Ronald Scott Shamburger, 30, was executed by lethal injection on 18 September in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a 20-year-old woman in her home.
On 30 September 1994, Shamburger, then 22, drove to the home of Lori A. Baker, 20. Shamburger and Baker were both students at Texas A&M University and had been acquainted for about five years. He brought a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, a can of gasoline, and a roll of duct tape with him. He entered the house through the window of a spare bedroom. He then broke into Baker's locked bedroom. When Baker awoke and recognized him, Shamburger bound her with duct tape. At this point, Baker's roommate, Victoria Kohler, 20, came home. Shamburger placed the pistol against Baker's head and pulled the trigger, killing her instantly.
Shamburger then grabbed Kohler, threw her to the ground, and threatened to kill her. He sat on her back and asked her a series of detailed questions. For example, he asked her name, her major, whether she had classes the next day, whether she had money, whether she had a credit card, whether she was a Christian, and whether she was a virgin. He also asked whether she saw him. Kohler gave him a false description, so that he would think she couldn't describe him. He then covered her head with a blanket and bound her hands with duct tape. He carried her to the trunk of her car, unbound her hands, and closed her in.
Shamburger then drove around for awhile. He spoke to Kohler, who could hear him through the back seat. He told her that Lori was dead and he was going to burn the house down. He asked her if there was anything in the house she wanted him to save. She asked him to save her pictures and scrapbook. He also asked her whether she thought he should commit suicide, and she told him no. Shamburger abandoned the car a few blocks from the house and told Kohler to stay in the trunk until she heard sirens. She waited until she was sure he was gone, then drove to a nearby house and called the police.
Meanwhile, Shamburger returned on foot to the victims' home. First, he got the gas can out of his car and brought it inside. Next, he found Kohler's scrapbooks and set them on the floor. He then probed Baker's head wound with a knife in an attempt to retrieve the bullet, but he was unsuccessful. He poured gasoline on her body and set it on fire. When he was ready to leave, he realized that his car keys had fallen out of his shirt pocket somewhere inside the house. He looked inside the burning house, but was unable to find them. With his car in the driveway and the house already violently ablaze, he knew he had no chance of avoiding suspicion, so he stood outside the house and waited.
When the fire started consuming the house, Mark Baker, Lori's brother who lived next door, came outside. He began calling Lori's name and breaking her bedroom window with a baseball bat, but he heard a voice in the yard saying, "she's dead." Mark turned and saw Shamburger walking around in the yard, holding a gun, repeatedly saying, "she's dead." He ran back inside his own house.
Shamburger then walked to a store and called Steve Biles, a minister at his church. He asked Biles to meet him. They drove around for awhile, then Shamburger told him what he had done. Biles drove him to the police station, where Shamburger attempted to surrender. All officers on duty, however, were out investigating the fire, so Shamburger and Biles waited in the lobby. While they were waiting, Shamburger pulled out his pistol and started flicking bullets onto the floor. Officers were summoned back to the station, Shamburger was arrested, and he confessed.
At his trial, Shamburger pleaded not guilty. He claimed that he only went to Baker's house to burglarize it, and he never planned to kill her. Prosecutors noted that he brought a gas can, indicating that he had something more sinister than a burglary planned. They also focused on his attempt to dig the bullet out of the victim's head with a knife as a sign that, though he had no criminal record, he had the heart of a cold-blooded murderer.
A jury convicted Shamburger of capital murder in October 1995 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence in October 1998. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
Prior to killing Baker, Shamburger was a former Eagle Scout, a senior at Texas A&M University, and he aspired to become a minister. In the summer of 1994, however, he found a credit card that someone left behind at the store where he worked. In a death-row interview, Shamburger said that this fateful incident started a chain of events that led up to Baker's murder. He said that he was going to report the lost credit card, but instead, he decided to take it home and buy something with it, then get rid of it.
After this successful experiment in crime, Shamburger started stealing credit cards and, later, committing burglaries -- breaking into homes in search of credit cards and money. He knew Lori Baker from school, and he had gone to her house on three previous occasions to burglarize it. On the first two visits, he ended up burglarizing her neighbors instead. On the third visit, on or about 27 September, he successfully broke into her house and stole a credit card and a pair of her panties. He bought the pistol and gasoline can used in her murder with her credit card.
Of Baker's murder, he said, "Things happened so quickly, sometimes you don't have time to think. ... It was a response, a reflex. I panicked." He said that didn't kill Kohler because "I had time to think about it, and I wasn't going to kill anyone else."
Lori's parents, Derrel and Faye Baker, doubted that burglary was Shamburger's true motive for murdering their daughter. They said that he desired a romantic relationship with her, but she was uninterested in him. They said that she turned down his requests for dates, but continued to be nice to him. His last call to her came the week before her death, when Lori told him that she was in an exclusive relationship. "My personal opinion is that he wanted her for himself, and when he thought he couldn't have her, he decided no one was going to have her," Faye Baker said.
Shamburger said he wished he could undo his actions. He apologized to the Baker family, to Victoria Kohler, and to his family. "My sin has affected other people," he said. "I understand the loss of my life is not a payment for Lori's. The loss of my life is a consequence of my actions. If I could pay with my life and bring her back, I would."
Shamburger quoted from the Bible as he was being prepared for execution. Making his last statement, he looked at the victim's family and said, "To the Bakers, I am really sorry for the pain and sorrow I caused you. I really do not know what to say, but I am sorry ... forgive me." Next, he apologized to his own parents. "Forgive me," he said. "Thank you for your love." As the deadly chemicals entered his body, Shamburger sang "How Can it Be?", an old religious hymn. He was pronounced dead at 6:17 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 25 September 2002.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's Office, Associated Press, Bryan-College Station Eagle.