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Texas executed Quintin Jones on Wednesday evening for the 1999 murder of his great-aunt. His lawyer argued that Jones’ plea for clemency was rejected in part because he was Black.
After the parole board on Tuesday denied Jones’ mercy petition to change his sentence to life in prison, his lawyer complained in federal court that the same board had previously spared the life of Thomas Whitaker, a white man, in a comparable death penalty case three years ago.
"The lack of consistency in the application of grounds for clemency — where clemency was recommended and granted for Whitaker, who is white, and rejected for Mr. Jones, who is black — presents a legally cognizable claim that Mr. Jones’s race played an impermissible role in the Board’s denial of his application for clemency," the filing said.
Jones was sentenced to death in 2001 in Tarrant County after he beat his 83-year-old great-aunt, Berthena Bryant, to death with a baseball bat after she refused to lend him more money, according to court records. He said he was on drugs.
But in the two decades since he had been on Texas’ death row, Bryant’s sole surviving sibling had forgiven Jones, her grandnephew who she says was filled with remorse and grew into a different person. In a clemency petition asking the state pardons board and governor to commute his sentence to life in prison, she and Jones’ twin brother pleaded for the state not to victimize them again.
“Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot. Even so, God is merciful,” Mattie Long wrote in an affidavit. “Quintin can’t bring her back. I can’t bring her back. I am writing this to ask you to please spare Quintin’s life.”
After clemency was rejected, Gov. Greg Abbott decided not to intervene and several late appeals were denied, Jones, 41, was led into Texas’ death chamber in Huntsville shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday. His family was not in the adjacent witness room, according to a prison report.
"I would like to thank all of the supporting people who helped me over the years," he said into a microphone above his head while laying on a gurney. "I was so glad to leave this world a better, more positive place."
At 6:28 p.m., he was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. He was pronounced dead 12 minutes later.
Media were also not allowed to witness the execution, going against policy, according to The Huntsville Item. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice apologized to the Item and said the failure was because of a miscommunication between prison officials, some of whom had never worked an execution before.
Though the parole board rarely recommends clemency — and Texas governors grant it even less often — the similarities between Jones’ and Whitaker’s cases gave Jones’ supporters hope. Since Abbott took office in 2015, Texas has executed more than 50 people, and Abbott has spared the life of one.
Whitaker had also been sentenced to death for his relatives’ murders, and, like in the case of Jones, a surviving family member of both the victims and murderer begged for mercy.
A 41-year-old white man, he was sentenced to death for the 2003 shooting deaths of his mother and brother in Fort Bend County. He had planned the murders of his family members with his roommate, who shot the victims as they all came home from dinner one evening. Whitaker’s father, Kent, was also shot, but survived.
In Thomas Whitaker’s time on death row, his father pleaded for the state not to kill the last remaining member of his family, at least in part prompting the unanimous recommendation from the parole board for clemency in 2018. Gov. Greg Abbott accepted the recommendation, halting Thomas Whitaker’s execution within an hour of his scheduled death, and his sentence was changed to life in prison.
Thomas Whitaker’s waiver of any possibility of parole and the lesser sentence of life in prison for the triggerman in the murders also persuaded Abbott to change the man’s death sentence to one of life in prison, the governor said.
A federal judge dismissed Jones' discrimination claim Wednesday afternoon, saying there was no direct evidence the board had considered Jones' race. He also noted Jones had been convicted of violent behavior in his youth and was tied to two other murders.
In Jones’ death penalty case, prosecutors said Jones also admitted his involvement in two other murders months before his aunt’s death. But Jones largely pinned those murders, for which he wasn’t convicted, on another man, Riky Roosa. In his clemency affidavit, Jones’ twin brother blamed all of the murders on the influence of Roosa, a man 20 years older than Jones with easy access to drugs, and his brother’s addiction.
Roosa, who is white, was sentenced to life in prison for the other two murders, according to Jones’ clemency petition. He will become eligible for parole in 2039, prison records show.
Jones’ execution was the state’s first execution of the year and its second during the coronavirus pandemic, an unusual lull in the state with the busiest death chamber. Aside from clemency appeals, Jones also filed late appeals in state and federal courts this month.
In legal filings, Jones’ lawyer argued the execution should be halted to determine if Jones has an intellectual disability that would bar him from the death penalty. He also argued that discredited evidence presented at his trial swayed the jury into believing Jones was a “psychopath” and therefore likely a future danger. Jurors are asked to weigh potential future dangerousness when deciding between sentences of life in prison or death.
Jones’ lawyer argued the psychologist testifying for the state used a psychopathy checklist that other psychologists have discredited, with a Texas A&M professor calling it “unreliable, unscientific, and misleading in capital cases because (it) cannot reliably predict behavior in prison.”
Tarrant County prosecutors countered that the professor’s opinion did not discredit the checklist. Plus, they said in a court filing, there was other evidence to show Jones would be a future danger to society, including the other murders he was alleged to be involved in and claims of violence at school.
Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Helena Faulkner said Wednesday that Jones' claims had been considered in every stage of the appeals process. She also said that not every family member of Bryant opposed the execution, but she said she could not provide names.
"The jury is the one that made the decision in this case," she said. "(They) did find that Quintin Jones would constitute a future danger based on all the evidence."
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the appeal last week. On Tuesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the claims, ruling they were presented too late. The U.S. Supreme Court issued the ultimate denial less than 30 minutes before his execution was scheduled.
Recently, Jones said in a New York Times interview that it took him a long time to forgive himself. Still, he hoped to be spared from the death penalty, even though he knew he would likely never leave prison.
“I can accept that,” he said. “There’s other avenues in prison that I can take to better myself and to better others along the way.”
Disclosure: Texas A&M University and The New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.