Lora and Douglas White were married for 10 days when the couple decided on Sept. 21, 1993, to take a walk around Eastfield College in Mesquite. It was the last thing the newlyweds would do together. The night tragically ended in a murder and rape that eventually landed Alvin Avon Braziel Jr. on death row.
Texas executed 43-year-old Braziel Tuesday night, despite his attorneys' last-minute pleas to halt the execution hours before he was scheduled to die. His lawyers claimed prosecutorial misconduct during the 2001 trial. But the original trial court Tuesday quickly denied the motion to withdraw the execution date and the Court of Criminal Appeals also denied a stay of execution around 6:30 p.m.
The execution came 25 years after Braziel attempted to rob the young couple during their campus stroll. Instead, Braziel fatally shot 27-year-old Douglas and raped 23-year-old Lora at gunpoint in nearby bushes. Braziel, who was 18 at the time, eventually escaped into the night. The crime was unsolved until 2001.
By that time, Braziel was serving a five-year sentence for a 1996 conviction of sexual assault against a 15-year-old. In February 2001, blood samples from Braziel were tested against samples taken from Lora’s rape kit from the night her husband was killed. The two samples were a match, and Lora also identified Braziel in a photo lineup.
Braziel was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death on July 26, 2001, in a Dallas district court. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision in October 2003 and again upheld the decision in 2009, when it denied Braziel’s application for a writ of habeas corpus.
With a week before the scheduled execution, Braziel’s attorneys had filed for the state's highest criminal court to reconsider the original writ on Dec. 3, but then withdrew the suggestion the following day, according to General Counsel Sian Schilhab.
Braziel's lawyers challenged the district court’s decision in several filings throughout the years, arguing that Braziel’s original trial attorney compromised a fair sentencing by failing to present mitigating evidence of Braziel’s head injuries, exposure to drugs and alcohol in utero, a family history of mental illness and physical abuse, homelessness and struggles in school.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously decided Friday not to recommend a 120-day reprieve and commutation for Braziel.
Braziel's attorneys, David R. Dow and Jeffrey R. Newberry, exhausted all efforts on Tuesday afternoon when they filed a last-minute plea to the Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that the county prosecutor in the 2001 trial "purposefully elicited [an] emotional outburst" from Lora during her trial testimony when he showed her a picture of Douglas from his autopsy.
Dow and Newberry wrote that prosecutor George West's co-counsel, Tom D'Amore, notified the state's current legal team Monday night that West muttered, "Watch this," to him before showing Lora the photo. The implication was that West allegedly had the intention of causing a scene.
"This caused Ms. White to begin crying and to lose her composure to the point that she left the courtroom and began crying so loudly she could be heard inside the courtroom," Dow and Newberry wrote in Tuesday's filing to the appeals court.
The two attorneys were notified of the detail Tuesday morning and filed an order to halt the execution in the trial court, which offered to comply if Braziel's legal team was able to obtain a sworn statement from D'Amore by 5:30 p.m., just 30 minutes before the execution could begin. They asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to still stay the execution even if D'Amore did not meet the deadline, citing an unreasonable lack of time.
Texas pronounced Braziel dead at 7:19 Tuesday evening, after he delivered his final words.
"Yes Sir, I would like to thank the Shape Community Center for all their support," he said. "I would like to thank all those overseas, Italy and France, for their support for the death row prisoners. I would also like to apologize to Lori (sic) for the second time for her husband dying at my hand. To the White family and to Tashell for not being there, I love you. I'm finished, Warden, you may proceed."
Braziel was the 13th and final inmate put to death by Texas in 2018 — on the heels of Joseph Garcia’s execution last Tuesday — and the nation’s 24th. There are now six executions scheduled for 2019 after Texas courts most recently added Dexter Johnson and Patrick Murphy to the growing list in December.