HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt the scheduled execution of a Texas man, clearing the way for his punishment Tuesday evening for the carjack-slaying of a teenager 12 years ago.
Attorneys for Ronnie Threadgill, 40, argued his case deserved review because he had deficient legal help during his 2002 capital murder trial when he was sentenced to die for the killing of 17-year-old Dexter McDonald. The appeal argued he would not have received a death sentence if he had better legal representation, and asked his case be returned to a lower court.
The high court's rejection came in a brief order less than an hour before Threadgill's scheduled lethal injection.
McDonald was sitting in the back seat of a friend's idling car near Corsicana, about 60 miles south of Dallas, on April 15, 2001, when Threadgill started shooting then jumped inside the vehicle and drove off. He threw McDonald from the car; the teenager died of a gunshot wound to the chest. Threadgill, who already had a long criminal record, led officers on a chase along Interstate 45 through Navarro County. He lost control of the stolen car and slid into a ditch, then ran away. Police found him hiding at a truck stop, clinging to an axle under a parked semitrailer.
A bandana that witnesses said the carjacker was wearing was found stuffed under the truck trailer. Blood on Threadgill's clothing matched McDonald's blood. Threadgill's fingerprints were found on the stolen car.
Rob Dunn, one of Threadgill's trial attorneys, said the number of people who saw the attack left "no wiggle room" to convince jurors that someone else was responsible for the crime. He said his strategy had been to try to keep him off death row.
"There was a multitude of witnesses there at that club that had seen him there and then the shooting took place, and a multitude of witnesses watched him drag the deceased out of the car at the end of the block and throw him down," Dunn said.
Prosecutors called nearly a dozen witnesses during the punishment phase to show Threadgill's reputation for trouble. He already had felony convictions for cocaine possession and burglary and misdemeanor convictions for assault, resisting arrest, theft, criminal trespass, criminal mischief and marijuana possession. Three months before the fatal carjacking, Threadgill was released from a prison on mandatory supervision, a form of parole.
A clinical psychologist testifying for the defense showed Threadgill was chemically dependent and came from a family with a history of substance abuse. His mother testified that she was on parole for drug possession at the time.
Appeals lawyer Lydia Brandt argued to the Supreme Court that jurors weren't given an accurate picture of Threadgill's abusive and tumultuous childhood, nor were they told that his mother encouraged her children in criminal activity and that his mother, male relatives and his three siblings all had criminal records.
But state attorneys told the justices his legal help throughout had been proper and competent. His appeal with the punishment fast approaching was "nothing more than a meritless attempt to postpone his execution," according to Stephen Hoffman, an assistant Texas attorney general.
At least 10 other Texas prisoners have executions scheduled in the coming months, including another inmate set to die next week. If the Supreme Court rejects his appeal, Threadgill's execution would be the third in Texas this year.