Willie Earl Pondexter Jr., 34, was executed by lethal injection on 3 March 2009 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a woman during a home invasion robbery.
On the night of 28 October 1993, Pondexter, then 19, Ricky Bell, James Bell, and Deon Williams met together and discussed robbing Martha Lennox, a wealthy 84-year-old woman in Clarksville, which is about 50 miles west of Texarkana. Later that night, they were joined by James Henderson, 20. Pondexter borrowed a car, and the men went out to buy beer and go to a club. They again discussed robbing "the old lady" and discussed which one of them "had the heart" to do what they planned to do to her. On the way to Lennox's house, they stopped at a store and discussed robbing a man who was getting gas there. Again, they questioned which one of them "had the heart" to do it. Henderson and Williams then got out of the car, but the group left without doing any harm to the man. The group then continued to Lennox's house.
They parked a few blocks away. On their first attempt to enter the house, they saw a patrolling police car. Four of the five ran back to their car, but James Bell ran in a different direction and was not seen again by the others that night. Pondexter, Henderson, Williams, and Ricky Bell then returned to Lennox's house. After Pondexter kicked in the front door, all four of them went inside and went upstairs to Lennox's bedroom. The victim was there, sitting on her bed. Williams then took $7 from the victim's coin purse. Lennox was then shot twice in the head with a 9 mm pistol. The intruders then fled in the victim's car.
Pondexter and his companions drove Lennox's car to Dallas, using the money they stole to buy gas. The day after the murder, they were arrested after attempting to rob a man on the street.
At Pondexter's trial, Deon Williams testified that Henderson shot Lennox in the head first, then handed the gun to Pondexter. Pondexter then shot Lennox in the head and said, "that's how you smoke a bitch."
The prosecution then called another witness, Michael Kendricks, who was in jail with Pondexter on unrelated charges. Kendricks testified that Pondexter told him he shot Lennox in the jaw after she was already dead.
The medical examiner, Dr. Guileyardo, testified that the victim was shot twice in the head. One bullet entered the left side of her face and exited below her right ear, shattering her right jawbone. The other bullet entered her forehead, traveled through her brain, and exited at the back of her head. Guileyardo testified that both wounds were inflicted while the victim was alive, and either could have killed her.
Pondexter's defense was twofold. First, his lawyers claimed that Pondexter did not shoot the victim at all. Second, they stated that if Henderson shot the victim in the head first as Williams testified, then she would have already been dead when Pondexter shot her.
Under Texas law, a jury can find a defendant guilty of capital murder if it believes he bears responsibility for the victim's death, even if he does not inflict the fatal wound. The state did not rely on this "law of parties", either in its prosecution of Pondexter or its instructions to the jury, however.
Pondexter had a prior conviction in Oklahoma for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He served two years of a seven-year sentence before receiving parole in 1992. In May 1993, Pondexter committed assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in Oklahoma and was sentenced to 12 years of probation. His probation status was revoked in October 1993, shortly before Lennox's murder, for failure to report and pay the required fees. Further testimony at Pondexter's punishment hearing indicated that he had committed numerous assaults, batteries, and robberies with weapons in 1993.
A jury convicted Pondexter of capital murder in July 1994 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in October 1996.
In a subsequent appeal in state court, Pondexter presented a pathologist, Dr. Bolesta, who distinguished the two bullet wounds. Bolesta stated that whereas the shot to the victim's brain was "universally fatal", the shot to her face - which he said was the second shot fired - was only "potentially fatal". In response, Dr. Guileyardo testified that either of the wounds could have caused the victim's death, and she most likely died from a combination of the two wounds. While Guileyardo said it could not be determined which wound was inflicted first, he did state that the presence of blood in the victim's mouth and throat indicated that her heart was still beating when she was shot in the face. And, while he agreed with Dr. Bolesta that the brain wound the victim suffered "is usually a fatal wound", he said that it would not necessarily be instantly fatal. He further stated that there was no blood found in the victim's lungs, due to the swelling of her tongue and the loss of control of her jawbone. This, he said, was persuasive evidence that the shot to the face eliminated any possibility of survival. On cross-examination, Bolesta admitted that the victim's heart "could have" or "might have" still been beating when she was shot in the face, and that no doctor would have declared her dead if her heart was still beating. The appeals court ruled in the state's favor.
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