Sunday, 11 October 2009

Texas man on death row takes plea for 3 life terms

HOUSTON — A Texas man condemned to death for killing his father 25 years ago in a shooting spree that also killed his stepmother and a half brother is headed off death row after accepting a plea deal that gives him three life prison terms.

Gene Wilford Hathorn Jr., 49, spent more than half of his life on death row for the 1984 slaying of his father, Gene Hathorn Sr., 45. He was charged in but never tried for the deaths of his stepmother, Linda Sue Hathorn, 35, and his half brother, Marcus, 14.

All three were shot 25 years ago Friday at the family home in Nogalus Prairie, a farming community northeast of Groveton in Trinity County, about 90 miles north of Houston.

The plea agreement was finalized last week in state district court in Groveton, Hathorn's attorney, David Sergi, said Friday.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals earlier this year ruled that Hathorn was entitled to a new punishment hearing because jurors at his 1985 trial weren't given adequate instructions and should have been allowed to more thoroughly consider evidence that he was abused as a child.

Evidence at his trial claimed the slayings were provoked by childhood abuse at the hands of his father, leaving him with "long-standing hatred for his family," according to earlier court documents.

"It was a good result for all concerned," Sergi said. "He didn't want to put the family through any more pain and suffering.

"He wanted to reach out to his mother's family and let them know he wanted to man up and accept responsibility."

The three sentences were stacked, meaning they will run consecutively and remove the likelihood Hathorn ever would be paroled. He was one of the longest-serving of the state's 337 condemned prisoners.

Hathorn was tried during a period when the trial rules for Texas capital cases were evolving, particularly in the area of mitigating evidence and how it should be applied to punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court has considered the issue several times, refining trial procedures through their rulings, and several cases of that era have been returned to trial for new punishment hearings.

Hathorn and a co-worker at Rusk State Hospital, James Beathard, were sentenced to die for the 1984 rampage. Beathard was executed in 1999.

Court records indicated Hathorn supplied Beathard with illegal drugs for him to sell on commission. They also show that during their friendship Hathorn talked of his desire to kill his father, stepmother and half brother.

Evidence showed Hathorn hoped to collect a $150,000 inheritance from his father and offered to share some of it with Beathard. What he didn't know was his father recently had cut him out of his will.

Hathorn achieved some notoriety last year when a Danish artist told a London-based newspaper devoted to art issues that the inmate had agreed, if he was executed, to give his body to the artist so it could be frozen and so visitors at an exhibition could use it for goldfish food.


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