'Dean of Death Row' Wins Temporary Reprieve - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

01/23/07

'Dean of Death Row' Wins Temporary Reprieve

Texas' longest-serving condemned prisoner, set to die this week after 31 years on death row, won a reprieve Monday from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ronald Chambers, 52, was scheduled for lethal injection Thursday, but his punishment was delayed indefinitely by an order from Justice Antonin Scalia.

"We are grateful for the stay," said James Volberding, Chambers' attorney. "We did not know whether the Supreme Court would grant one."

Chambers' attorneys had asked the high court to postpone his execution until it rules on another Texas capital case that raises questions about whether jurors were properly instructed to consider mitigating factors when deciding a death sentence. Arguments in those three related cases were held last week.

"Chambers has the same issues," Volberding said.

Chambers was condemned for the abduction and fatal shooting of Mike McMahan, 22, a Texas Tech student from Washington state, during a 1975 carjacking in Dallas.

Scalia, in his one-paragraph order, said only that the reprieve would remain in effect until the court decides whether to accept Chambers' request for a review. The court's current session runs through June.

"The most likely reason the Supreme Court stayed the execution is to first decide the three pending cases argued Jan. 17 dealing with whether those three men received proper sentencing instructions," Volberding said.

Chambers arrived on death row Jan. 8, 1976, three days before his 21st birthday.

"By now, I thought it would be one way or another," he said in a recent interview. "I was looking for it to be executed or to get a life sentence."

He's had three trials and has been sentenced to death three times.

His first conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because a state-appointed psychiatrist who questioned him failed to warn him that his responses would be used against him.

He was retried in 1985 and convicted again. The Supreme Court threw out that conviction four years later, ruling that prosecutors improperly excluded three black people from his jury.

He was tried a third time, in 1992, convicted and sentenced to die. It's that conviction justices are being asked to review.

"We just can't handle this much more," Bennie McMahan of Kennewick, Wash., whose son was killed in the carjacking, said when told Monday of the reprieve.

Chambers and a friend, Clarence Ray Williams, both of Dallas, confronted McMahan on April 11, 1975, as he and his date, Deia Sutton, a University of Texas at Arlington student, were leaving a Dallas club.

At gunpoint, the couple were driven in their car to a levee on the Trinity River south of downtown Dallas, where their captors pushed them down an embankment. Chambers fired five shots at them and then pounded McMahan in the back of the head 10 to 20 times with a shotgun as Williams choked Sutton and tried to drown her in the muddy water. Chambers also hit Sutton three times with the shotgun.

Sutton survived, and within days Chambers and Williams were arrested.

Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and murder, accepted two life sentences and remains in prison.

Sutton has testified at each of Chambers' trials.

Courtesy of CNN Newsource.

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