HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Derrick Dewayne Charles was a convicted burglar wanted by authorities for ignoring mandatory meetings with his parole officer when he was arrested for killing his 15-year-old girlfriend, her mother and her grandfather at their home in Houston 13 years ago.
Ten months later, Charles pleaded guilty in May 2003 to capital murder, leaving a Harris County jury to decide whether he should spend the rest of his life in prison or be sent to death row. Jurors decided he should be executed after hearing about his extensive juvenile record, his burglary conviction and the details of the killings.
Charles, now 32, is set for lethal injection Tuesday evening. His attorneys are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution. He would be the seventh convicted killer executed this year in Texas, which carries out the death penalty more than any other state.
The Houston man is one of at least three Texas inmates scheduled for lethal injection over the next several weeks. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has said it has enough pentobarbital to carry out two of the executions, meaning the prison agency would need to replenish its supply of the difficult-to-obtain sedative for capital punishment use or find a substitute drug to replace it.
Worried about future shortages, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature is considering changing state law to keep the identity of execution drugmakers confidential. Suppliers have reported being threatened by death penalty opponents, and the Texas Senate on Monday approved a measure that even would keep death row inmates from knowing where the state is getting the drugs used to execute them.
Charles was arrested a day after the bodies of Myiesha Bennett, her 44-year-old mother Brenda Bennett, and 77-year-old grandfather Obie Bennett were found at their northeast Houston home. People who knew them became alarmed after not hearing from them for several days.
Relatives have said Brenda Bennett wasn’t thrilled with her daughter’s relationship with Charles, who was 19 at the time.
Attorneys for Charles who are seeking to get the punishment halted say he is mentally incompetent for execution and that the courts should authorize money for psychologists and investigators, so the defense can develop those arguments.
The Supreme Court has said condemned inmates must be aware they are about to be executed and have a rational understanding of why they’re being put to death.
Charles was diagnosed as mentally ill when he was a child and was deprived of care and medication while growing up, one of his attorneys, Paul Mansur, told the justices in a filing.
“This evidence … raises substantial concern that the state of Texas may execute an incompetent inmate,” Mansur said.
Another appeal argued that the trial court violated Charles’ constitutional rights by refusing to appoint psychiatric experts and investigators.
State attorneys are opposing any delay in the punishment. They say questions about whether Charles is mentally incompetent for execution were rejected by courts earlier and that his lawyers improperly filed their constitutional challenge.
“There is simply no evidence of any inherent mental illness or psychosis that might call into question Charles’ competency to be executed,” Texas Assistant Attorney General Fredericka Sargent told the justices.
Court records show a warrant was issued for Charles in February 2002, two months after he was paroled after serving eight months of a three-year burglary sentence. He met once with his parole officer, then failed to show up for other required sessions.
Charles was arrested at a Houston motel where Brenda Bennett’s car was found. Police have said he told them he beat and strangled Obie Bennett. Myiesha Bennett was choked with an extension cord, beaten with a box containing stereo speakers and hit with a TV.
Brenda Bennett was thrown into a water-filled bathtub along with a plugged-in TV. When that failed to electrocute her, she was dragged through the house, raped and strangled.
Court documents indicate that Charles said he smoked marijuana soaked in embalming fluid before the killings, then hallucinated while committing them.
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