William Earl Rayford, 64, was executed by lethal injection on 30 January 2018 in Huntsville, Texas for the abduction and murder of his ex-girlfriend.
Rayford lived with his girlfriend, Carol Hall, and her children in south Dallas for about three years. About two months before the offense, Hall asked Rayford to move out. She ultimately removed him with the assistance of her uncle.
At about 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 16 November 1999, Rayford, then 46, entered Hall's house with a key. Hall and Rayford argued about him having a key to the house. As the argument escalated, Hall began screaming for her twelve-year-old son, Benjamin Thomas. When Benjamin woke up and came out of his room and tried to protect his mother, Rayford stabbed him in the back with a knife and hit him on the head. Hall fled the house, barefoot and in her nightclothes, and ran down the street in the direction of her mother's house. Rayford followed her, and Benjamin ran from the house after them.
Rayford caught up with Hall before she reached the next house. According to Benjamin, he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. She was screaming and beating on Rayford as he carried her toward a creek behind the house. Benjamin ran to a neighbor's house and called the police.
Dwayne Johnson, a bus driver, testified that he was parked at the intersection by Hall's house and saw a woman and man run from the house. When the man caught the woman, he beat her severely in the head to the point that she became "lifeless." The man then dragged the woman behind the house, out of Johnson's view.
Police arrested Rayford about an hour later in Hall's backyard. He was wet and shivering, and appeared to have grass and blood on his clothing. He told an officer Hall could be found "in the hole ... up in the sewer, in the water." He complained of an injury to his knee and was taken to a hospital.
Hall's body was later found about 300 feet inside a concrete drainage culvert. The culvert had water in it, as well as broken bottles, rocks, sticks, and other debris along the bottom. There was a large blood stain on one side, about 150 feet from the entrance.
Dallas County Medical Examiner Jennie Duvall testified that the victim was strangled, had blunt force injuries to her head, face, shoulder, upper chest, and knees, and had sharp force injuries, including a stab wound on the insider of her elbow. The injuries to her head were consistent with slamming against concrete. There were superficial cuts and scrapes on various parts of her body, but not her feet, which suggested that she was carried through the culvert. Duvall testified that Hall was alive when strangled. The cause of death was strangulation, but the blunt force injuries to her head would have also been fatal.
The blood stain on the inside of the culvert matched Hall's DNA. Hall's DNA was also found on traces of blood taken from Rayford's lip, head, and neck.
Rayford was accused of killing Hall in the course of kidnapping or attempting to kidnap her. Kidnapping is one of the aggravating factors listed in the Texas penal code that elevates first-degree murder to capital murder. The statute's definition of kidnapping includes abducting someone and keeping her in a place where she is unlikely to be found. The defense argued that the prosecution did not prove that Hall was killed inside the culvert. If she was dead before being carried into the culvert, she was not kidnapped, the defense claimed.
Rayford had a previous conviction for killing his wife, Gail Rayford, in 1986. She was stabbed eleven times in the presence of her four children. She had obtained a court order four days earlier to keep him away. Rayford was sentenced to 23 years for murder with a deadly weapon. He was paroled in December 1994 after serving eight years of his sentence. (At the time, the early release of violent felons was common in Texas due to strict prison population caps imposed by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice.) In 1997, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty and was given two years' probation.
Some of Hall's relatives said she was aware of Rayford's previous murder conviction when they became a couple, but believed it was her Christian duty to give people second chances.
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