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A jury convicted Wilkerson of capital murder in July 1991 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence in March 1994. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
The status of Wilton Bethony and Wilkerson's other accomplices was not known at the of this report.
Wilkerson was one of Texas death row's most violent and notorious inmates. In November 1998, seven death row prisoners, including Wilkerson, attempted to escape from the Ellis Unit in Huntsville. One inmate, Martin Gurule, managed to escape, but was fatally shot and died soon afterward. Wilkerson and the other six surrendered. In February 2000, Wilkerson and another death row inmate, Howard Guidry, held a guard at knifepoint for 13 hours.
Wilkerson struggled against prison guards the day of his execution. He resisted their efforts to remove him from his cell on death row and had to be gassed. When the time of his execution came, he refused to leave the holding cell and guards had to use additional restraints to bind him to the gurney. He declined to make a last statement. Then, as the lethal injection began taking effect, he spit a handcuff key out of his mouth, to the shock of prison staff. "The secret of Wilkerson," he mumbled, before lapsing into final unconsciousness.
A week after Wilkerson's execution, and in the wake of several other prison incidents involving weapons, the Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ordered a systemwide lockdown and search for inmate contraband. Also a new weapon-detecting device was installed at the Polunsky Unit, the new home of death row. Prisoners are stripped and made to sit in the device, which is shaped like a chair and scans them inside and out.
By David Carson. Posted on 5 June 2002. Edited on 30 July 2002.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, Associated Press.