Monday, June 11, 2007

April 11, 2007

...Clark's life ended with a chuckle and a gurgle, as he tried to make up his mind whe­ther he wanted to make a last statement...

Last Meal: Clark had no final meal request.

The skinny: Clark was executed for the rape-slaying of a Denton high school honors student just days after Clark was paroled from prison almost 14 years ago.

More skinny: Clark and accomplice James Richard Brown found a teenager boy and girl at Clear Creek north of Denton. Both Clark and Brown were released from prison less than two weeks earlier.

They had a rifle and a shotgun they had stolen from vehicles, and they were looking for someone to rob that night. DNA evidence showed Clark raped the woman several times before shooting her in the back of the head with a shotgun and pushing her body into the creek.

He put the shotgun under the boy’s chin and fired, then tossed his body into the creek.

The next afternoon a group of teens found the girl's body floating in the creek, tangled in the branches of a fallen tree.

Denton police were involved first. Clark and Brown arrived at a Denton convenience store in the early morning hours looking for medical help. Brown’s leg had almost been severed above the knee by a shotgun blast, and he was in danger of bleeding to death. The Denton detective didn’t believe the shaggy, dirty fellows’ story that they had been fishing when Brown was accosted by a robber and shot in the leg and alerted other officers that the men likely had committed some crime themselves.

When Clark led the police to the area where this shooting allegedly took place, there was no sign that the men had been there fishing or that someone had been shot.

Later that day, both teens’ mothers reported them missing in Denton, and officers were working to find them when the bodies were discovered.

Both Clark and Brown eventually admitted being at Clear Creek, blaming the other for the murders.

The stock of the murder weapon and ammunition was found in Clark's home. When police went to arrest Clark, he had barricaded the hallway with a table. An officer shoved the table out of the way and reached for a knife. The officer trained his MP-5 trained on him and Clark dropped the knife.

The officers read Clark his rights and handcuffed him. They put paper bags on his hands to preserve any evidence such as possible gunshot residue. “I remember he had on tiger-striped bikini underwear. We took him to jail like that,” and officer remembers. “All the neighbors were standing around in the yard watching when we took him away. He was public enemy No. 1.”

Accomplice Brown was also tried for capital murder. He looked young and defenseless as he sat at the defense table in a wheelchair. All of his taped statements professed his sorrow at the murders and his attempts to stop them. Jurors found him guilty of robbery and sentenced him to 20 years. He has been eligible for parole twice but the parole board has denied it.

Arriving at Huntsville: After receiving the death penalty, Clark left for Huntsville at 2 a.m. the next day. When he reached the prison, the guards shackled Clark and led him into the building. “Two buses from Houston had just arrived and there must have been 150 guys in different stages of getting booked in,” the transporting officer said. “A lot of them were buck naked. The guards said, ‘Death row inmate. Everybody face the wall.’ And every man in there turned his back on Clark and he walked down that long hall with a guard on each side of him. I’ll always remember he got part of the way down the hall and he turned around, twisted around all bent over and raised his shackled hands and waved at me. I thought, he’ll never leave this place alive.”

More on the victims: The girl was a popular junior at Ryan High School. She was a straight-A student and excelled at piano. She volunteered with the Denton Humane Society and had been elected president of the campus chapter of Amnesty International for her coming senior year.

The boy was an athlete who played both football and baseball for Ryan as a sophomore. He was interested in art, and the two met in an art class the semester before they died.

The autopsy report showed the girl’s tear ducts were swollen from hours of crying before her death.

Delays and appeals: Capital punishment opponents said Clark, who dropped out after the ninth grade, should be spared from execution because he may be mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty under a Supreme Court ruling. But state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court earlier this year, rejected appeals that argued Clark was mentally retarded and instead backed prosecutors' contentions Clark deliberately performed poorly on IQ tests. Three years ago, Clark came within four days of execution before he won a reprieve from a federal appeals court so questions about the mental retardation claims could be resolved.

The courts define mental retardation as having an IQ below 70. Clark's IQ was 74 when he was sent to the Texas Youth Commission after a juvenile conviction in 1983. Two other tests showed Clark's IQ at 65 and 68.

Clark reached the equivalent of the 12th grade at the Gainesville State School, completed a GED and took a community college welding class.

Clark's cell on Death Row contained copies of newspaper articles, crossword puzzles and two novels: A Tale of Two Cities and Lord Jim. But none of the crosswords had been completed, and his attorneys said outside the courtroom that he never read the books.

Last words and such: Clark's life ended with a chuckle and a gurgle, as he tried to make up his mind whe­ther he wanted to make a last statement.

Clark, already strapped down to a gurney when the witnesses arrived, blink­ed and smiled when the prison warden asked if he had a last statement to make. “Uh, I don’t know,” he said with a nervous chuckle. “Um, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know …”

Clark then turned and appeared to see the witnesses behind the glass. “I didn’t know anybody was there,” he said with another laugh. “Howdy.” With that, he made a noise like a gurgle and was still. It had taken seven minutes for the three drugs administered in a lethal injection to take effect.

Factoids: Clark was the...

13th murderer executed in U.S. in 2007
1070th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
12th murderer executed in Texas in 2007
391st murderer executed in Texas since 1976

The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said James Lee Clark's execution was the 152nd in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in December 2000, tying the record set by his predecessor, U.S. President George W. Bush.