First of 2 Texas executions scheduled in 2 nights carried out
This will be the first time in six years that Texas has put to death two prisoners in two nights
By Keri Blakinger
HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Professing his innocence till the end, an East Texas man convicted of drowning his former housemate and stuffing her body into a barrel of lime was put to death in the first of two consecutive executions scheduled in the Lone Star State.
Now, if Thursday's punishment goes through as planned, it'll be the first time in six years that Texas has put to death two prisoners in two nights, a grim milestone that comes amid a slight uptick in executions here this year.
"I'm not the one that killed Christina, so whatever makes y'all happy," Troy Clark said in his last words. "I love ya'll. I'll see you on the other side. Y'all be good. OK Warden I'm ready. "
He chuckled before giving his final statement.
The lethal dose began at 6:15 p.m., according to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman.
"I feel it," he said as the drugs began to flow.
He was pronounced dead at 6:36 p.m.
The Tyler man was sentenced to die in 2000 for killing Christina Muse out of fear the young mother would snitch on him for his drug use, according to court records. He was convicted in part due to the testimony of his then-girlfriend Tory Bush, who admitted to the crime then fingered Clark - even though there was no physical evidence connecting him to the murder.
The May 1998 slaying came just after Muse moved out of the Smith County home where Clark and Bush lived and sold meth.
One day when Muse stopped back at the home to visit, she and Clark started talking and at some point in the conversation, according to court records, he used a stun gun to take her down, then duct-taped her arms and legs and left her in a closet for hours. Then, he moved her into the bathtub and ordered Bush to get a board so he could beat the bound woman.
After drowning Muse, according to court records, Clark ordered his girlfriend to go get lime. When she got back, he dumped the slain woman's body in a blue barrel filled with lime, cement mix and water.
Later, according to the state's theory, Clark and some friends loaded the barrel into a truck and ditched it in a remote spot on his landlord's property.
When authorities found the gruesome remains, they also discovered the body of Tracy Mize - another possible victim - decaying in a septic tank on the same property.
Clark has consistently denied any involvement in Muse's death, saying he wasn't at home at the time of the slaying, and that he was out delivering drugs. No physical evidence linked him to the crime, defense lawyers pointed out.
In the years since he was sent to death row, Clark has argued that he suffered bad lawyering, didn't get to show evidence rebutting claims he would be a future danger to society, and that his girlfriend's testimony was self-serving and unreliable - especially considering she once confessed to the crime herself.
"Clark's death sentence is the product of the largely uncorroborated testimony of an incentivized co-defendant and a trial attorney whose performance was abysmal," attorneys David Dow and Jeff Newberry wrote in a clemency petition, alleging the trial team failed to present evidence of Clark's traumatic childhood and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder.
In the days leading up to Clark's execution, the case attracted attention from actress Susan Sarandon, author Mary Buser and renowned death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean.
"Texas plans to execute Troy Clark on Wednesday but there are some serious problems with his case," Prejean tweeted. "Troy has always maintained his innocence. Someone else made a detailed confession and then completely changed her story in exchange for a reduced sentence."
A day after Clark's scheduled date with death, Daniel Acker is slated for execution. The Sulphur Springs man was sent to death row in 2001 after he was convicted of strangling his girlfriend and pushing her from a moving car - though the state abandoned the strangulation theory after trial.
Like Clark, he's consistently maintained his innocence, and defense lawyers have argued Marquetta George jumped from the car on her own, making the death possibly manslaughter but not capital murder.
The last time two convicted killers were executed in two days was in 2012, when the state put to death Ramon Hernandez of Bexar County and Preston Hughes, from Harris County. Hughes, who also professed his innocence with his final words, was convicted in the stabbing deaths of two children.
This time around neither of the executions is out of Harris County, the erstwhile "capital of capital punishment."
Last year, the Lone Star State executed seven men, nearly one-third of the nation's 23 total. This year, the death house in Huntsville has now seen nine executions, and another seven are scheduled in the remainder of the year. Two more - including a cop-killer from Harris County - are on the calendar in early 2019.
Despite the slight uptick in Texas this year, national numbers are likely to hold fairly steady by year-end, according to Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. And even that uptick in the nation's busiest death chamber, he added, isn't necessarily indicative of any change in the long-term waning of capital punishment.
"Executions look as though they will remain near generational lows this year and to the extent that there is any difference," he said, "that difference will be Texas."
- Lethal Injection