Execution for 1999 murder of Cumby man still scheduled for this evening
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to halt punishment; similar request before U.S. Supreme Court
By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor and MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press Writer
Oct. 21, 2008 - Death row inmate Joseph Ray Ries' chances for a stay of execution got even slimmer Monday when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed an application for a writ of habeas corpus and denied his motion for a stay of execution.
Convicted at age 19 for the February 1999 shooting murder of Robert Lee Ratliff, 64, Ries is slated for death by injection this evening unless the U.S. Supreme Court or Texas Gov. RIck Perry says otherwise.
Eighth Judicial District Judge Robert Newsom denied a request Friday to grant a writ of habeas corpus and stay of execution. Habeas corpus proceedings are usually requested to determine whether a court that imposed a sentence had both the jurisdiction and authority to do so.
The state Court of Criminal Appeals, which four years ago denied Ries' application for a writ of habeas corpus, ruled Monday afternoon another habeas corpus application filed Oct. 17 should be dismissed, thereby denying his motion for a stay of execution.
Ries' lawyer, James Terry Jr., todayasked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the punishment and examine the case, contending among his arguments that Ries' rights were violated because his earlier appeals were handled by an incompetent attorney. Terry also argued Ries' trial lawyer failed to adequately show jurors how Ries was raised by a drug-addicted and alcoholic mother whose parental rights twice were revoked, and how Ries was abused in some of the dozen foster homes where lived.
''We've got a system that's broken and at every level it's been broken for him,'' Terry said. He acknowledged the crime was horrible but contended Ries' life had been ''shaped by the failures of those whose legal and moral duty was to help him.''
A Hopkins County jury in November of 1999 took only 7 minutes to convict him, and spent 5 1/2 hours deliberating before reaching a verdict of death by lethal injection.
"I hope God blesses everyone that was in the court room. I hope to see them in heaven, each and every one," Ries told the Ratliff family at the end of his trial in November 1999.
On Feb. 18, 1999, Ries stole Ratliff's farm pickup for a trip to San Antonio. Ries had lived at Ratliff's home in Cumby, but Ratliff kicked him out after he suspected Ries of stealing some items.
Ries and a friend, Christopher Lee White, also 19 at the time, returned three days later to take Ratliff's Lincoln Continental because the truck got poor gas mileage. (Whitewas later tried separately and received life in prison.)
Ratliff wasn't home, so they broke in and stole two rifles, drove the pickup into a pond until it sank, then waited behind a barn until Ratliff came home and went to sleep. Ratliff was shot, then they drove off in his Lincoln, stopping to eat at a restaurant in Greenville before heading for Dallas and then Oklahoma. Ratliff's body was later found by a relative.
''Why Mr. Ries decided to stop and murder him, it's beyond me,'' said Hopkins County District Attorney Martin Braddy, who prosecuted Ries. ''That's something only he can understand. He had the keys and he was leaving the house when they killed him. It just seemed so cold and callous and so useless.''
Ries was arrested by police in Lawton, Okla. He was driving Ratliff's car, which by then had been reported stolen, and was wearing Ratliff's hat.
Prosecutors said Ries was the triggerman.
''We don't have a lot of violent crime here, and so our jurors are not callous to it,'' Braddy said. ''I imagine citizens in other jurisdictions see murders all the time, a part of everyday life, but not here. So it probably took some people aback.''
Ries, who said drug use in high school worsened when he found easy access to drugs while attending Texas A&M University-Commerce, said he was high when the shooting occurred.
''I'm not sure exactly what happened,'' he said recently in an interview outside death row.
He said he remembered stealing the pickup, driving to San Antonio and getting high and driving back.
''The next thing I know, I'm sitting in a car freaking out,'' he said. ''I'd killed somebody.''
He said he was high when he was arrested and when he made a videotaped confession to police.
The prospect of death was frightening ''in a way,'' Ries said, but added that he'd accepted Christ into his life and was prepared for it.
''Life is just a bridge,'' he said.
Jurors who decided Ries should die also were told of his auto thefts, property damage, poor impulse control, disregard for rules and anger toward some relatives.