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Texas inmate faces execution for killing his great aunt

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas inmate convicted of fatally beating his 83-year-old great aunt nearly 22 years ago is scheduled to die by lethal injection Wednesday, even after family members asked that his life be spared.

Prosecutors said Quintin Jones killed Berthena Bryant in September 1999 after she refused to lend him money, beating her with a bat in her Forth Worth home then taking $30 from her purse to buy drugs.

But some of Bryant’s family, including her sister Mattie Long, don’t want Jones to be executed. Jones is Long’s grandnephew.

“Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot. Even so, God is merciful. 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,” Long wrote in a letter that was part of Jones’ clemency petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The board voted 7-0 on Tuesday to deny the petition and Gov. Greg Abbott was not expected to go against the board’s decision. Abbott has granted clemency to only one death row inmate since taking office in 2015. In 2018, Abbott commuted the death sentence of Thomas Whitaker, who masterminded the fatal shootings of his mother and brother, to life in prison without parole.

On Wednesday, Jones’ attorney filed a civil rights complaint against the board, alleging race played “an impermissible role” in its denial of Jones’ petition. Jones’ attorney says the case is similar to Whitaker’s and the only difference is that Whitaker is white and Jones is Black.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office denied Jones’ allegations against the board. Later Wednesday, U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks Jr. dismissed the complaint, writing that “while Jones raises troubling allegations, he has not substantiated them.”

Abbott could still delay the execution for 30 days but he has never taken such action without a recommendation from the board.

Jones also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution. Lower appeals courts have turned down his requests to stay his execution.

In court documents, Jones’ attorney, Michael Mowla, argued that Jones is intellectually disabled and that his death sentence is based on since discredited testimony that wrongly labeled him as a psychopath and a future danger. Mowla also said Jones’ history of drug and alcohol abuse that started at age 12 and physical and sexual abuse he suffered were never considered at his trial.

If Jones’ execution is carried out, he would be the first inmate in Texas to receive a lethal injection since the July 8 execution of Billy Joe Wardlow. Four other executions had been set for earlier this year but were either delayed or rescheduled. While Texas has usually been the nation’s busiest death penalty state, in 2020 it executed only three inmates. It was the fewest executions in nearly 25 years, mainly because of the pandemic.

Jones, 41, has asked that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison, saying he is not the same person who killed his great-aunt when he was 20 years old. He expressed remorse and said he has sought redemption during his more than two decades on death row.

In a video published by the New York Times, Jones asked Abbott to grant him clemency, saying he would use the rest of his life in prison “to better myself and to better others along the way.”

“Another thing that helped me out was my great-aunt, Aunt Mattie. It was her sister. So, by her loving me enough to forgive me, it gave me the strength to try to do better and want to do better,” Jones said.

Helena Faulkner, a Tarrant County assistant criminal district attorney whose office prosecuted Jones, said she couldn’t comment on pending appeals in the case. When questioned about the victim’s relatives asking to stop the execution, Faulkner said, “Not all family members oppose Mr. Jones’ execution.”

In court documents filed last week, prosecutors argued the death sentence was justified as Jones has a violent history, including assaulting teachers and participating in two other murders.

Suleika Jaouad, a writer who began corresponding with Jones a decade ago, has led the effort to stop his execution. Others who have supported Jones’ clemency request include actors Mandy Patinkin and Sarah Paulson.

“We are a nation that prides itself on second chances. Quin is clear-eyed that he deserves to be in prison for the rest of his life. He hasn’t forgotten his crime, and he’s not asking us to forgive or to forget. But he is seeking redemption,” Jaouad wrote in a Facebook post last week.


Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press