James Edward Clayton, 33, was executed by lethal injection on 25 May for the abduction and murder of a 27-year-old woman.
On the morning of 18 September 1987, Lori Barrett failed to report for work at the Hawley elementaray school, where she taught. When a co-worker, Pamela Cummings, told the superintendent, Cecil Davis, that she had unsucessfully tried to call Lori at home that morning and also the previous evening, Davis decided to visit Barrett at home. Unable to find her there, Davis went to the Abilene police station and made a report. After Barrett's sister made a similar report, the Abilene Police Department started a missing person investigation.
Later that day, police officers found the house locked, but a bathroom window was ajar and the window frame had scrape marks consistent with prying with a small blade. A screwdriver was found on a nearby ledge. Inside the bathroom, a tile had been dislodged near the sink, and a small amount of grass was in the sink. Police also found an earring and a curling iron with the cord cut off.
Barrett's wrecked and abandoned car was discovered in another part of town. A private investigator hired by the Barretts found someone who had seen the car on the night of 17 September. The witness said that he had seen an acquaintance of his, named James Edward Clayton, with the car at around 11:00 p.m. that night, and again on the morning of 18 September. He said that Clayton told him he borrowed the car from someone named Lori.
On 23 September, police officers went to Clayton's apartment, which was about a half a block away from Lori Barrett's house. Clayton admitted using Barrett's car without her permission. He declined to voluntarily accompany officers to the police station, and was arrested for unlawful use of a motor vehicle. In a dumpster outside Clayton's apartment, Lori's sister discovered the license plate from Lori's car, mail with her name on it, and a bag containing a belt Lori had worn on 17 September. Police searched Clayton's apartment on 24 September and discovered other personal effects bearing Lori Barrett's name. They also observed a .243 caliber rifle and ammunition.
Barrett's body was ultimately found on 29 September in a neighoring country. It had been wrapped in a blanket and tied with electrical cord. She had been shot in the head, neck, and shoulder. A .243 caliber cartridge case was also found.
At his trial, several of Clayton's acquaintances testified that Clayton sometimes bragged about what a good burglar he was. He also talked frequently about his urge to kill someone, and described various scenarios in which he would like to kill people, and how he would do it. Prosecutors theorized that Clayton abducted and killed Barrett because she surprised him while he was burglarizing her house.
In November 1988, a jury found James Clayton guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence in January 1993. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
Clayton pleaded not guilty at his trial and maintained his innocence throughout his appeals.
Clayton was one of seven inmates who attempted to escape from the Ellis Unit on Thanksgiving of 1998. One of the seven, Martin Gurule, did manage to escape, but was fatally shot by guards while doing so. Clayton and the other five surrendered. At his execution, Clayton expressed love and professed his faith in Jesus. "There is no anger in my heart about this entire situation," he said in his final statement.
By David Carson. Posted on 18 March 2002.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, Associated Press.