HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A man who confessed to killing five people during a six month crime spree in a southeastern Texas port city 15 years ago is scheduled for execution Wednesday in the fatal shooting of a firefighter.
Elroy Chester killed Willie Ryman III in February 1998. Ryman, a decorated Port Arthur firefighter, interrupted Chester as he sexually assaulted Ryman's two teenage nieces during a break-in at their home. Chester, who was on probation at the time, was arrested soon after and subsequently pleaded guilty to killing the 38-year-old firefighter.
"He's just a scary guy," Paul McWilliams, one of the trial prosecutors, recalled of Chester last week. "He was just dead set on doing what he was doing, and he got away with it for a long time."
DNA evidence tied Chester to the rapes. Ballistics tests matched his gun to the slayings of Ryman and four others; the gun was stolen in one of 25 burglaries in Port Arthur attributed to Chester.
A jury deliberated 12 minutes before deciding Chester should be put to death.
Chester also confessed to killing 78-year-old John Henry Sepeda and Etta Mae Stallings, 87, during burglaries. He told police he stalked Cheryl DeLeon, 40, then fatally beat her with his gun as she arrived home from work. And he admitted to shooting his 35-year-old brother-in-law, Albert Bolden Jr., in the head.
"It was just a horrible time in Port Arthur when these murders and attempted murders were going on," McWilliams said.
Chester's lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday after federal appeals court earlier in the day refused to halt the punishment, rejecting their appeal that focused on the conduct of a judge who ruled earlier in Chester's case.
Judge Edith Jones was in a 2-1 majority two years ago that determined Chester was not mentally impaired and was therefore eligible for execution. Chester's attorneys argued Jones subsequently displayed bias against Chester when she discussed his case during a February lecture on the death penalty at the University of Pennsylvania law school.
Jones' remarks in February were not recorded, but attorneys for Chester obtained affidavits from several people who attended and backed an account from a lawyer who described Jones' "outrage and incredulity" that Chester and others would raise mental impairment claims in their appeals. Chester's lead appeals lawyer, Susan Orlansky said the comments "infected" Jones' judgment and called her impartiality into question.
Chester's attorneys requested a reprieve to give new judges on the case time to study it and the allegations against Jones. They are not contesting his guilt.
The new judicial panel reviewing the arguments Wednesday said it perceived "no injustice, nor any incorrectness."
Chester would be the seventh convicted killer executed this year in Texas and the 499th since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982 following a nearly two-decade-long hiatus.
A Dallas woman, Kimberly McCarthy, is scheduled June 26 to become the 500th Texas inmate executed in modern times.