On Aug. 6, 1983, Betty Lou Beets reported her husband, retired Dallas
fireman Jimmy Don Beets, missing from their home near Cedar Creek Lake,
in Henderson County, Texas.
Jimmy Don's boat was found drifting near the Redwood Beach Marina on
Cedar Creek Lake on Aug. 12, 1983. In the boat authorities found Jimmy
Don's fishing license, his nitroglycerine tablets and a life jacket.
Almost two years passed before the Henderson County Sheriff's Department
received information from a credible confidential informant that
indicated Jimmy Don's death may have resulted from foul play.
Beets's son, Robert Branson, told authorities his mother informed him
that evening she intended to kill Jimmy Don; instructing him to leave
the residence while she did so.
Branson said that he returned approximately two hours later to find
Jimmy Don dead from two gunshot wounds and that he helped Beets conceal
the body in an ornamental "wishing well" in the front yard of their
Branson also said that the day after the murder, Beets placed some of
Jimmy Don's heart medication in his boat while he removed the propeller.
The two then abandoned the boat in Cedar Creek Lake.
A search warrant at the residence uncovered the body.
Additionally, the remains of Doyle Wayne Barker, another former husband
of Beets, were found buried under a storage shed in the back yard. Two
bullets were found in Jimmy Don's remains, and three bullets were found
in Barker's remains.
All five bullets were identified as .38 caliber projectiles; the same
caliber as a pistol seized from the Beets residence during an unrelated
Beets' daughter, Shirley Stenger, told detectives that she had assisted
her mother in burying the body of Barker in Oct. 1981, after Beets had
shot and killed him.
Various other witnesses testified at trial concerning Beet's attempts to
collect life insurance and pension benefits after Jimmy Don's death.
Texas Attorney General
Media advisory: Betty Lou Beets scheduled to be
AUSTIN - Friday, February 11, 2000
Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the
following information on Betty Lou Beets who is scheduled to be executed
after 6 p.m., Thursday, February 24th:
FACTS OF THE CRIME
On Aug. 6, 1983, Betty Lou Beets reported her husband,
retired Dallas fireman Jimmy Don Beets, missing from their home near
Cedar Creek Lake, in Henderson County, Texas.
Beets's son, Robert
Branson, later told authorities his mother informed him that evening she
intended to kill Jimmy Don; instructing him to leave the residence while
she did so.
Branson said that he returned approximately two hours later
to find Jimmy Don dead from two gunshot wounds and that he helped Beets
conceal the body in an ornamental "wishing well" in the front yard of
their house. Beets then called the police.
Branson said that the next day, Beets placed some of
Jimmy Don's heart medication in his boat while he removed the propeller.
The two then abandoned the boat in Cedar Creek Lake. Later that day, the
search for Jimmy Don commenced.
Members of the Henderson County
Sheriff's Department, Texas Parks and Wildlife agents and numerous fire
department employees searched unsuccessfully for three weeks.
Jimmy Don's boat was found drifting near the Redwood Beach Marina on
Cedar Creek Lake on Aug. 12, 1983. In the boat authorities found Jimmy
Don's fishing license, his nitroglycerine tablets and a life jacket.
Beets was summoned to the marina where she identified the boat and its
contents as the property of her husband. Jimmy Don's body was not found.
Almost two years passed before the Henderson County
Sheriff's Department received information from a credible confidential
informant that indicated Jimmy Don's death may have resulted from foul
The investigation resumed in the spring of 1985, culminating when
Rick Rose, an investigator for the sheriff's department, obtained an
arrest warrant for Beets.
Beets was apprehended by officers of the
Mansfield Police Department on June 8, 1985, and booked into the
Henderson County jail. While Beets was in custody, Rose secured an
evidentiary search warrant for the Beets residence and its premises.
Jimmy Don's remains were found buried in the front yard, under the "wishing
Additionally, the remains of Doyle Wayne Barker, another former
husband of Beets, were found buried under a storage shed in the back
yard. Two bullets were found in Jimmy Don's remains, and three bullets
were found in Barker's remains.
All five bullets were identified as .38
caliber projectiles; the same caliber as a pistol seized from the Beets
residence during an unrelated incident.
Both Branson and his sister, Shirley Stegner,
revealed to investigators that Beets had confided to them at the time of
the murder her plan to kill Jimmy Don. In addition, Stegner told
detectives that she had assisted her mother in burying the body of
Barker in Oct. 1981, after Beets had shot and killed him.
witnesses testified at trial concerning Beet's attempts to collect life
insurance and pension benefits after Jimmy Don's death, as well as her
successful sale of Jimmy Don's boat almost a year after his death.
On July 11, 1985, Betty Lou Beets was indicted for
the capital offense of the murder of Jimmy Don Beets for remuneration
and the promise of remuneration. Beets was tried in the 173rd District
Court of Henderson County before a jury upon a plea of not guilty.
Oct. 11, 1985, the jury found Beets guilty of the capital offense. At a
separate punishment hearing on Oct. 14, 1985, the trial court sentenced
Beets to death.
Beets's conviction and sentence were automatically
appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In its original opinion,
the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Beets's conviction for capital
murder, finding that murder committed for the purpose of obtaining
insurance and pension benefits did not constitute murder for
remuneration, as defined by the Texas Penal Code.
On Sept. 21, 1988,
after the State requested a rehearing of the case, the Court of Criminal
Appeals affirmed Beets's conviction and sentence. The United States
Supreme Court denied her petition for writ of certiorari on June 26,
The trial court then scheduled Beets's execution for Nov. 8, 1989.
On Oct. 16, 1989, Beets filed a motion for a stay of execution to allow
her time to prepare and file a state habeas corpus application.
1, she filed a state habeas petition and the trial court stayed her
execution to permit adequate time to consider the claims raised. On June
27, 1990, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied habeas relief.
On Sept. 20, 1990, the trial court scheduled Beets's
execution for Dec. 6, 1990. On Sept. 25, 1990, Beets filed a second
petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court
denied certiorari on Nov. 26, 1990.
On Dec. 3, 1990, less than three
days before her scheduled execution, Beets filed her federal petition
for writ of habeas corpus and an application for stay of execution in
federal district court.
The federal district court granted a stay of
execution on Dec. 4, 1990. On Jan. 22 and 23, 1991, and April 1, 1991,
the court conducted an evidentiary hearing and, on May 9, 1991, entered
final judgment granting relief on one of Beets's claims, and denying all
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
affirmed the district court's denial of Beet's claims, but reversed the
judgment of the district court on the one claim granted relief on March
18, 1993, and remanded the case to the federal district court.
Beets's one remaining claim was addressed by the district court, and on
Sept. 2, 1998, habeas corpus relief was denied. On appeal, the Fifth
Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of relief on June 28, 1999.
Beets's motions for panel rehearing and rehearing by the en banc court
were denied on Aug. 18, 1999. The Supreme Court denied Beets's petition
for certiorari review on Jan. 18, 2000.
PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY
Betty Lou Beets admitted that she previously had been
convicted of public lewdness, which apparently occurred when she was in
Charlie's Angels Bar, a Dallas bar, where she was then employed but was
not working when the incident occurred.
Beets testified that she "auditioned"
that night, without specifying what type of audition it was for: "Well,
it's a topless place but I wasn't topless." Beets also admitted on
cross-examination that she had been convicted of another misdemeanor
offense that resulted when she shot another former husband, Bill Lane,
in the side of the stomach.
DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL
There was no evidence of drug
or alcohol use connected with the instant offense.
Betty Lou Beets, a cashier and waitress, was
convicted of the August 1983 shooting death of her fifth husband at the
couple's home near Gun Barrel City in East Texas in what authorities
said was a scheme to collect over $100,000 in insurance benefits and a
$1200 per month pension.
His body was found buried under a wishing well in
their front yard. Jimmy Don Beets was a Dallas firefighter who
disappeared on Aug. 6, 1983. His fishing boat was found drifting on Lake
She is called a Black Widow because she was also
charged but never tried for the 1981 murder of a previous husband, Doyle
Wayne Barker, who was found buried behind a tool shed on the same day
Jimmy Don's body was found. Beets had also shot and wounded her second
Texas Executes Betty Lou Beets for Husband's Murder
February 24, 2000
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (CNN) -- Texas on Thursday evening
executed a 62-year-old woman, who supporters say was driven to kill her
husband by years of domestic abuse.
Betty Lou Beets, convicted of
murdering her husband in 1983, was put to death by lethal injection at
6:18 p.m. CST at a state prison in Huntsville, Texas.
exhausted their last legal recourse about an hour before the execution,
when Gov. George W. Bush declined to stop it. Bush's decision came just
minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court declined a request by Beets'
attorneys to step into the case. Beets declined a final meal and did not
make a final statement before the execution.
"She's very scared," Beets' attorney Joe Margulies
had told CNN earlier in the day. "She doesn't want to be strapped down
to that gurney all alone." A federal appeals court on Thursday afternoon
denied a motion to stop the execution.
In its ruling, the Fifth Circuit
U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a lower court ruling issued
Wednesday rejecting a plea from Beets' attorneys that her case be re-examined
by Texas officials because she was a battered wife.
Beets is only the fourth woman executed in the United
States since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in
1976. Karla Faye Tucker was the first woman executed in Texas since the
Civil War, when she was put to death on February 3, 1998, for a 1983
Beets, who had five children, nine grandchildren and six
great-grandchildren, is the oldest person put to death in Texas since
the state resumed executions in 1982. Texas, which leads the nation in
capital punishment, has now executed 208 people since then.
Beets was convicted of murder for the 1983 shooting
death of Dallas fire captain Jimmy Don Beets, her fifth husband, in what
prosecutors said was a scheme to collect his life insurance and pension.
She also had been convicted of shooting and wounding her second husband,
and charged -- but never tried -- in the 1981 shooting death of her
'All my mama's life, she's been abused'
In Austin, U.S. District Judge James Nowlin said the
motion to stop the execution, filed as part of a lawsuit seeking to have
Beets' case reviewed because she was a battered wife, was "yet another
example of a prisoner attempting to delay execution just prior to the
The judge also dismissed the lawsuit, which argued that
Beets' civil rights were violated because she was not given a chance to
present evidence that she suffered years of domestic abuse in her five
marriages. On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, dominated
by Bush appointees, rejected Beets' pleas for a 180-day reprieve and
commutation of her sentence.
Beets' legal team and a coalition of supporters
including domestic-violence awareness groups and Amnesty International
USA wanted her death sentence commuted to life in prison.
Beets, who has been in jail since 1985, was damaged both physically and
psychologically and that she had poor legal counsel because the jury
that sentenced her to die was not told about the abuse. "Betty's
daughters went to (a previous defense attorney) ... and gave him
pictures of Betty taken after she had been beaten up, horribly battered,"
Margulies said. "Had he looked, he could have amassed the information
that we eventually got ... and asked the (parole) board to review, but
they declined. "What we're saying is, 'Give us the opportunity to
present our evidence on battering that the jury didn't hear.'"
daughter, Faye Lane, told the parole board Tuesday: "All my mama's life,
she's been abused. I've seen it with my own eyes. And I know that if the
jury heard the truth about my mama, she only could have done something
like this if she'd been very scared or threatened. "I'm not saying that
my mother should go free, but to be allowed to live out her remaining
years in prison."
Letters to Bush
Two U.N. experts on human rights had appealed to Bush
in a letter Thursday to spare Beets from execution. Asma Jahangir and
Radhika Coomaraswamy of the U.N. Commission on Human rights expressed
their concern that "abuse and extreme violence" suffered by Beets were
not considered by the investigating authorities or the courts when
convicting and sentencing her for murder.
The two U.N. officials urged
Bush to consider the specific circumstances of the crime, "and in
particular the violent abuse which Betty Lou Beets suffered at the hands
of her spouses and the effect of this abuse on her state of mind and her
In another letter Wednesday, the group Human Rights Watch had
called on Bush to grant Beets a 30-day reprieve, with senior researcher
Allyson Collins citing "a perfect opportunity for Governor Bush to
display his much-touted conservative compassion."
Bush, who is seeking the Republican presidential
nomination, had said he would not decide what action to take until the
matter had run its course in the courts. "The question I'm going to ask
is, 'Is she guilty of the crime?'" said the governor, who returned to
Austin late Wednesday.
Texas has carried out 120 executions since Bush
took office in January 1995 -- the latest on Wednesday night when
Cornelius Goss, 38, was put to death for a 1987 murder. Bush has never
granted a 30-day reprieve, but he commuted one death penalty to life in
prison, citing flimsy evidence against the inmate.
'I don't remember what happened'
The bodies of Beets' fourth and fifth husbands were
found under a wishing well in the yard of her mobile home at Gun Barrel
City, Texas. They had been shot in the head, execution-style.
Prosecutors say she murdered Jimmy Don Beets, a Dallas fire captain, but
she says she doesn't know how her husband was killed. "I wouldn't
willingly do that," Betty Lou Beets said in a death row interview. "But
I don't remember what happened then ... it's just a blank to me."
(Correspondent Charles Zewe The Associated Press and
Reuters contributed to this report.)
BETTY LOU BEETS: Grandmotherly Victim, or the "Black
"I really believe that to kill me is to tell every
battered woman and child, every abused woman and child that there is not
a chance, that there is no end but death, that we can't fight back." -Betty
On Feb. 24, 62-year-old Betty Beets is scheduled to
be only the second woman to be executed by the State of Texas (after
Karla Faye Tucker) since the Civil War. She was convicted for the 1983
murder of her fifth husband, Jimmy Don Beets.
Prosecutors claimed that
she killed him for a $100,000 insurance policy. She claims she killed
him because she was a victim of abuse (though she originally tried to
blame two of her children for the murder).
"Her long history of abuse, beginning as a child and
continuing throughout adulthood, it certainly sounds like she suffered
from battered women's syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder."
-Bree Buchanan of the Texas Council on Family Violence
Beets had never heard of "battered women's syndrome"
when she was tried for her husband's murder, but she's embracing it now.
She insists that if the jury had known the extent of the abuse she'd
lived through (she says her attorney had photos of her but chose not to
present them at the trial) they'd never have condemned her to death, if
indeed they'd have convicted her at all.
To be sure, her life has been
difficult, beginning with a rape at age five. It's very likely that she
was abused by most of her seven husbands. And no doubt she believes that
women should be taught to stand up for themselves against domestic
But it's also true that she's fought back more than most: She's
been indicted (though never tried) for the murder of her fourth husband,
Doyle Wayne Barker, whose body was found buried outside of her home (near
the body of Jimmy Don Beets); and in 1972, she shot her second husband
in the back of the head (he survived), and was allowed to plead guilty
to misdemeanor assault.
"My time is running out and the state of Texas will
pick up where my husband left off. While the Texas law enforcement out
there did nothing to help me, it is now legal for them to finish the job."
-Betty Lou Beets
Feb. 16 Update: Death penalty opponents claim that
Texas Governor George W. Bush is refusing to grant Beets clemency for
political reasons because he wants to present himself as being tough on
crime. In fact, though, there have been over 100 executions in Texas
while Bush was Governor, and clemency has only been granted once: in a
case where the inmate had been shown to be innocent.
Feb. 18 Update: A lawyer for Betty Beets has filed
suit against the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, claiming they were
obligated under state law to give special clemency consideration to
battered women convicted of killing family members.
Feb. 22 Update: The Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles denied her clemency request.
Feb. 23 Update: A Federal judge denied her motion for
a stay of execution. Beets's lawyers claimed she'd been denied her civil
rights because she hadn't been permitted to testify at her trial about
being abused by her husbands. U.S. District Judge James Nowlin left
little doubt about his feelings when he called the motion "yet another
example of a prisoner attempting to delay execution just prior to the
Feb. 24 Update: Bush returns to Texas to consider
Beets's case; and, no doubt, the political implications of any decision
Feb. 24 Update: About an hour before the scheduled
execution, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. Minutes later,
Governor Bush declined to grant a stay. Beets was put to death at 6:18
Betty Lou Beets
Bleached blonde barmaid Betty Lou Beets seemed to be
very unlucky in her choice of husbands. Out of the five, four
disappeared without trace and the other (number 3) left her after she
planted a bullet in his back after a nasty fight.
When husband number 5
appeared to have drowned in a fishing accident poor Betty was distraught,
as were his colleagues at the local fire department especially when his
body could not be found in the relatively small lake where the accident
was assumed to have occurred. Betty Lou at least had the wishing well he
had dug for her in the yard of her trailer in rural Texas to remember
The insurance payout which she claimed almost as soon as he
disappeared also helped her to come to terms with her loss.
Unfortunately, suspicions were raised within the local police and
investigations centering on the bottom of the lovingly constructed well
revealed husband number 5 wrapped in a sleeping bag and with a bullet
lodged in his brain.
Husband number 4 then turned up in a matching bag
underneath the patio. On 27 February 2000 she achieved the dubious
distinction of becoming the 21st century's first female execution in
America when she was injected with a cocktail of lethal drugs at
Huntsville Prison, Texas. It is not believed that she was wrapped in a
sleeping bag for burial.
'Black Widow' Executed
Great-Grandmother Is 4th
Female Inmate to Die in U.S. Since 1976
By Geraldine Sealy
Betty Lou Beets, a great-grandmother convicted of
murder in the death of her fifth husband, was executed by lethal
Despite pleas by battered women’s
groups and death-penalty opponents, great-grandmother and convicted
murderer Betty Lou Beets has been executed in Texas.
The 62-year-old so-called
Black Widow, convicted of killing her fifth husband, lost her final hope
at a reprieve yesterday when both the U.S. Supreme Court and Texas Gov.
George W. Bush declined to stop the execution.
Beets died at 6:18 p.m.
local time at the death house in Huntsville, Texas, 10 minutes after
lethal drugs began coursing through her body. As she lay on the gurney
in the death chamber, Beets declined an invitation to make a final
statement, prison officials said. As she waited for word of a reprieve,
Beets wrote letters, read the Bible, and visited with the chaplain in
the holding cell near the death chamber, according to a prison spokesman.
Beets is only the second woman to be executed in
Texas since the Civil War and the fourth in the United States since the
death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Shortly before the execution, Bush
released a statement explaining his decision not to step in: “After
careful review of the evidence of the case, I concur with the jury that
Betty Lou Beets is guilty of this murder. I’m confident that the courts,
both state and federal, have thoroughly reviewed all the issues raised
by the defendant.” Bush could have offered a one-time 30-day reprieve.
Both the Supreme Court and a federal appeals court had rejected Beets’
plea for a reprieve earlier today.
Battered Wife or Black Widow?
Beets’ lawyers and supporters — a coalition of death-penalty
opponents and battered women’s advocates — had appealed in recent weeks
to Texas authorities for a stay to allow for a review of her case. Some
supporters protested outside the death house before, during, and after
Beets never confessed to killing Jimmy Don Beets, her
fifth husband, in 1983. But his body was found buried under a planter in
her front yard, along with the body of Mrs. Beets’ fourth husband, Doyle
Barker. Both men had been shot and their bodies stuffed in blue sleeping
Beets and her supporters maintained the jury that sentenced her to
die in 1985 for killing Jimmy Don Beets for insurance money did not hear
all the evidence.
For example, the panel never considered, they said,
that she was abused both physically and sexually from a young age and by
all her husbands. But a member of the jury who condemned Beets said in a
recently penned letter to Bush — released by the governor’s office today
— that the panel made the right decision. “She knew that her actions
would cause Jimmy’ s death. She did it for the insurance money. She
continues to be a threat to society,” wrote juror Connie Harrington.
a press conference outside the death house, the son of Jimmy Don Beets
expressed his satisfaction that the state had taken Betty Lou Beets’
life. “I ask that God be with her family,” James Beets said. “Now she
knows what we feel like.”
Gov., Courts, Board Reject Plea
But her supporters pointed to the fact that Beets was
convicted before “battered women’s syndrome” was widely used as a
defense in courtrooms — and before states began commuting sentences of
victims of domestic violence.
Since 1991, more than 100 imprisoned
battered women from 20 states have had their sentences commuted.
“[Jurors] didn’t know they were dealing with a battered woman who had
been abused since she was 5,” Sister Helen Prejean, a death-penalty
opponent made famous by the movie Dead Man Walking, said on ABCNEWS’
Good Morning America. Prejean said she was “appalled” by the case. “They
condemned her to death without knowing that,” she said.
Beets was also
the victim of ineffective counsel, her advocates said. And, she was
never granted a review of her case, as mandated by a 1991 Texas
legislative order that requires the parole board to reconsider the
sentences handed down in murder cases involving domestic violence.
attorneys filed suit against the parole board and prison system,
claiming her rights were violated because she was denied the review
under the 1991 mandate. But U.S. District Judge James Nowlin on
Wednesday threw out the lawsuit, saying it was just another example of
an inmate trying to delay execution at the last moment. The 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and the Supreme Court also
rejected the lawsuit today.
Two Executions in Two Days
On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons
had already refused to grant a reprieve or commute her sentence. The
panel’s chairman said Beets had never confessed or shown remorse for her
actions and did not show enough evidence that domestic violence caused
her to commit the crime. Beets was the second inmate to die in Texas in
Cornelius Goss, convicted in the bludgeoning death of a 66-year-old
man during a house burglary in Dallas almost 13 years ago, was executed
on Wednesday. Since Bush took office five years ago, 121 inmates have
been executed. The Republican governor and presidential candidate has
only stopped one execution, citing flimsy evidence.
Texas Executes 'Black Widow'
Bush Rejects 62-Year-Old's
Feb. 24, 2000
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- A 62-year-old woman was
executed by injection tonight after Gov. George W. Bush rejected her
claim that she killed her fifth husband in self-defense and deserved a
Betty Lou Beets became the fourth woman to be
executed in the United States since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed
the death penalty to resume. She was the second woman executed in Texas
since the Civil War.
She gave no final statement as she lay strapped to
the death chamber gurney. She made no eye contact with the victim's
family but smiled at relatives watching through a window at her side.
She continued smiling as she slipped into unconsciousness.
opponents and domestic violence organizations had urged Bush to grant
Beets a 30-day delay, arguing it would be consistent with his
description of himself as a "compassionate conservative" in his
The delay was Bush's only option because the
state parole board did not recommend that her sentence be commuted to
life in prison. During his 5 1/2 years as governor, 120 convicted
killers have been executed in Texas. He has spared one condemned inmate.
'I concur with the jury'
"After careful review of the evidence of the case, I
concur with the jury that Betty Lou Beets is guilty of this murder,"
Bush said in a written statement after returning to Texas from
California, where he was campaigning for the Republican nomination. "I'm
confident that the courts, both state and federal, have thoroughly
reviewed all the issues raised by the defendant."
Beets and her lawyers
insisted the former bartender-waitress, convicted of fatally shooting
fifth husband Jimmy Don Beets nearly 17 years ago and burying his body
under a flower garden, was the victim of years of domestic abuse and
should be allowed to live.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New
Orleans today rejected an appeal that accused the state of not following
its own rules in reviewing Beets' case. The arguments were dismissed
Wednesday by a federal judge in Austin as a delay tactic. Beets' lawyers
also took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected it
Callers opposed execution
According to the governor's office, Bush had received
2,108 phone calls and letters opposing Beets' execution by this
afternoon, and 57 calls and letters favoring it. "A decision to stay the
execution of Ms. Beets would demonstrate your compassionate conservatism
and that you are willing to do what is right even in the face of
potential criticism from your constituents," the Rev. Jesse Jackson
wrote Bush today.
Steven Hawkins, executive director of the National
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, implored to Bush grant a
reprieve "so evidence of her being battered ... may be fully evaluated."
"Far from receiving careful consideration, the role of domestic abuse in
Betty's crime has been continually swept under the rug by the Texas
court system," Hawkins said.
Follows Karla Faye Tucker Before Beets, the last
woman executed in Texas was Karla Faye Tucker on Feb. 3, 1998. Tucker
hacked two people to death with a pickax but said she had a religious
conversion in prison and appealed for mercy.
Bush was criticized for
mocking Tucker in a magazine interview last year. Beets was the ninth
convicted killer and the second in as many days to be executed in Texas,
the nation's most active death penalty state. She spent this morning
meeting with relatives. She declined to request a final meal.
Beets insisted she was innocent, a jury convicted her of killing Jimmy
Don Beets, a Dallas Fire Department captain, to collect his life
insurance and pension. Her claims of domestic abuse surfaced only
recently and were not a factor in her 1985 trial, although one of her
daughters, Faye Lane, in a tearful plea for her mother's life, said this
week her mother was acting in self-defense after years of abuse. "I know
that if the jury heard the truth about my momma; she only could have
done something like this if she'd been very scared or threatened," Lane
Two other husbands shot James Beets, the murder
victim's son, discounted claims of abuse, saying she told friends her
husband of 11 months had been the best thing to happen to her. "Why is
she saying what she is saying about my daddy?" James Beets said.
-- dubbed the "black widow" by prosecutors -- also was convicted of
shooting and wounding her second husband, Bill Lane, and was charged but
never tried in the 1981 shooting death of her fourth husband, Doyle
Acting on a tip two years after Jimmy Don Beets was reported
missing from a fishing trip, authorities found his body buried under a
wishing well flower garden in the yard of their trailer home.
discovered nearby in another shallow grave the body of Barker, who had
been missing for four years. Both had been shot in the back of the head
and stuffed into blue sleeping bags. Beets blamed a son for Jimmy Don
The son denied any involvement and testified against her.
Beets explained Barker's disappearance by saying he left one day and
never returned. She blamed husband No. 2, Lane, for Barker's death. The
Catholic bishops of Texas, longtime opponents of the death penalty,
asked Bush this week to follow the lead of Illinois and suspend
executions. Bush has refused.
European Coalition to Abolish the
In Memorium - Betty Lou Beets
Bettie Lou Beets, a 62-years-old great grandmother,
was executed by the State of Texas on February 24, 2000 after being
abused, physically, mentally and emotionally by various men in her life
since early childhood.
Despite of all the reports she gave the police,
which clearly demonstrated the terrorizing conditions she was living
under, nobody ever cared to handle the situation before it was too late.
Beets became the 4th woman to be killed by the state in the United
States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 and the 1st.
by the State of Texas since the 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker
"I really believe that to kill me is to tell every
battered woman and child, every abused woman and child that there is not
a chance, that there is no end but death, that we can’t fight back. It
doesn’t have to be this way and God help us all if it happens this way".
Bettie was abused all her life in one way or an other,
ever since she was three, since her earliest memories. She was
physically, mentally and emotionally abused since her first memories.
As an adult and mother she was literally held hostage and threatened with
guns being held to her head - in her own home by a very violent man for
a year and a half. She filed numerous reports of domestic abuse to the
police, but Bettie was not taken serously before it was too late.
Because of hearing-empairment, she was learning disabled since school.
She got married at 15 and had 6 children.
When her husband left her and
the children after 17 years, she suffered further humiliation because
she had no scooling, no training, nor could she communicate properly
because of the hearing-empairment.
She turned to alcoholism and went
from one abusive relationship to the other. On one occasion, she was
dragged out on the field, and almost strangled, raped, and told she
could scream as much as she liked, because there were no one there to
hear her screams. Bettie was sentenced to death for the tragic murder of
her 5. husband.
Because she couldn't hear, she didn't know what was
going on during trial. There were no speakers, nobody told her what was
happening and her attorney has later been charged for co-operation with
the prosecution. It was never brought to the jury's attention that
Bettie was deaf, and that she could only understand parts of what was
All of her story was available to the courts, her attorney at
trial and the state, none of it was told and the jury didn't get to hear
any of it While on death row for women in Texas, Bettie went through
humiliation all over again. She - as the others - was being stripped
searched daily, which according to Bettie brought back childhood
In segregation she was threatened almost daily that if she
didn't pull it together she would be moved to The Treatment and
Evaluation Center and placed on suicide watch status. Then when it was
determined she was not suicidal she would be brought back to segregation
to finish her owed time.
Barnes & Noble Books
"Buried Memories: The Chilling True Story of Betty
Lou Beets, the Texas Black Widow," by Irene Pence. Mass Market Paperback,
320pp. ISBN: 0786012633 Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation Pub.
Date: March 2001.
CCADP - Betty Lou Beets Homepage
"From Darkness to Light ; A Battered Woman's Story
from Texas Death Row," by Bettie Lou Beets.
Time is running out. While this story of part of my
life is true and is mine, it can be told in whole or part by the
hundreds and thousands of women across our country. So, there is not
only my story but our story. We as battered women have got to stand up
and say, "It has to stop." The abuse of our children and of us women,
the domestic violence has to stop. At the same time we must ask
ourselves, "When and how? When will it end?" Mine will end soon.
If there are those of you out there who don’t
recognize my name, you will soon for the state of Texas seeks my life.
I’ve lived on women’s death row for 14 years in the state of Texas. My
time is running out and the state of Texas will pick up where my
husbands left off. While the Texas law enforcement out there did nothing
to help me, it is now legal for them to finish the job.
reflect the many times I filed against him until I gave up on them
helping me. I wanted to believe they would help then; I want to believe
they won’t kill me now. My trust is in Jesus and I need your prayers for
myself, for the many abused children, the battered women who don’t know
what to do, for the many children who are paying the cost of what we are
Time is running out.
I can now understand how these things happened to me,
but I couldn’t then, just as there are so many women in the world who
can’t know how or why the battering is going on in their lives or how to
get out of it for good. If you ever believed that this time would be the
last, trust me, it won’t. How far can it go? I am on death row and they
(The Texas Department of Criminal Justice) plan to take my life soon. I
wished many a time I had died at the hands of my husband and I’ve
wondered why, as well. I’ve wished that my children and grandbabies
wouldn’t have to live with the shame of what the state Texas wants to do
to me. Yes, I want to live. I want my grandbabies and all the
grandbabies out there to know there is hope and help, that there are
people who can and will help, that they can fight back in a way that
they will not be hurt for it. We have better laws for domestic violence,
but they are not strong enough and they are not enforced enough. On
behalf of myself and many other battered women, I lift up in prayer and
praise for the hundreds and thousands of battered women and children who
didn’t make it and pray to God that I do make it after all, even now
being on death row with the time running out. While all of this story
was available to the court, my attorney at trial, the state, none of it
was told and no one on the jury heard any of it. They knew nothing of my
past life to pass a sentence of death. I still believe in miracles just
like the ones that we read about in our Bible. I believe that God still
works those today to help us to learn and grow and believe and have our
hopes in Him.
I want to talk to you about privation, the mentally
ill, the impaired, the abused, and how all these things have touched my
life and have lived with me throughout my life. I was born to a poor
family in North Carolina. My mother and dad were tobacco sharecroppers
and lived in a shack without windowpanes, water, or electricity. That is
where I was born. We lived there (from what I understand) until I was
three years old - my mother, dad, and a brother two years older than
myself. Later, we moved to Virginia where my mother and dad worked in
the cotton mills.
About that time I came in contact with the measles. I
ran a high fever for days and my mother believed I would die. Measles
left me with very little hearing from running the high fever so long and
not being able to bring it down. When I started school I was hearing
impaired and learning disabled without any help - besides not knowing
there was something wrong with me. I watched - focused - as people
talked and I taught myself to lip read without knowing what it was.
Without the facial clues to help me I could not tell what was going on.
I couldn't always see the faces or expect people to turn my way as they
talked so a lot of the time I heard nothing. I married at 15 years old
to a man I loved dearly. We were married for 18 years and had six
At 31 years of age he left me and we had to learn to live
without him. I had to go to work and it was hard for I could not hear to
relate to others. I had been a wife, mother, and homemaker all those
years. I had no schooling or skills to turn to. After a while I started
to drink and I had never drank before. At first I would go out to hide
this from the kids. I didn’t like going out because of having to relate
to people and I started to stay home. I would ask my oldest daughter to
watch my smaller children so I could be alone. I would go into a world
where he was still there and I would drink myself to sleep. I did this a
lot. Even though I knew it would not change anything, it did take me
away for awhile. When I was about 40 and it was Christmas time, a friend
of mine asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him I wanted a
hearing aid. He said, “Go to the doctor and find out what you need.” I
learned I needed two hearing aids. I felt these would really help me and
change my life. They did, but not like I thought or expected, for
hearing aids don’t change what you hear, they only make everything
The hearing aids did bless me in a lot of other ways. They
enabled me to hear water, the wind, the rain, birds, things like my
watch and a clock. I had never heard them before for 40 years. I didn’t
know one could hear you walk across the carpet, or that your clothes
made a noise, too. I recall the first morning. I got up to make my son’s
breakfast, turned on the toaster and it made so much noise I asked him,
“Has it always done that?” Bobby said, “What?” I said, “The noise from
the toaster.” “Yes, Mama. It has.” It made me think of all he times I
had gotten up early to get something done before the children got up and
I knew I had to have been making enough noise to wake the dead. Later,
my attorneys sent a team of people, doctors to run tests on me. I
learned then how devastating this lack of hearing had ruled my life, ran
a pattern for me over and over. How I had felt vulnerable to men who had
raped me, men who abused me, hurt me, held guns to me, beat me and left
me for dead. After learning all these things, I cried myself to sleep at
night for a long time. A lot of questions come to mind and I needed
answers. I knew God wanted to know all our hurts, pain, all about us. He
really already does, but He wants us to tell him and ask him.
comes from Him. He’ll let you hurt, live in pain, he’ll let your heart
be ripped out and when you’ve hurt long enough and bad enough you’ll
turn to Jesus. I ask, Lord, give me something to justify this reasoning
in my view, some answers so I can go on. He says: Knock, my door will
open; seek and you will find; you ask in faith and you believe and you
shall have. So I asked, Lord, "Why did all this happen to me? Why did I
go through all this abuse that put me into a state of mind?" Why did you
let it happen?
It came to mind how all the times God had healed people,
people who could not walk, hear, see, how he healed the people who were
brought to him - people who were just there and he healed them before
many others. He could have healed them from anywhere he was. He didn’t
have to heal them before others. But God worked a miracle for the non-believers.
That was my answer. I am God’s miracle. God could have healed me and not
allowed me to be deaf. He could have sent someone to help me, could have
let me grow up and be as normal a person as I could. I wonder sometimes
now where I would be today and what kind of success I may have had if I
had not been deaf, if someone had just helped me a little. But he didn’t
let it happen that way.
He gave me a blessing and that blessing is to
share my life, my experience in hopes just like his that my testimony
will touch a child and spare them from a life like I’ve lived.
my testimony will touch an adult and they will try to understand, have
compassion for those who are unlike them in many ways and having a hard
time. To try to be just like Jesus is and how he is, to stand there and
wait as long as it takes and say, “Here I am. I want to help you and
lend a hand and pass it on to others who have less." I believe God sent
his son Jesus Christ to live here on earth in the flesh just like us,
that he lived and died and rose again to give us salvation and
everlasting life. I believe I am worthy because Jesus lives in my heart
and if it weren’t for Jesus, there would be nothing. I thank you Jesus.
Abuse has no preference
Abuse has no preference as to where, when, or how it
will apply itself from the hands of an abuser to the person who receives
it. Abuse has no preference how it is applied to effect the mind to bend
it to the abuser's control - it will do it every time. I was talking to
someone a few years ago about how it seems that no matter how good I was,
how much I did, how well I did it, it was never enough.
They told me, "Bettie,
to those kind of people you can never be good enough or do anything well
enough to please them. There will always be more they want from you." As
I thought back I found it was so true, yet we as battered women try to
please to keep what peace we can, but the end always sounded the same -
it was never enough. I can recall the times I was beaten if I answered
and beaten if I didn't. It was the same outcome. At times when I was so
scared to speak and was kicked with boots and dragged from room to room
and water poured over my head when he thought I was passed out and he
wanted me awake to endure this.
That time he left me on the floor when I
couldn't get up and walked out. There's the time I was taken out in a
field by my husband and strangled, raped, and told to scream all I
wanted to, it would do no good. I learned not to scream, to do a thing
or say a word. Just do what he wanted me to and he would take me home. I
was not even married to him then; we were divorced when this happened.
Still, no one would make him leave me alone.
These stories could go on
and on. I used to go for weeks and not think of this in here, in prison,
but not any more. Now I am stripped daily, up to 6 to 8 times a day, and
it reminds me of those times in the past. I am trying to block it out.
Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't. I just keep talking
during the time I am stripped to avoid thinking of what I am doing. Yes,
I learned to endure it, to fake it, to even live with it to some degree
because what was I to do if no one else would help me? I lived in a
state without my family with only my six children and me. It was hard
trying to run and hide, to move my children from school to school, home
to home, and start over time and time again, only for him to find me
again. My children couldn't live anything like a normal family life. We
always had to be on the lookout for someone who would hurt us and did.
This world gets very small. I moved from Texas to Virginia once and in a
few short weeks my husband was at my door and it started all over again.
On My Own
In 1969 after my divorce from the children's father,
I was told that maybe the welfare could help train me for a job. I went
to talk with them but because I was supposed to be getting $250 a month
for my five children living with me, I did not qualify. That was only
$50 a month for each child to feed, clothe, to keep a home, send them to
school and get medical care. Praise God my children were always healthy,
but for my baby. Bobby was dehydrated because he couldn't digest milk
and didn't want Kool-Aid or water.
The Welfare could have helped me with
my hearing, but said I was drawing too much money - when I could get it
from the children's father. When I called him, he came by and gave me
$50 for milk and lunch money. My children suffered as almost all
children do when there is a divorce. I believed their father when he
said he would not let them down. He didn't have to help me but he could
have helped me with the children and given them a better life than what
they had. He never paid more than $50 a month for all of them, ever.
Sometimes he went for a whole year without paying that. When my baby was
dehydrated and in the hospital, I was staying there with him and needed
to go home a while to see about the rest of the children, I called their
father at work to come stay with Bobby.
He came but told me what time to
be back because he had a date. I knew he would leave and Bobby was only
fifteen months old and I didn't want him left alone. I worked jobs
waiting on tables and in a bar and along with those jobs where you pay
your own taxes, the so-called pat on the back jobs for respect. With
being hearing impaired, I learned to work in degrading places I didn't
like, learned to smile and keep going to make a living. I worked two and
three jobs because one didn't pay enough to raise my children.
did get easier from time to time as my children grew up and went on
their own and there were fewer to take care of. I learned to talk better,
but fell into groups where no one cared anyway. I kept to myself a lot
where I didn't have to have any input so no one knew any different or
that I didn't know what they were talking about.
People would sometimes
say how quiet I was and I would just smile and say, "I'm listening."
This, so no one would tease me about not hearing or about my hearing
aids after I got them. I really lived in a world of my own and tried to
be as much like others as I could. I lived in a very sheltered place to
be safe as I could in body and mind. Without really knowing it, I chose
words I could say to sound better. I did not and still can't hear words
like normal hearing. A lot of words I still can't say or repeat and it
makes me feel less intelligent than I could be if I had more training
after I got my hearing aids.
These are some of the errors that confused
me after I got hearing aids. I learned that all those years I had never
heard words right or said them right as well. How embarrassing I must
have been for my family, husband, and children! I withdrew because of it.
People still don't understand this to this day. Even when I try to tell
them, they think because I can hear better or talk some that all is OK.
It is not. Do I blame my hearing loss for my lesser life? No, I am only
trying to explain what it did to me, what a disability can do to a
person and their life when others know and could have done something to
help them. What abuse and neglect can do to a person.
What we can do to
ourselves when we don't know where to turn or even have a place to turn.
I just read this: Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, was asked
which of those senses she would rather have restored if it were possible
to do so. She replied without a moment's hesitation, "Hearing, because
it truly connects you to the world."
Five Generations of Abuse
At age five years old is the first I recall of rape,
yet I didn't know what rape was for many years to come. I am 62 now. At
age five you didn't hear those kinds of words and I couldn't hear
anything then. I remember the pain and fear as I was hurting and my
mother and aunt tried to help me. I remember them trying to put
something back into me as if my insides were falling out. I still don't
recall who did it.
I think back at times to try, but I can't. After that
I can recall the fear of others when I was given a bath. I never wanted
anyone to see me. We lived in an apartment where the back door came into
the kitchen that everyone used.
There was a large deep sink that I was
given a bath in and was dried off with a towel there. I never wanted
anyone in there. But I was just a little girl and no one knew what was
wrong with me as I cried. I didn't even know myself. When I got married
at fifteen and had a home of my own, everyone had to be dressed when
they got up. No one, not even my babies, could run around in the house
in their underwear. I had a fear of that and I didn't know why and I've
felt that way all my life. I can recall almost everywhere I have ever
lived after the age of five, but I can't remember what happened.
things that I do remember I can't repeat because it would hurt those now
who don't need to be hurt and would change nothing. I believe God blocks
the mind so we are not given more than we can carry at one time.
this is not blocking the minds of the children who are watching and
hearing what is going on. Believe me when I say it has a great effect on
them and those who witness what the children see. Children grow up with
what they see and learn and carry it on into their own families and the
lives of others. What they see they think is normal and right and OK. It
is not always right when it causes fear in those who must live with it
all their lives. At age twelve, I became the woman of the house though I
was still a child. I was taken out of school one day to care for my
little brother, 5, and sister, 3.
My mother had gone to the hospital for
a while. No one knew for how long. My mother had been sick off and on
for a long time and I didn't know what was wrong, but I was told this
time where she was. She had been admitted into a mental institution. She
was there a few months.
During this time I became the mother of the
family taking care of the house, my brother and sister, washing, grocery
shopping, and cooking. I already knew how to do all this for I had spent
most of my time at home with Mama. It fees so sad now how I went from
playing with my dolls and playing house to being a real mother and it
wasn't playing now.
After a while my mother could come home on weekends
so I would clean house and cook and have everything all nice for her,
but then others in the family would come over, mess up the house, eat
the food and I had no time alone with Mama. When they all came over I
had to go back to being a little girl only I was a little girl no more.
I was somewhere in between.
There was one time I remember being able to
talk to Mama a short time and tell her what was going on while she was
gone. I didn't know anything about mental illness and I still don't know
much, but had I known anything at that time I never would have told her
what was going on. I would have known she didn't understand and that she
was helpless to do anything even if she did. At that time she had given
up. Mama got past her illness, went back to work, and worked until she
retired at 65 or so.
She still had some problems, but I was never told
about them. Like I've said, we became friends and mother and daughter.
At one time I sent home over 350 letters she had written to me here, I
could never put one in the trash. Mama passed away in 1993, just six
months before my son Bobby died.
That was a very painful time. Mama
didn't know anymore how to fight back than I did later on when it came
my turn. This abuse had started in my grandmother's time, on to my
mother, then me, as well as into my own children and grandchildren's
This is five generations of women who have fallen into some
kind of abuse and control by a man. Where does it stop and where does it
end? I wish it could with me, but it has already gone on ahead of me. I
recall my own started when I was five years of age with the first man in
my life, my father, when I felt I was so special. How many women and
children can tell this same story? Will we ever know? But please, Lord,
let my story wake up a few who are able to change this cycle.
Cycles of Abuse
The cycle started many years ago in my family when we
didn't know what a cycle was. My grandfather (my mother's dad) gave her
away along with her brothers and sister. My grandmother could do nothing
about it when my mother was raped and used until she also married too
young to get away from it. I never knew this all this time until I was
here in prison.
My mother and I have become friends as well as mother
and daughter at last. I even asked some questions about what her hopes
and dreams had been other than being the mother she was to us. The
things our children as children don't realize we have, until they
themselves get older.
The heart and mind don't change as we get older
the way our skin and appearance change. We still have the same feelings
as always only they are deeper and closer to our hearts. I still feel
caught somewhere in between somewhere and here.
As I went from one
abusive relationship to another, each one seemed to get worse. Sometimes
I felt like they all must have read the same book or else men all have
the same make up. Of course I knew this was not true. Each one had their
own kind of abuse and it all meant control.
They don't start out that
way. I believe we miss seeing it so much because as women we actually
try so hard to please. When the abusive side comes out, we want to
believe them that they are sorry. We forgive and look forward to that
nice side again. It seemed like each one of them just added a twist of
abuse to that which was already there. I didn't like being single,
wanted to be married and have the family life I knew was there, even if
I had to furnish most all of it.
After my first marriage, I had always
had my own home, my own car, and no one else had ever offered to get
another for me. That was OK and I shared what I had and that was OK,
too. Now it seems everyone is saying and acting like I had nothing -
that is not true. My home was mine and I wasn't married to anyone when I
bought it or my property. I worked hard for those things and everything
I had. As a little girl I thought you grew up, got married, had children
and the family stayed together forever.
That was the way of life and I
still believe it is the best way. All I ever wanted was to be married
and have a family. As a young girl, I dreamed of that little house with
a picket fence and flowers to take care of when I got old and until then,
always my family.
When my husband left the children and myself, that
world and dreams all fell apart and I had to face the real world that I
could never accept. I married over and over again looking for the dream
that never even got close to the one I had for 18 years married to my
children's father - even though he was very controlling.
Back on the Right Track with God
In 1985, God picked me up out of that nightmare I
lived in after the children's dad left us and I really faced the real
world. It was like God set me on this cloud way up above everywhere and
everyone so I could see. As I sat there I said, Lord, there is a jungle
down there. How did I ever get this far? When I looked into His face and
eyes I knew it was only by His Grace.
Then is when I started back on the
right track that I knew as a child and young girl and went to church and
trusted, paying attention to the details of life. Yes, it is hard here
where I am. I ask, why was I here and not some where else? I know now I
didn't know how to get out of that life.
There was no one else who cared
enough to save me from myself. No one cared enough to get into my head
or heart. No one helped me understand what had happened to me, so here I
sit. I wish it could be another way and I hope and pray it will be. This
is no place to be and I don't belong here. If it takes all this to turn
my life and help me understand, then I am grateful for it.
I would think
that with all that goes on in prison, there would be more important
things to do than strip a little old woman all day long who never goes
anywhere. I'll hold on to my pride, morals, dignity and pray one day I
may, by the Grace of God, walk out of here. If not, then I pray
something I say or do will help another live a little better, a little
easier, someone else who had to live this way. If the truth or if any of
what I've said had been told at trial, I would not be here.
witnesses had been called, and none were, or the pictures of me beaten
and bruised with black eyes had been shown, but they were not - even
though my attorney had them. How was I to know what was going on when no
one told me? I still don't understand it today. The jury never knew that
I was deaf and could not hear my trial - only in parts. I couldn't hear
enough and know what was going on.
There were no speakers. I didn't know
there could be for I had never been in court before for a trial.
Something went wrong. Yes, God picked me up out of that world and let me
see how it really is. There are a lot of places out there now for
battered women to turn to, but why does it have to be her who gives up
her home and moves her children from place to place and never having a
Why is it her who always has to be hiding somewhere and on
the run to be safe? I know: I've been there time and time again. It was
hard with five children and trying to keep them in school and safe. It
is hard to hold a job and be able to work free of the abuser calling and
coming to where you work. Battered women go through this all the time.
There has to be a way to stop it so they can have a normal life.
Beets v. State,
767 S.W.2d 711 (Tex.Cr.App. 1987) (Direct Appeal).
Betty Lou Beets, the appellant, was convicted by a
jury of committing the offense of capital murder of Jimmy Don Beets, who
was then her lawful husband. It was alleged in the indictment that the
appellant "did then and there, knowingly and intentionally cause[d] the
death of an individual, namely, Jimmy Don Beets, by shooting him with a
firearm, and the said murder was committed for remuneration and the
promise of remuneration, namely: money from the proceeds of retirement
benefits from the employment of Jimmy Don Beets with the City of Dallas,
insurance policies on the said Jimmy Don Beets in which the [appellant]
is the named beneficiary, and the estate of Jimmy Don Beets." The record
reflects that Beets died intestate.
At the time of his death, Beets and appellant had
been married less than one year, although they had previously lived
together for an unknown period of time.After the jury found appellant
guilty of the offense of capital murder, "as alleged in the indictment",
The indictment obviously alleges the offense of murder and the
aggravating element of remuneration, which causes the offense of murder
to be elevated to capital murder. it thereafter answered in the
affirmative the special issues that were submitted to it pursuant to
Art. 37.071, V.A.C.C.P
The special issues were as follows: "Was the
conduct of the Defendant, Betty Lou Beets, that caused the death of the
deceased, Jimmy Don Beets, committed deliberately and with the
reasonable expectation that the death of the deceased or another would
result?"; "Is there a probability that the Defendant, Betty Lou Beets,
would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a
continuing threat to society?"Neither the appellant nor the State
presented any testimony or evidence at the punishment stage of the trial;
the State relying upon the evidence that had been presented at the guilt
stage of the trial as the basis for the jury's answers to the special
issues that were submitted at the punishment stage of the trial.
Thereafter, the trial judge assessed the appellant's punishment at death.
Lil Smith, owner of the Redwood Beach Marina, which
is located between the communities of Kemp and Seven Points or between
the communities of Seven Points and Gun Barrel City on Cedar Creek Lake
or Reservoir, testified that around 10:00 o'clock p.m. on August 6,
1983, several of her customers at the marina noticed an empty boat
drifting on the lake near the marina.
Two of her customers went and got
the empty boat and brought it to shore. Found inside the boat was a
fishing license with the name "Jimmy Don Beets" thereon. Also found in
the boat were a medicine bottle containing nitroglycerine tablets and a
life jacket. Several tablets from the bottle were found in the bottom of
The Coast Guard and Parks and Wildlife were notified and
several of their personnel came to the marina. Smith then looked in the
telephone book to see if anyone by the name of Jimmy Don Beets was
listed, found that name, telephoned the listed number several times, and
finally spoke to appellant and informed her about the empty boat and the
finding of Beets' fishing license.
The appellant later told Smith that
the reason she did not immediately answer the telephone was because she
was outside in the yard and did not hear it ring.
The appellant went to the marina and identified the
boat and the fishing license as belonging to Beets, who was then her
lawful husband. The boat was established to be Beets' separate property,
having been acquired before he and appellant married.
On July 24, 1984,
almost a year after Beets was reported missing, but before the skeletal
remains of his body were found, appellant sold the boat to Martha and
Michael J. Miller. During the trial, Martha testified to the facts of
the sale of the boat by appellant to her and her husband.
also reflects that Beets owned a house, which was also apparently his
separate property. Appellant testified that she and Beets had tried to
sell the house before Beets disappeared.
The house mysteriously burned.
Apparently, after letters testamentary issued, appellant, through
counsel, unsuccessfully attempted to recover on a fire insurance policy
that insured the house for fire loss.Because of high winds, it was
decided by the authorities that a search for Beets' body would not
commence until the next morning, August 7th.
Johnny Marr, a deputy sheriff for Henderson County,
testified that at approximately 8:30 o'clock a.m. on August 7th, he and
Hugh G. De Woody, the Fire Chief of the Payne Spring Fire Department,
went to the appellant's residence to see if Beets had possibly returned
home since he had been reported missing. Appellant told Marr that her
husband "had went fishing the night before [on the lake and 'had been
having trouble with his boat'], and hadn't returned Saturday morning."
Marr told appellant that as speed boat races were taking place on the
lake that day, and because of the numerous boats that would be in the
lake that day, it was likely that Beets' body would be found by someone.
When appellant testified, she denied that Marr and De Woody came to her
residence that morning.
Mike Warren of the Parks and Wildlife Department
testified that extensive search efforts were made by members of several
different fire departments, which included members of the City of Dallas
Fire Department, for whom Beets had been employed for approximately 26
years, members of the Henderson County Sheriff's Department, Coast Guard
personnel, and many other persons. Although the search lasted for three
weeks, Beets' body was never recovered.
Denny Burris, a chaplain with the City of Dallas Fire
Department, testified that he visited with appellant several times after
Beets was reported missing. Burris testified that appellant made inquiry
of him whether she was covered by any insurance policies that Beets
might have had with the City of Dallas, as well as inquiring whether she
would be entitled to receive any pension benefits that Beets might have
accumulated. Appellant did not profess to Burris that she had any
specific knowledge of either insurance coverage on Beets' life or any
pension benefits Beets might have accumulated. Burris told her that he
did not know but would check into the matter and report back to her.
Burris did check and learned that Beets's life was insured with the
total amount of insurance being approximately $110,000. He also learned
that appellant would be entitled to receive approximately $1,200 each
month from Beets' pension benefits.
Burris advised appellant of his
findings, and also told her that according to the City Attorney of
Dallas that because Beets' body had not been recovered there would be a
seven year waiting period before any payment of insurance proceeds could
Evidence was adduced during the trial which established that
approximately two years later, the appellant, through an attorney,
applied for and received letters testamentary. At the same time,
appellant, through the attorney, applied to have Beets legally declared
On March 5, 1985, approximately three months before
the skeletal remains of Beets' body were found and identified, Beets was
legally declared dead by the presiding judge of the County Court of
Henderson County. Appellant was made the administratix of Beets' estate.
These proceedings appear proper under the provisions of Section 72 of
the Probate Code. That section also provides that "Distribution of the
estate to the persons entitled thereto shall not be made by the personal
representative until after the expiration of three (3) years from the
date such letters [testamentary] are granted."
However, on April 4,
1985, the attorney for Beets' only natural child, James Donald Beets,
filed a motion for new trial in that cause. On June 10, 1985, two days
after appellant was arrested on June 8, 1985, the presiding judge of the
County Court of Henderson County issued an "Order for Protection."
the time of trial, the issue of who would ultimately administer Beets'
estate, as well as who would ultimately financially benefit from his
estate, had not been resolved. By the probate records, Beets died
Rick Rose, an investigator for the Henderson County
Sheriff's Department, testified that he became directly involved in this
case almost two years after Beets' had disappeared.
involvement in the case occurred after "[he] received information from a
[credible] confidential informant who gave [him] facts that there may be
possible ... questions [concerning the cause of the death] of Jimmy Don
Beets." This occurred sometime in the spring of 1985. At that time,
neither Beets' body nor the physical remains of his body had been found.
As a result of Rose's investigation, he secured an arrest warrant for
the appellant that charged her with the murder of Beets.
Rose had her
arrested on June 8, 1985 by members of the Mansfield Police Department,
who turned her over to Rose, who booked her into the Henderson County
The validity of the arrest warrant, which is not in the record of
appeal, was not challenged in the trial court nor is it challenged on
appeal in this Court. Rose testified that after appellant was
incarcerated he went and secured "an evidentiary search warrant" to
search the appellant's residence and its premises.
The validity of the
search warrant, which is also not in the record, was not challenged in
the trial court nor is it challenged on appeal in this Court. Pursuant
to the execution of the search warrant, physical remains of the bodies
of Beets and Doyle Wayne Barker, another former husband of appellant's,
were found at different locations on the premises where the appellant
and Beets were living at the time Beets disappeared.
The jury was not
then made aware of the extraneous offense testimony regarding Barker's
disappearance and death. This came into evidence after the trial judge
conducted a hearing on appellant's motion to exclude such testimony,
which he overruled.
Beets' remains were found buried in the "wishing
well," which was located in the front yard of the residence. Barker's
remains were found buried under a storage shed located in the backyard
of the residence. Two bullets were recovered from Beets' remains.
remains of the two bodies were transported to the Dallas Forensic
Science Laboratory where they were subsequently identified as being the
remains of the bodies of Beets and Barker.
A Collector's item pistol
that had been previously recovered from the appellant's residence as a
result of an incident that did not involve the appellant and was not
directly related to the cause at Bar was also turned over to the Dallas
Robert "Robbie" Franklin Branson, II, one of
appellant's sons, who we will hereinafter refer to as Robbie, testified.
The trial judge later instructed the jury that Robbie was, as a matter
of law, an accomplice witness to the Beets' killing.
Robbie, who was
then on felony probation for committing a burglary that had occurred in
Navarro County, which is unrelated to this case, testified that he was
living with appellant and Beets on August 6, 1983, when appellant
falsely reported Beets missing; that appellant told him that she was
going to kill Beets that evening; that Robbie then left the residence at
the suggestion of appellant, because "she said she wanted me to leave
and she didn't want me to be around when she shot and killed him," and
remained absent for approximately two hours, after which he returned to
the residence when he learned that his mother had actually shot and
killed Beets during his absence.
Robbie thereafter assisted appellant in
placing Beets' body in the "wishing well", which he and Beets had
previously constructed. The next day, after appellant put some of Beets'
heart pills in the boat that Beets owned and after Robbie took the
propeller off the boat, Robbie took the boat to the main part of the
lake, abandoned it, and was soon met by appellant near that location.
The two then returned home.
During cross-examination, the appellant's attorney
several times accused Robbie of being the actual killer of Beets, which
Robbie denied. Robbie admitted that his participation with appellant in
burying Beet's body in the "wishing well" had preyed on his conscience.
However, except for telling his ex-common-law wife who did not testify,
Robbie remained silent on the subject for almost two years. Robbie
testified that he remained silent because he wanted "to protect his
mother." However, after his mother was arrested, Robbie commenced
cooperating with the authorities, "to protect his back[side]."
testified that he knew of Barker, but had only seen him one time, and
that he did not live with his mother and Barker when she and Barker were
married and lived together.
Shirley Stegner, one of appellant's daughters and a
sister of Robbie, also testified for the prosecution. Shirley testified
that her mother telephoned her on the night of August 6th and requested
that Shirley come to her residence, which Shirley did.
telephone conversation, Shirley asked her mother "if she had done what
we had talked about before," which conversation related to appellant
previously telling Shirley that she was going to kill Beets, put Beets'
body in the boat, have Robbie take the boat out into the lake, where he
would drop Beets' body into the lake, and then set the boat adrift, so
that it would look like Beets had accidentally drowned. Appellant
Shirley went to her mother's residence but after she
got there appellant informed her that "everything was taken care of and
that I could go back home," which she did.
Shirley testified that
several weeks later she returned to her mother's residence when she was
informed by appellant that "her and my brother Robbie had buried Jimmy
Don Beets in the wishing well." Shirley never testified that appellant
had admitted to her that she had killed Beets in order to recover on any
insurance policies or to receive any pension benefits that Beets might
At this time during the trial, the trial judge conducted a
hearing on the appellant's motion to exclude any extraneous offense
testimony going to the death of Barker, after which the trial judge
overruled the motion, thus permitting the State to then present
testimony going to the disappearance and death of Barker. See, however,
In the presence of the jury, Shirley testified that
in October, 1981, almost two years before Beets disappeared, when her
mother and Barker were married and living together, while she and her
mother were "sitting around a campfire", her mother told her that "she
was going to kill Doyle Wayne Barker" because "she couldn't put up with
anymore of him beating her and that she didn't want him around anymore."
Her mother also told her that "the trailer [house] was in his name and
she was just a co-signer on it and that if they were to get a divorce,
that he would end up with the trailer [house]." Approximately 3 or 4
days later, at Shirley's residence, Shirley and her mother had another
conversation, during which her mother told her that "it was all over
with and she had done what she intended to do ... She told [Shirley]
that she waited until [Barker] went to sleep and then she got the gun
and covered it with a pillow and pulled the trigger and when she pulled
the trigger, the pillow [interfered] with the firing pin, so she
hesitated for a minute, afraid that Wayne was going to wake up, and she
cocked the gun again and fired and shot him in the head."
Thereafter, Shirley assisted her mother in disposing
of Barker's body: "We drug him from the trailer outside to the back and
put him in the hole that had already been dug [in order to build a
barbeque pit]." Shirley further testified that "the next day [she and
her mother] went and bought some cinder blocks and [built] a patio" over
the hole in which Barker's body had been placed. Subsequently, a large
storage shed replaced the patio.
During cross-examination, Shirley
testified that although she had also been charged with the murder of
Barker and her $1,000,000 bail bond had been reduced to $5,000 she had
not been promised anything by the prosecution in exchange for her
testimony against her mother.
We pause to point out that in the
conversations that Shirley had with her mother regarding Barker's death,
other than the reference to the trailer house, appellant did not admit
to Shirley that she was going to kill Barker for financial gain. There
is also no evidence whatsoever in the record that might reflect or
indicate that appellant financially benefited from Barker's death.
is also no evidence in the record that might reflect or indicate that
the trailer house to which appellant referred and the trailer house in
which appellant and Beets resided when Beets was reported missing are
one and the same trailer house.
Rick Rose was recalled to testify. Rose testified to
the recovery of the skeletal or physical remains of Beets and Barker's
bodies. See ante. The remains were transported to the Dallas Forensic
Science Laboratory where they were subsequently identified as being the
skeletal or physical remains of Beets and Barker's bodies.
Dr. Charles S. Petty, the Chief Medical Examiner and
Director of the Dallas County Forensic Science Laboratory, testified to
the "post-mortem autopsy" that he performed on the skeletal remains that
had been sent to the laboratory.
Petty testified that he identified the
bones as those of Beets and Barker's bodies. Petty testified that the
cause of death of Beets was "the gunshot wound defect in the skull and
locating of not one but two bullets, one in the region of the skull and
the other in the region of the bones of the trunk. In my opinion, death
was due to one, if not two, gunshot wounds ... One in the head and one
in the trunk somewhere."
Two bullets were recovered from the skeletal
remains of Beets' body; one from the skull area of the body and one from
the trunk area of the body. Dr. Randall L. Callison, who had been Beets'
dentist during his lifetime, testified that he made a comparison of
Beets' skeletal remains with x-rays that he had and in his opinion "the
bodily remains that were presented to me from the Dallas County Medical
Examiners were the remains of Jimmy Don Beets."Petty also testified that
the bullets found in Beets' skeletal remains could have been fired from
the same weapon, but he was unable to positively testify that they were
fired from the Collector's item pistol. Three bullets were recovered
from the skeletal remains of Barker's body. Petty testified that the
cause of Barker's death was "gunshot wounds."
Allen Jones, a firearms examiner employed by the
Dallas County Forensic Science Laboratory, testified that he examined
the recovered bullets, after which he formed the opinion that they were
fired from a .38 calibre type weapon, which was the calibre of the
Collector's item pistol.
Jones, however, was unable to positively
testify that in his opinion the bullets that were fired came from the
Collector's item pistol that had been previously recovered from the
appellant's residence. See ante. Jackie Collins, a niece of Beets who
was also an employee of J.C. Penney Life Insurance Company, testified to
Beets' personally cancelling an insurance policy in the amount of
$10,000 on May 19, 1983.
The application, which had apparently been sent
with a monthly J.C. Penney bill to either Beets or appellant or to both
of them, had been filled out without Beets' knowledge. What attracted
Collins' attention to the application was the fact that the address on
the application was not Beets' but was that of another of appellant's
Appellant was the named beneficiary on the application. When
appellant testified, she did not deny that she had filled out the
application, signed Beets' name to the application, and returned it with
the monthly payment.
Peggy Sherrills Webb, an employee of the City of
Dallas who was a "Benefits Supervisor with Personnel", testified that
Beets had a life insurance policy with the City in the amount of
$86,000, with the appellant the named beneficiary of the policy.
Chaney, a documents examiner who had been employed for 23 years by the
Secret Service and was presently employed by James Leroy Lewis and
Associates, documents examiners located in Dallas, testified that the
signature on the J.C. Penney's application, "J.D. Beets", was signed by
appellant, but that the signature "J.D. Beets," that authorized the
policy to be cancelled, was Beets' actual signature.
testified that the signature on the certificate of transfer or bill of
sale for the boat, "J.D. Beets", which occurred when the boat was sold
to the Mitchells, was signed by appellant.
This, however, occurred on
July 24, 1984, almost one year after Beets had disappeared. When
appellant testified, she did not dispute the fact that she had sold the
boat to the Mitchells nor did she dispute that she signed Beets' name to
the bill of sale.
Jerry Hast, an employee of the City of Dallas, who
was the "Administrator of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund",
testified concerning an application for benefits that had been filed by
an attorney on behalf of appellant, which occurred after the letters
testamentary had issued. Hast testified that "The Pension Board" voted
to approve a settlement with appellant for pension benefits.
settlement was going to be finalized on June 10, 1985. Hast also
testified that the settlement was cancelled after members of the Board
learned that appellant had been arrested for murdering Beets.
appellant would have received $15,852.59 plus a monthly benefit of
$790.42 for the rest of her life or until she remarried had the
settlement been finalized. Whether the $15,852.59 referred to any
insurance policies is not reflected in the record on appeal. As
previously pointed out, our Probate Code prohibits distribution of a
missing person's estate until three years from the date the letters
testamentary issued have expired. E. Stewart Elrich, Jr., Manager of the Group Life
Claims Department of Republic National Life Group Insurance Company,
testified that his company had issued a life insurance policy on Beets'
life in the amount of $23,428.
The policy also contained an accidental
death provision in the amount of $20,000. At some time, presumably after
March 5, 1985 when the letters testamentary issued, an attorney wrote
the company on behalf of appellant stating that "an application had been
made for administration of an estate." No action was ever taken on the