigarette soaked in embalming fluid laced with PCP, alcohol and codeine cough syrup. State lawyers who opposed the reprieve argued Mathis was not mentally impaired and that his claims were thoroughly litigated in a state court proceeding which included an evidentiary hearing with expert defense witnesses and legal assistance for Mathis. "Mathis has already been afforded the requested relief in state court — review of his mental retardation claim — he fails to demonstrate that his right to further review is clear and indisputable," Laura Grant Turbin, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the Supreme Court. Mathis testified at his 1999 trial that he wasn't at the scene of the shooting, even though his lawyers had told jurors he was there. After meeting with his attorneys, he changed his testimony to acknowledge he was present, explaining he was afraid when he didn't initially tell the truth. He said he shot Brown in self-defense because Brown had threatened to shoot him. And he said he panicked and opened fire on Hibbard and Almaguer. Testimony from the girl's mother showed that he also tried to shoot her but his gun was out of bullets. Before he fled, Mathis set fire to Brown's room and then stole Brown's Cadillac, according to evidence. At the time of the shooting, Mathis was on probation for aggravated robbery. Mathis also was set for execution in 2005, but it was halted a day before his scheduled execution date by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which wanted to review his claims. Mathis refused to speak with reporters in the weeks leading up to his execution. One of his trial attorneys, Pheobe Smith, described him as cooperative and respectful but acknowledged that the facts of the case didn't help the defense team. "I look at this case as a failure on our part," she said. "I don't think Milton Mathis should be on death row." Fred Felcman, the Fort Bend County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Mathis, called him a violent individual and "a little thug." "He'd already been assaulting people and killing people's dogs and holding them for ransom," Felcman said. "People were almost more upset by the dogs than by killing people. ... He's got a low IQ but he's very street savvy and very street smart." Mathis becomes the 6th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 470th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. Mathis becomes the 231st condemned inmate to be put to death since Rick Perry became governor of Texas in 2001. Mathis becomes the 23rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1257th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.