A Texas man sentenced to die for his role in a robbery in which three people were shot, one fatally, asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to keep him from the death chamber that night.
Beunka Adams, 29, would be the fifth person executed in Texas this year. His attorneys asked the nation's highest court to halt the execution, review his case and let him pursue appeals claiming he had deficient legal help at his trial and during earlier stages of his appeals.
Adams won a reprieve from a federal district judge earlier this week, but the Texas attorney general's office appealed the ruling, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the death warrant Wednesday.
Adams was one of two men sent to death row for the slaying of Kenneth Vandever, 37. He was in a convenience store on Sept. 2, 2002, in Rusk, about 115 miles southeast of Dallas, when two men wearing masks and carrying a shotgun walked in and announced a holdup.
After robbing the store, Adams and Richard Cobb drove off with the two female clerks and Vandever in a car belonging to one of the women.
Testimony at Adams' trial showed he gave the orders during the holdup and initiated the abductions. They drove to a remote area about 10 miles away in Cherokee County, where Adams demanded Vandever and one woman get into the trunk of the car and then raped the other woman. Testimony also showed he forced all three to kneel as they were shot.
Vandever was fatally wounded. The women were kicked and shot again before Cobb and Adams, believing they were dead, fled. Both were alive, however, and one was able to run to a house to summon help.
Adams and Cobb were arrested several hours later in Jacksonville, about 25 miles to the north. Adams was identifiable because he had slipped off his mask after one of the women said she thought she knew him.
During questioning by police, Adams "didn't fully say what he did but enough to show guilt under the law of parties," said Cherokee County District Attorney Elmer Beckworth.
That Texas law makes an accomplice equally culpable as the actual killer. Beckworth said evidence pointed to Cobb as the gunman, although testimony at trial showed Adams bragged to another jail inmate that he was the shooter.
The law of parties became an issue in some of Adams' appeals, with his lawyers arguing trial lawyers and earlier appeals attorneys should have contested jury instructions related to the law.
Assistant Attorney General Ellen Stewart-Klein countered in court documents that Adams showed "total participation in a capital murder and the moral culpability required of one sentenced to death."
Cobb, who was 18 at the time of the holdup, was convicted and sentenced to die in a separate trial eight months before Adams, who was 19 at the time of the crime. Evidence tied the two to a string of robberies that happened around the same time.
"You could see with their prior aggravated robberies the level of intensity was rising," Beckworth said.
Cobb does not yet have an execution date set. At Adams' trial, Adams was portrayed as "a kind of tag-along" influenced by Cobb, said Sten Langsjoen, a trial lawyer for Adams. The two had met as ninth-graders at a boot camp. Evidence showed they began committing burglaries together, then switched to more lucrative armed robberies.
Adams declined to speak from death row with reporters as his execution date neared.
Vandever had suffered a brain injury as a result of a car accident, said Beckworth, who described him as mentally challenged. He was known around Rusk for riding his bicycle and keeping folks company at the convenience store, the prosecutor said. Vandever was in the store's eating area, not near the women, and the robbers apparently didn't spot him until he got up to leave.
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