Henry Lee Lucas, the one-eyed drifter once considered among the nation's most prolific serial killers ever, was spared from the death chamber today after Gov. George W. Bush accepted a state parole board recommendation.
Bush commuted Lucas' death sentence to life in prison because of lingering doubts about his guilt in the so-called "Orange Socks" slaying.
Bush's decision in no way gives any chance of freedom to Lucas. He still faces six other life sentences and 210 years in prison for nine other murders.
The state board recommended Thursday that Lucas, who confessed to 600 killings nationwide but later recanted, not be executed next Tuesday as scheduled.
In separate votes, the board advised Bush to give Lucas a 270-day reprieve and to commute the death sentence to a lesser penalty.
"The first question I ask in each death penalty case is whether there is any doubt about whether the individual is guilty of the crime," Bush said.
"While Henry Lee Lucas is guilty of committing a number of horrible crimes, serious concerns have been raised about his guilt in this case," the governor said.
Lucas, who has been convicted in 10 murder cases, was condemned in 1984 for the rape and strangulation of a woman whose body, nude but for a pair of orange socks, was found in a ditch off Interstate 35 north of Austin.
Although Lucas confessed, he later said he was lying and an investigation by former Attorney General Jim Mattox raised questions about Lucas' guilt.
Work records and a cashed paycheck indicated Lucas who lost his left eye in a childhood accident might have been in Florida at the time of the murder on Oct. 31, 1979.
The parole board's decision pleased Lucas and his supporters, who say he couldn't have killed the unidentified woman known only as Orange Socks.
"It shows there is some justice in Texas," Lucas said from death row near Huntsville.
Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, who helped put Lucas on death row, said he was "a monster" who undoubtedly killed Orange Socks.
"Lucas was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 citizens. The case has been reviewed by 23 judges over the past 14 years," Anderson said.
"The only other reason to grant clemency is for reasons of mercy. There is no one less deserving of such than Lucas," he said.
Victor Rodriguez, the parole board chairman, noted in a letter to Bush that the panel believes "firmly that this man remains guilty as found by that jury. Nothing we've done affects that finding."
The board's recommendation came 4 1/2 months after the same panel rejected a clemency plea from Karla Faye Tucker, a 38-year-old woman who confessed to the pickax slayings of two people but said she had become a Christian in prison and asked for mercy. She was executed Feb. 3.
Written by Michael Holmes
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