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Home News-Telegram News State News Killer of woman, 85, set to die Tuesday

Killer of woman, 85, set to die Tuesday

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 LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) — Convicted killer Willie Pondexter blamed his own stupidity and ignorance for an elderly woman's shooting death that had him set for a trip to the Texas death chamber.

"I know what I did was wrong," Pondexter, 34, said of the October 1993 murder of 85-year-old Martha Lennox during a burglary of her home in Clarksville in far northeast Texas. "At 19, you really don't think of the consequences."

Attorneys were in the U.S. Supreme Court trying to block the scheduled Tuesday evening lethal injection.

The high school dropout from Idabel, Okla., would be the ninth condemned Texas prisoner executed this year in Huntsville and the first of two set to die on consecutive nights this week in the nation's most active capital punishment state.

In their appeal, Pondexter's lawyers argued the Supreme Court should order the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether legal interns working for the inmate improperly were obstructed by corrections officers and sheriff's deputies as they tried to gather information for a clemency petition. The New Orleans-based court refused to rule on a suit filed by Pondexter's attorneys "in dereliction of its fundamental constitutional duty to decide the case before it," the attorneys said.

They asked the high court to stop the execution and order the lower court to decide the case.

"The court of appeals has a duty to decide his appeal," lawyer David Dow said.

On Friday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Pondexter's clemency petition.

"Mr. Pondexter was prevented from filing a complete clemency petition, so it is unfortunate, but not surprising," Dow said.

On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also refused to stop Pondexter's execution, ruling against him in an appeal that argued Pondexter has been a model prisoner with no violence since arriving on death row.

More than 15 years ago, Pondexter and some companions had spotted Lennox's elegant two-story Victorian house, saw she was living alone and figured she was wealthy.

The woman, in reality, was worth millions. But after she was shot twice in the head, the burglars fled with less than $20 from her purse and drove off in her Cadillac. They were arrested later in Dallas.

Pondexter was one of two men condemned for the slaying of Lennox, whose pioneer family had a long history in the Red River County area. She never married and had lived for decades in the landmark Clarksville home with her two older brothers, who also never married. They died a few years before the attack.

"I can't tell you what a kind soul she was," said Jim Clark, who knew Lennox and is manager of Clarksville's Red River Bank. "She never wished to be recognized for anything. She was very low-key. And to think about someone breaking in and murdering her, it was just beyond belief."

Lennox had donated a 374-acre forest preserve north of Clarksville to the Nature Conservancy of Texas and her family foundation — with assets topping more than $16 million as of a year ago — continues to make charitable donations.

James Leon Henderson, 35, was tried separately and also went to death row. He does not yet have an execution date. Evidence showed he first shot Lennox, then gave the gun to Pondexter, who shot her again.

"I wasn't the guy that killed her," Pondexter said. "It shocked me. This wasn't what we had talked about.

"If we planned on shooting this woman, ain't no way I'd go along. It's crazy."

A medical examiner testified at the trials of Pondexter and Henderson that either shot could have been fatal.

Although Pondexter had served no prison time before his capital murder arrest, records show he'd committed assault, battery and trespassing in Oklahoma and was considered a delinquent as a juvenile. As an adult, he was arrested in Clarksville for unlawfullly carrying a weapon, was arrested again in Oklahoma for assault and battery, received 12 years probation and violated the terms of the probation.

Less than three weeks before the Lennox shooting, records showed he robbed and stabbed an Oklahoma woman. She would testify against him at his murder trial.

At the time of the arrests, Henderson, on probation for an auto theft conviction in Oklahoma, still had the murder weapon. Besides Pondexter and Henderson, three others involved in the case received prison terms.

In 1997, some three years after arriving on death row, Pondexter nearly escaped with another condemned inmate by cutting through a recreation yard fence with a hacksaw blade.

On Wednesday, another condemned inmate, Kenneth Wayne Morris, was set to die for the slaying of a Houston man, James Adams, who was gunned down during a burglary of his home in 1991. Two more executions are set for next week.

 Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.



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