Beunka Adams won a reprieve Monday from a federal district judge in Texarkana, but the Texas attorney general's office challenged the ruling as improper, saying the judge had no jurisdiction and the appeal itself was improper. Adams' attorneys contended he had deficient legal help at his trial and in early stages of his appeals.
A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit agreed with the state Wednesday and overturned Adams' reprieve.
Adams' lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Attorney Thomas Scott Smith said an additional appeal would go to the high court Thursday.
Adams and a companion, Richard Cobb, both were sent to death row for the slaying of Kenneth Vandever, 37. He and two women were abducted from a convenience store. Vandever was fatally shot. The women also were shot, and one of them was raped.
Vandever was described as a mentally challenged man who frequented the store in Rusk, about 115 miles southeast of Dallas. The shootings occurred about 10 miles away from the store, just outside Alto in Cherokee County.
The two women survived. One of them recognized Adams when he removed a mask during the abduction and her information helped lead to the pair's arrest.
Cobb was convicted and condemned in a separate trial eight months before Adams. He does not yet have an execution date.
Adams was 19 at the time of the holdup and shootings. Cobb was 18. Evidence showed it was the latest in a string of robberies involving the two within days.
Testimony showed Adams and Cobb met as 9th graders at a boot camp and began committing burglaries together, then switched to more lucrative armed robberies.
On the night of Sept. 2, 2002, they donned masks and were armed with a shotgun when they walked into the store and demanded money, then the key to a car belonging to one of the female clerks.
According to testimony, Adams gave the orders during the holdup and initiated the abductions. One of the three victims said she thought she knew Adams so he slipped off his mask. As they arrived at a remote area, he demanded Vandever and one of the women get into the trunk of the car and raped the other woman. Testimony also showed he forced all three to kneel as they were shot. One of the women said he grabbed her by her hair and kicked her to find out if she was still alive.
"She played dead," Elmer Beckworth, the Cherokee County district attorney who prosecuted Adams and Cobb, recalled last week. "If she cried out, they would have killed all three of them."
Cobb would say later that Adams handed him the shotgun and told him to kill Vandever, saying he "just closed my eyes and pulled the trigger."
Vandever was fatally wounded. The women were kicked and shot again. Cobb and Adams believed both women were dead and fled. One of the women, however, was able to get up and run to a house to summon help.
Adams and Cobb were arrested several hours later in Jacksonville, about 25 miles to the north.
Adams was tried for capital murder under the Texas law of parties, which makes an accomplice equally culpable as the actual killer. A fellow inmate in the Cherokee County Jail testified Adams bragged to him that he did the shootings, but Beckworth said evidence from Cobb showed Cobb was the gunman.
Their shotgun never was recovered, but DNA evidence, along with the victims' testimony, tied Adams to the sexual assault.
"I think there were victims on both sides," Sten Langsjoen, one of Adams' trial lawyers, said. "It was a terrible event and I think there's no winners in that."
The defense strategy was to show Cobb as "the motivating influence and that Beunka was kind of a tag-along ... the one who got roped into it in a fashion," he said.
Adams declined to speak from death row with reporters as his execution date neared.
Beckworth said Vandever had suffered a brain injury in a traffic accident and was known around Rusk for riding his bicycle and keeping people company at the convenience store. He was in an eating area separate from the clerks and apparently wasn't spotted by the robbers until he got up to leave.
"If he had hid or stayed still, they may not have seen him," Beckworth said.
Adams was among at least six Texas inmates with execution dates in the coming months and would be the fifth put to death this year. Another is set for next week.
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