HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — For nearly four years, investigators believed the same person was responsible for the murders of two women at an apartment complex in Arlington but couldn't identify the attacker who became known as the "Bathtub Killer."
A fingerprint found at the slaying scenes finally was matched to one in a criminal database after the arrest of a suburban Dallas burglary suspect, Dale Scheanette, in 1999.
Scheanette wound up on death row after additional scientific evidence tied him to at least five rapes and the killings of Wendie Prescott, 22, and Christine Vu, 25.
On Tuesday evening, Scheanette, 35, was set to die for Prescott's Christmas Eve 1996 slaying.
Like Vu, killed three months earlier, she was found face down in a half-filled bathtub, strangled, drowned, tied with duct tape and raped.
"The crime scenes were absolutely horrific — brutal and violent, the worst nightmare for anyone confronted with that kind of attack," Arlington homicide detective Tommy LeNoir recalled. "I don't like to think what the ladies went through."
Scheanette would be the seventh condemned killer executed this year in Texas and the first of two set to die this week in the nation's most active death penalty state.
Scheanette, who declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his execution date, flooded the courts with late appeals, raising more than a dozen claims he contended were violations of his rights or contributed to an unfair trial.
Over the past year, he filed at least a half-dozen unsuccessful appeals in the federal courts, including appeals rejected Monday by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused to stop Tuesday's scheduled punishment.
Prosecutors, in their court filings, insisted his legal maneuvers were meritless and improper, that his claims were raised in previous appeals and that the evidence "credibly connects Scheanette to two murders and five brutal sexual assaults."
Prescott's aunt and uncle, concerned when she failed to show up for a Christmas Eve 1996 shopping trip with her sister, went to her apartment and found her dead.
Scheanette's fingerprint was left on the TV stand in her apartment. His name, however, wouldn't be connected to it until his 1999 arrest for burglary of a car audio shop in DeSoto, just south of Dallas.
"We got a search warrant, blood samples and made a DNA hit on two murders," LeNoir said. "From that point, we started getting hits on other cases, the sexual assaults. It just snowballed."
"We put on our defense that the evidence was insufficient," J.R. Molina, Scheanette's lead trial attorney, said. "But we were fighting that science ... fingerprints in the apartment, and they had DNA.
"That's some pretty strong stuff."
After jurors convicted him of capital murder for the Prescott slaying, prosecutors in the punishment phase of the trial called to the witness stand five women evidence showed Scheanette had raped. They told of severe beatings, of being forced to perform repeated sex acts and of threats to them and their families if they went to police.
"To hear and see these women talk about these events, quite honestly, I hope I never get exposed to something like this again," said Greg Miller, the Tarrant County district attorney who prosecuted Scheanette. "I will never forget him. But most importantly, I will never forget the seven women."
Jurors deliberated about 90 minutes before deciding he should die.
Miller believes there may be more victims.
"I guess that's just an opinion," he said. "The only unknowns are how many did he rape, or kill. This guy is just wheels off."
Miller and Molina said it was uncertain what set off Scheanette, who did not testify at his trial. Investigators for both the defense and prosecution found the native of Ouachita Parish in northern Louisiana graduated from high school and had no mitigating family issues.
On Thursday, another inmate linked to multiple slayings and rapes was set to die. Johnny Ray Johnson, 51, was convicted of the 1995 rape-slaying of Leah Joette Smith, whose head was slammed repeatedly into a cement street curb in Houston after she refused to have sex with him.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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