A Murder in Texas
Part Three – The Trial
I’ve been trying to research this case for a few months now and, unlike some other crime stories I’ve written about, there’s actually very little information about the original trial itself on the internet.
Whereas, the transcripts of the West Memphis Three were readily available, these are not.
I’m sure that with more time, and money, I could get to the archives of the Amarillo newspapers, but unfortunately, I don’t have the resources for it at present.
However, I’m sure we can make certain assumptions from things that are available.
It was a short trial lasting less than a week.
Testimony in the trial began on Thursday, August 26, 1982.
He was condemned to death on Wednesday, September 1,1982.
He was received into Huntsville prison’s death row on December 15, 1982.
The District Attorney, Danny Hill, called few witnesses.
The state-contracted pathologist, who described the brutality inflicted upon the victim, and confirmed that semen had been found in a vaginal wash. There had been too little semen to test with the equipment he had available and, since no one asked him to keep it, he had disposed of the evidence.
Five nuns were called to give their statements about what happened the day Sister Tadea was found dead in her room.
Sister Angela Martinez, who discovered the nun’s body early the morning of Oct. 31, 1981, testified she went into shock and could not think of what to do after finding Sister Tadea’s nude body on the floor with her arms outstretched by her side.
‘I missed her and was concerned because she seldom missed chapel,’ Sister Angela said. She found the door to Sister Tadea’s convent room was closed.
‘It was very much unsual that the door was closed because Sister Tadea was hard of hearing and always left her door ajar to hear the morning buzzer,’ she said. ‘I knew it was not Sister Tadea’s doing, but I could not think further.
‘It was too much for me. I was in shock.’
Four other nuns testified they wrapped Sister Tadea’s body in a sheet, believing she had died in a fall, and cleaned up spots of blood on the floor near her body.
Sister Florantine said she discovered a broken window later in the day and realized a break-in had occurred. When police arrived to investigate the break-in, she said she thought of telling them about the nun’s death, but hesitated.
‘In my mind, I thought of it. But I took it for granted, as did the others, that she died a natural death,’ she said.
The investgating detective was called to give his testimony of the events leading up to the arrest of Johnny Garrett and told the court of an untaped “confession” supposedly made by Garrett the night he was arrested.
That so called confession was never signed by Garrett after it was written up.
He said that he would sign nothing until he spoke with an attorney.
Lastly, a jailhouse snitch, whose name I was unable to find, testified that Garrett had told him that he HAD raped and killed Sister Tadea.
After the prosecution rested, Bill Kolius, the defense attorney, had only one witness to present for direct examination, the defendant, Johnny Frank Garrett, himself.
He proclaimed his innocence and claimed he sneaked into the convent mid-day several days earlier to steal necklaces. He used the butter knife to pry open a locked cabinet. He must have left his fingerprint on the headboard when he reached across the bed to grab a cross hanging on the wall.
When the defense rested it’s case, Hill, the prosecutor, recalled one of the nuns as a rebuttal witness.
She testified that no one could have sneaked in at that time without being seen, that no cabinets were kept locked, that Sister Benz never kept a cross above her bed, and that no items were missing from the convent.
Tomorrow – Part Four, Evidence Issues and An Unheard Witness