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John Curtis DEWBERRY





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 25, 1994
Date of birth: January 30, 1977
Victim profile: Elmer G. Rode, Jr., 57
Method of murder: Shooting (sawed-off, 20-gauge shotgun)
Location: Jefferson County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on November 25, 1996. Commuted to life in prison on June 22, 2005

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals


opinion 72,640 - holland, j.

opinion 72,640 - womack, j.


John Curtis Dewberry v. State of Texas


The egregious facts of this offense indicated appellant planned, weeks before this offense, to carry out a murder and robbery.  Joshua Vickers testified that he sold appellant a sawed-off, 20-gauge shotgun after Thanksgiving 1994.  Appellant told Vickers he wanted the gun for “a jack move,” which Vickers understood to mean a hijack. 

Mitchell King, who had been staying with appellant and his brother since August 1994, testified that a week before Christmas, appellant asked King if he “knew about making some money.”  Appellant told King he knew a man “that had some money and [appellant] could go and burglarize his house and take the money, get the money.”  Appellant also told King, “he knew the guy had a lot of money, had a lot of stuff, so [they could] get some money for Christmas.”  King testified that appellant said they were “going to have to shoot [the owner of the house to] get our money.”  When King asked why appellant wanted to kill the owner, appellant replied “it was something personal” between him and the guy.

The murder of Elmer Rode was brutal.  His sister, Ginger Rode, discovered Elmer’s body in his apartment on Christmas Day.  Officer Daniel Holloway of the Beaumont Police Department was dispatched to the scene and testified he found Elmer Rode lying on the floor in the living room.  Rode’s hands were tied behind his back with a telephone cord, and his feet were tied together with a belt.  A pillow with bullet holes was lying across his head.  After Rode’s funeral, Ginger discovered her brother’s pawn ticket for the .22 caliber pistol while cleaning his house.  The State later proved this pistol was stolen from Rode by appellant and/or his brother and was used to shoot Rode.  The forensic pathologist testified there were four small caliber gunshot wounds and one contact shotgun wound to Rode’s head.  The pathologist also found evidence indicating Rode was beaten up and strangled at some point.  Abrasions on Rode’s wrists suggested Rode struggled against his bonds before he was killed.[1]

The State also introduced evidence showing Rode was robbed.  The bedroom was ransacked, and the bedroom door was removed from its hinges.  A VCR in an unopened box, along with another VCR, were stolen from the residence.  Rode’s pickup truck was also missing.  After the murder, Vickers went to appellant’s apartment where he saw two VCRs - one in an unopened box.  Appellant asked Vickers if he knew anyone who wanted to buy a VCR.

Mark Bilfafano provided evidence implicating both appellant and his brother in the murder and robbery of Rode.  Bilfafano testified that appellant, accompanied by his brother, Chris, showed up at his house on December 24th.  Appellant wore surgical gloves and was driving Rode’s pick-up truck.  Bilfafano testified he saw two VCRs and a handgun (which looked like a .22 caliber pistol) in the truck.  He testified appellant was in possession of a shotgun which “looked like” the weapon that the State alleged appellant used to kill Rode.  Bilfafano accompanied appellant and Chris to leave Rode’s truck in a shopping center parking lot in Vidor, Texas.  En route, Chris told Bilfafano “they killed somebody.”  Before leaving Vidor, appellant wiped down the truck.

Bilfafano’s testimony indicated appellant showed no remorse for his actions after the murder.  On the way back to Beaumont, appellant threw the keys to the pickup into the Neches River.  Bilfafano also saw appellant in possession of about $400 in cash.  Appellant told Bilfafano “we had to take care of business,” that Chris “chickened out,” and that “they tied [Rode] up.”  Appellant also informed Bilfafano “they killed somebody and they just laughed about it.”

The evidence at trial further showed appellant and Chris exchanged the two VCRs and the .22 caliber pistol with Bobby Trevino for $50 and 5 or 6 stones of “crack.”  Trevino, however, refused the shotgun after Chris told him “they put a pillow over a guy and blasted him with the [it].”

Two juvenile probation officers, Katie Durio and Ruth Hall, also testified during the punishment stage about their experiences with appellant.  They testified appellant’s records contained twelve “referrals” for offenses committed by appellant while under their supervision, including burglaries, other property crimes, and drug offenses.  Appellant was ultimately committed to the Texas Youth Commission (“T.Y.C.”).  Durio and Hall testified appellant was a “violent” person and that he was a leader who “instigated things.” He was “very bright until he [did not] get his way” and “manipulative” when he lost his temper.

The State proved appellant attempted to escape from custody while awaiting trial.  A deputy sheriff testified that while he was transporting appellant and three other inmates back from a dentist’s office appellant and another inmate, Keith Gulley, escaped from the county van.  While the van was stopped at a traffic light, appellant and Gulley burst from the back door and ran away.  They were found a short time later hiding in a field not far from where they fled from the vehicle.  They had removed their handcuffs with a key that Gulley had acquired.

While incarcerated awaiting trial, appellant’s behavior indicated a potential for future violent acts.  Two officers, who supervised appellant while he was incarcerated, testified during punishment.  A corrections officer testified that during a shakedown of appellant’s single-man cell, appellant was found in possession of razor blades and sharpened paper clips which could have been used as or to fashion weapons.  Another corrections officer testified that appellant was belligerent towards officers, “constantly cursing at us, making sexual references and preferences to us, what he wanted to do to us, what he thought we should do.”  That same officer testified that, in a separate incident, he discovered a bag in appellant’s single-man cell containing 20 whole razor blades.

Gaye Bailey testified she knew appellant, that appellant had a bad reputation for being a peaceful and law-abiding citizen, and that he had a “very violent character.”  Laci Bailey Girior, a former girlfriend of appellant, testified that when she broke up with appellant, he broke into her house, stealing items of monetary and sentimental value.[2]  She also testified appellant carried a knife during the time they dated.  While appellant was in T.Y.C., he threatened to rape and kill Girior when he got out.  She said that appellant never demonstrated “any kind of conscience for the things that he did that were bad.”

Additionally, the State admitted details from the offense reports of appellant’s escape from the van through the cross-examination of one of appellant’s expert witnesses.  The offense reports included statements from the third and fourth inmates in the van who both indicated appellant was a willing and active participant in the escape.

Steve Young also testified for the State.  Young told the Court that, in his opinion, appellant had a violent character.  While dating appellant’s mother, Young became acquainted with appellant prior to appellant’s T.Y.C. incarceration.  Young stated that he witnessed appellant kill an armadillo with a bayonet.  On another occasion, Young saw appellant in possession of brass knuckles.  The State’s psychiatric expert testified that his review of appellant’s history and the facts of the instant case indicated “that [appellant] would pose a potential for danger in the future.  So I would consider him to be likely to be dangerous in the future.”

We conclude that appellant, in carrying out this crime, exhibited a callous and wanton disregard for human life.  A jury can rationally infer future dangerousness from the brutality of the offense.  See Sonnier v. State, 913 S.W.2d 511, 517 (Tex. Crim. App. 1995).  Additionally, the evidence establishes that appellant planned the capital murder of Elmer Rode, carried it out methodically and brutally, and showed no remorse or contrition for his actions.  Future dangerousness may be supported in part by evidence of a lack of remorse or contrition. See Rachal v. State, 917 S.W.2d 799, 806 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996), cert. denied, __U.S.__, 117 S.Ct. 614 (1996).  The brutal nature of the murder/robbery of Rode, and appellant’s lack of contrition and remorse, were sufficient for the jury to find appellant would be a continuing threat to society.  See Allridge v. State, 850 S.W.2d at 488-89; Rachal, supra; Sonnier, supra.  When combined with other evidence presented during the punishment stage of appellant’s trial, we conclude the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant posed a future danger to society. 


The pathologist testified Rode was killed “around” December 23rd.


Appellant was incarcerated in the Texas Youth Commission for this burglary.



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