Texas Breaks Record For Executions

Texas prison officials have conducted a record 38th execution this year, the most by any state in U.S. history, putting a condemned killer to death for the rape-slaying of a 7-year-old West Texas girl.

In a last statement tonight, Garry Dean Miller turned to his victim’s mother Marjorie Howlett and said, “Maggie I am sorry. I always wanted to tell you, but I just didn’t know how. I have been praying for y’all. I hope that y’all find the peace that y’all have been wanting,” he said as Howlett sobbed quietly.

Then he prayed, asking God for peace and thanking the Lord for his family, for “my brothers on the row” and for his spiritual family.

“Be merciful to me a sinner,” he added after asking for mercy for those who were “actively involved with the taking of my life.”

Then he looked at Warden Jim Willett and said, “All right warden, I am ready to go home.”

He took a deep breath then gasped slightly and stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead 12 minutes later, at 7:23 p.m. EST.

More Texas Executions Expected

Miller’s execution topped the previous record of 37 set three years ago.

He isn’t likely to hold the record long. Two more executions were set for the next two nights: on Wednesday, Daniel Joe Hittle, 50, is set to die for the 1989 shooting death of a Garland police officer, one of at least seven people believed slain by the Minnesota man. The following night, Claude Howard Jones, 60, is scheduled for lethal injection for the 1989 robbery and shooting death of a San Jacinto County liquor store owner.

Their punishments would close out the state’s record execution tally at 40, five more than last year. At least seven condemned killers already have execution dates set for 2001, three of them in January.

According to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, the Texas total is the highest in a state since 1862 when 39 Native Americans were hanged on a single day in Minnesota. Those executions, however, were carried out by the military and not the state, the records indicate.

‘No Mercy For This guy’ Miller, 33, a former bartender and laborer, was convicted and sentenced to die for the death of April Marie Wilson, who was raped, choked and fatally bludgeoned on the tailgate of a pickup truck, then had her body dragged by hangers through clumps of prickly pear cactus before it was left in some brush in a cotton field in Jones County, northwest of Abilene.

“I’ve got no mercy for this guy,” Jones County District Attorney Gary Brown said. “Too bad they can’t draw and quarter him. Too bad they can’t put him up here on the sand and skin him for a couple of days and let him be tortured like she was and cut that sucker up and stuff it down his throat and let him choke on it to death.

“That’s my attitude. It might not be a Christian one, but there’s no reason for this stuff, for what he did to her.”

Miller was believed to have been drinking heavily when he returned to his girlfriend’s house in Merkel, about 15 miles west of Abilene, in the early morning hours of Nov. 11, 1988. April Wilson was the girlfriend’s cousin, was staying at her house and was asleep on a couch when Miller arrived.

In a confession to authorities, Miller said he woke the girl and asked if she wanted to go for a ride. In the Jones County cotton field, he raped her on the pickup tailgate, then choked her and hit her with an object he picked up from the ground.

When Miller’s girlfriend awoke the next morning and April was gone, police were notified and a search began with Miller among the participants. Quail hunters aware of the missing girl called police after they found blood-spattered items that included children’s clothing, a blanket and a Raggedy Ann doll. Her body then was discovered. Miller was tied to her death and blood evidence from the tailgate was used against him.

No Pleas For Mercy Miller, who declined repeated requests for interviews with reporters, ordered his attorneys to not pursue appeals once the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case.

No clemency request was made to Gov. George W. Bush, who had authority to grant 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 subsequently was put to death. Since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982, 236 condemned murderers preceded Miller to the death house, 147 of them during Bush’s tenure.

At one time Miller had worked with young people at a Methodist Church-run camp near Merkel. He also had taken community college courses in law enforcement.

“Apparently he had ambition,” said Jack Willingham, the now-retired district attorney who prosecuted Miller. “He missed it by a little.”

Willingham described Miller as a “nice appearing young man” who had no previous criminal record and who cooperated with authorities.

“I would think there could be a lot more to him,” he said. “I don’t know why he kidnapped this little girl... She was the prettiest little thing, just a pretty little girl.”

Willingham said while testifying at his trial, Miller “started puckering up, tearing up, putting on some emotion.

“I walked up and shook my finger at him and told him to dry that up … I said it’s time for the needle.”