Texas Preps For 40th Execution

Guest star Winona Ryder, left, acts with Jennifer Aniston in a scene in "Friends" in a 2001 episode called "The One With Rachel's Big Kiss."
With nearly a dozen convictions and in and out of prisons for more than 40 years, convicted murderer Claude Howard Jones appeared likely to achieve the notoriety of being the last Texas inmate put to death in a record year for executions in the state.

Jones, 60, condemned for the 1989 shooting death of a liquor store owner near Point Blank, was scheduled Thursday evening to be the 40th Texas death row inmate to receive lethal injection this year and the third in as many nights.

The total for 2000 would top the previous 1997 Texas record by three and add to the state's distinction this year as the most active state for capital punishment in American history, according to figures kept by Michael Radelet, chairman of sociology at the University of Florida.

Jones, whose appeals were rejected in October by the U.S. Supreme Court, made no clemency request to Gov. George W. Bush, who had authority to grant him a one-time 30-day reprieve. Only once in his nearly six years in office has Bush used the power to stop an execution and that inmate eventually was put to death.

The Other Bush State
Florida is scheduled to execute a two-time killer Thursday evening, then execute another man Friday night. Edward Castro is scheduled to die Thursday for the choking and stabbing death of a man in Ocala. Lawyers for Robert Glock II are fighting his scheduled execution the next night. It's for a 1983 murder of a Bradenton woman.

Source: Associated Press

Jones would be the 239th inmate executed since Texas resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982 and the 152nd during Bush's tenure as governor.

On Tuesday, Garry Dean Miller was executed for killing a 7-year-old West Texas girl. On Wednesday, Daniel Joe Hittle, using his final statement to invoke the name of a Sikh religious leader, Sant Ajaib Singh Ji Maharaj, then received lethal injection for killing a Garland police officer.

Jones was convicted of the Nov. 14, 1989 fatal shooting Allen Hilzendager, 37, at a rural liquor store about 70 miles north of Houston and not far from the prison that now houses death row inmates.

Witnesses and evidence showed Jones walked into the store, asked for a bottle of whiskey and shot Hilzendager while the store owner's back was turned, then shot the man two more times, including once while the victim's hands were raised. Then he grabbed 900 from a cash register, unknowingly missing some $7,000 in cash bags nearby, and jumped into a pickup truck to join two companions.

"He did not need to kill," Scott Rosekrans, the district attorney in San Jacinto County, said this week. "It was really kind of senseless."

Three days later, Jones held up a suburban Houston bank, getting more than $14,000 while his partners again waited outside. They used the loot for a weekend trip to Las Vegas. Nearly three weeks after that, Jones was arrested in Fort Myers, Fla., and charged with robbery and bank robbery there.

"Jones was a pretty cold individual," Bill Burnett, one of the prosecutors in the capital murder case, recalled this week. "He showed little or no remorse and showed little reaction to what happened in court."

A single strand of Jones' hair was found at the murder scene and one of Jones' partners made a plea agreement to testify against him. Another accomplice led authorities to the Trinity River where the murder weapon was recovered. One accomplice, Kerry Dixon Jr., received a 60-year prison term. The other, Timothy Jordan, got 10 years.

"It's my personal belief that if (Jones) ever was paroled, there's a likelihood he would kill again and try to fine tune his robberies so as not to leave any witnesses," Burnett, now a professor of criminal justice at Angelina College, said.

Jones, a Harris County native who refused to speak with reporters in the weeks leading up to his execution, first was convicted of robbery and imprisoned in 1959. Among his other multiple prison sentences was time in Kansas for robbery, murder and assault. While locked up there, he was convicted of killing a fellow inmate by throwing gasoline on him and setting him on fire. By 1984, however, he was out on parole despite a life term, records show.

"One of our arguments was ... he had demonstrated his dangerousness even in the prison environment," Burnett said.

"You don't ever want to see anybody die," he added. "But for a prosecutor that's the burden. If you don't do your job really, really well, there's a possibility somebody may die. And if you do your job really, really well, as a prosecutor in a capital murder case, you're sure somebody will die."

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