Frances Elaine Newton, 40, was executed by lethal injection on 14 September 2005 in Huntsville, Texas for killing her husband and children for insurance money.
On 18 March 1987, Newton, then 21, took out $50,000 life insurance policies on her 23-year-old husband, Adrian, and her 21-month old daughter, Farrah. A policy already existed for her 7-year-old son, Alton. At the time, the Newtons were having marital problems. Although they lived together, they were both dating other people. Adrian's brother, Sterling Newton, was also living in their apartment.
On 7 April 1987, between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m., Sterling Newton came home. Frances asked him to leave for a while, to give her some time to talk with Adrian alone about their marital problems. Sterling left about an hour to an hour and a half later.
At about 6:45 p.m., Ramona Bell - Adrian's girlfriend - phoned Adrian. Bell and Adrian spoke for about fifteen minutes. Adrian told Bell that he was tired and was going to go to sleep, but not until Frances left, because he did not trust her.
Alphonse Harrison, a friend of Adrian's, had seen him earlier in the day, and the two made plans to get together that night. Harrison phoned the apartment between 7:00 and 7:15 p.m.. Frances answered the telephone. When he asked to speak with Adrian, Frances put Harrison on hold and left him there.
Between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m., Frances Newton arrived in an automobile at the residence of her cousin, Sondra Nelms. Newton asked Nelms to come over to her apartment for a visit. Before they left, Nelms watched Newton remove a blue bag from her car and put it inside the house next door to Nelms'. The house was abandonded and belonged to Newton's parents. They then went to Newton's apartment. Upon their arrival, they found Newton's husband and two children dead. Newton immediately called 911.
At 8:27 p.m., Harris County sherrif's deputy R. W. Ricks was dispatched to the apartment complex. Newton and Nelms were present when Ricks arrived. In Newton's apartment, Ricks found the bodies of Adrian, Alton, and Farrah Newton. Adrian was on a couch, shot in the head. The two children were in their beds, each shot in the chest. Deputy Ricks found no signs of forced entry or struggle.
Later that evening, Nelms told a homicide detective about the blue bag and took him to the abandoned house. Inside the house, he found a blue bag containing a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
The gun was traced to one Michael Mouton, who told police that he had loaned it five or six months earlier to his cousin, Jeffrey Frelow. When detectives showed Frelow the gun, he recognized it and said that he kept in a chest of drawers in his bedroom. He also said that his girlfriend, Francis Newton, often did his laundry and had easy access to the gun.
On 21 April, Newton filed claims on the life insurance policies she had taken out a month earlier. She was arrested and charged with capital murder the next day.
A ballistics expert testified that the pistol found in the abandoned house was the murder weapon. He also testified that nitrate residue from gunpowder was found on the skirt that Newton was seen wearing on the day of the shootings. He testified that another possible source of nitrates was fertilizer. The state also presented testimony from Sterling Newton, Ramona Bell, Alphonse Harrison, Sondra Nelms, and Jeffrey Frelow.
Newton pleaded not guilty. At her trial, she testified that she found the gun in her home and took it out of the apartment as a safety measure. She said her family may have been killed by a drug dealer named Charlie, in the process of trying to collect a debt from her husband, a longtime drug addict.
Newton had a prior felony conviction for forgery. She received a sentence of 3 years' probation in December 1985. A previous employer also testified that Newton was fired from her job for stealing money.
In October 1988, a jury convicted Newton of capital murder, for killing more than one person in the same offense, and sentenced her to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in June 1992. All of her subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
Newton maintained her innocence in a death-row interview. "I was so scared and confused. Not only was my family dead, but then they're charging me with murder," she said. She and her appeals lawyers claimed that she received ineffective assistance from her court-appointed trial lawyer, Ron Mock.
In a recent interview, Mock admitted that he was "burned out" at the time of Newton's trial and was not enthusiastic about her case. He said that the case was an uphill battle from the beginning. "I had nothing, really, to work with other than Frances' saying that she did not do it." Mock has been barred from accepting court-appointed capital murder cases since 2001.
Newton also said that the nitrate residue on her skirt was from fertilizer. In December 2004, on a previously scheduled execution date, Governor Rick Perry accepted the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles' recommendation to grant Newton a 120-day stay of execution so that the skirt and the .25-caliber pistol could be tested again. The skirt, however, had been contaminated after the original test. Retesting on the pistol confirmed that it was the murder weapon.
In their most recent appeals, Newton's attorneys claimed that investigators actually seized two or more guns as evidence and that one of them - not the one in the blue bag hidden by Newton - was the murder weapon. A week before her execution, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the multiple-gun theory as previously weighed and rejected. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to grant a reprieve.
"I know I did not murder my kids and my family," Newton told a reporter in an interview. "It's frustrating ... nobody's had to answer for that."
At her execution, when the warden asked if she had a final statement, Newton answered, "No" and shook her head. The lethal injection was then administered. She was pronounced dead at 6:17 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 15 September 2005.
Sources: Texas Attorney General's office, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Associated Press, Galveston County Daily News, court documents.