On Christmas Eve in Baytown, Police discovered the body of Roberto
Rios in the living room of his home, his arms and torso were bound
with duct tape, and he was covered in blood.
He had been shot three
times, twice in the head, and slashed with a steak knife that
remained embedded in his neck.
His two children, 11 year old Victor and 10 year old Maria, were
found upstairs in Maria’s room. Both were dead, lying facedown on
the floor, side-by-side. Each had a single, fatal gunshot wound to
the back of the head.
Thomas and Keith Bernard Clay had been past drug customers of Rios’,
but on that Christmas Eve, they would later tell police, the pair
came to the home looking to take the small time dope peddler for
everything he had. The children were executed to eliminate witnesses.
Less than two weeks later, Thomas and Clay would
be involved in another murder in Baytown. This time their target was
Melathethil Tom Varughese, a clerk at the Airwood Grocery Store on
Clay entered the convenience store and fired 10 shots
at Varughese, hitting him six times. If that was not enough, the
clerk was also beaten with the pistol. Thomas was the getaway driver.
Clay was executed on March 20, 2003 for the
Thomas v. Dretke, 120 Fed.Appx. 526 (5th Cir. 2004) (Habeas).
"I want you to be strong and get through this time. Do not fall
back. Keep going forward. Don't let this hinder you. Let everybody
know I love them." Thomas mentioned several people by their first
names, telling his sister to tell them he loved them and to stay
strong. "This is kind of hard to put words together. I am nervous
and it is hard to put my thoughts together. Sometimes you don't know
what to say. I hope these words give you comfort. ... Let everybody
know I love them and love is unconditional as mama always told us. I
may be gone in flesh but I am always with you in spirit."
Texas Department of Corrections
Inmate: Thomas, Shannon Charles
Date of Birth: 07/27/71
Date Received: 12/04/96
Education: 13 years
Date of Offense: 12/24/93
County of Conviction: Harris County
Hair Color: Brown
Height: 5 ft 09 in
Eye Color: Brown
Prior Occupation: Machinist
Texas Attorney General
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Shannon Charles Thomas Scheduled For Execution
AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
offers the following information about Shannon Charles Thomas, who
is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m. Wednesday, November 16,
2005. Thomas was sentenced to death for the 1993 Christmas Eve
capital murders of two children in their Baytown home.
FACTS OF THE CRIME
In the early afternoon of Christmas Eve in 1993,
Shannon Charles Thomas shot and killed 10-year-old Maria Rios and
her 11-year-old brother, Victor Rios, in the upstairs portion of
their Baytown home. Thomas and an accomplice, Keith Clay, had just
killed the children’s father, Roberto Rios, in the downstairs area
of the home.
The father was severely beaten, shot three times and
stabbed in the neck with a pair of shears. The children were shot
once in the head through a pillow as they lay side by side on the
floor. The father’s brother, mother and other family members
discovered the victims about 7 p.m. that day.
The motive for the killings was robbery and the
elimination of witnesses. The disabled father sold small amounts of
marijuana from his home. Thomas bought marijuana from the father at
the home on several occasions before the killings.
A friend of the victims testified he briefly
visited the victims’ home at around noon on Christmas Eve to leave
some Christmas gifts for the children. The children went upstairs
after receiving their gifts. The friend saw a white car with tinted
windows parked in front of the home. Keith Clay owned a white
Cadillac with tinted windows which he reported stolen the day after
A postal worker delivering mail to the victim’s
home at “around noon” on Christmas Eve also noticed a
“beige-looking, maybe white” car parked in front of the victim’s
home. As he delivered the mail, he saw two men walking down the
victim’s drive way. They got into the car parked in front of the
victims’ home and left. The postal worker contacted the police the
day after the murders and reported what he saw.
The postal worker
could not remember the license plate number of the car parked in
front of the victims’ home. At trial the postal worker identified
Thomas as one of the men he saw walking down the driveway of the
The case remained unsolved for over a year.
Thomas and Clay did not become suspects in the murders until after
the police arrested one of Thomas’ friends on a narcotics violation
and the friend provided the police with information implicating
Thomas and Clay in the murders. Thomas was arrested soon thereafter.
At trial, Thomas’ friend testified that Thomas
told him shortly after the murders that he shot and stabbed the
father and shot the children.
Another one of Thomas’ friends, who at the time
of trial was in prison for murder, testified that Thomas and Clay
came to his apartment in Houston on the afternoon of the murders.
Harris testified they told or intimated to him that they had killed
the father and the two children.
CRIMINAL HISTORY AND PUNISHMENT EVIDENCE
During the punishment phase of Thomas’ trial, the
prosecution presented evidence that when Thomas committed the
killings, he was on probation for the felony offense of delivery of
a controlled substance. A motion to revoke his probation was pending
when the murders occurred.
The prosecution presented more evidence that
Thomas participated in another capital murder on January 4, 1994. A
witness testified that he, Thomas and Clay stopped at a convenience
store and that Clay shot and killed the clerk during a robbery while
Thomas sat in the car “rapping’ to a song on the radio.
Thomas was convicted of capital murder for the
deaths of two children. On November 8, 1996, the jury decided
punishment, and the trial court sentenced Thomas to death.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed
Thomas’ conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Thomas did not
file a petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While his direct appeal was pending in state
court, Thomas filed a petition for state writ of habeas corpus on
November 24, 1998. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief.
Thomas filed a federal habeas petition in U.S.
district court on March 20, 2003, and an amended petition on May 20,
2003. On December 10, 2003, the federal district court denied
Thomas’ federal writ.
Thomas filed an application for a certificate of
appealability (“COA”) in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on
October 11, 2004. On December 27, 2004, the 5th Circuit Court denied
Thomas’ application for COA.
Thomas filed a petition for writ of certiorari in
the U.S. Supreme Court on April 4, 2004. The Court dismissed the
petition as jurisdictionally out of time on April 12, 2005.
Thomas filed a successive state habeas
application. On Nov. 15, 2005, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
dismissed the application as an abuse of the writ.
Texas executes Christmas Eve killer; He's got a
debt to pay and it's time to pay it
CNN Law Center
November 16, 2005
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- A Houston man was
executed Wednesday evening for a Christmas Eve killing spree that
left a Baytown man and two of his children dead.
In a final statement, Shannon Charles Thomas
repeatedly expressed love for his family. "I want you to be strong
and get through this time," Thomas said with his sister standing a
few feet from him, looking through a window. "Do not fall back. Keep
going forward. Don't let this hinder you. Let everybody know I love
them." Thomas mentioned several people by their first names, telling
his sister to tell them he loved them and to stay strong. "This is
kind of hard to put words together. I am nervous and it is hard to
put my thoughts together. Sometimes you don't know what to say. I
hope these words give you comfort. ... Let everybody know I love
them and love is unconditional as mama always told us. I may be gone
in flesh but I am always with you in spirit." He was pronounced dead
at 6:52 p.m., five minutes after the lethal drugs began to flow.
Thomas, 34, was the 19th inmate executed this
year and the second in as many nights in the nation's busiest
capital punishment state.
Relatives bringing Christmas gifts to the home or
Roberto Rios 13 years ago in Baytown, just east of Houston, were
greeted with the horror of discovering the three bodies. Rios, 32,
had been shot, beaten and stabbed, a steak knife still in his neck.
His 11-year-old son, Victor, and 10-year-old daughter, Maria, were
upstairs in the small house, both face down and shot in the head.
"When you're at a murder scene looking at dead
kids and there's Christmas presents around and you look at the TV
and 'It's A Wonderful Life' is playing, it took me five years before
I could watch that movie again," Baytown Detective Randy Rhodes said
Tuesday. "For the rest of my life, Christmas is going to be
associated with those kids. "I hope for his own sake and his own
soul he's gotten straight with the Lord, but he's got a debt to pay
and it's time to pay it."
'Beat with this pair of tin snips'
Nearly three years ago, an accomplice, Keith
Bernard Clay, was put to death for the beating and fatal shooting of
a convenience store clerk two weeks after the Rios slayings.
Authorities said Clay was the shooter in that case while Thomas
waited outside in a car. Thomas also was charged in that slaying but
was not tried.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year refused to
consider an appeal from Thomas. His lawyers on Tuesday lost a late
appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, then took their case
back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In that appeal, which delayed
Thomas' punishment past the scheduled 6 p.m. CST (0000 GMT) time,
defense lawyers said prosecutors failed to disclose an agreement
that in exchange for his testimony in Thomas' case, they'd help out
a witness facing a drug charge. Prosecutors said there was no deal.
The Supreme Court denied the appeal.
Authorities said Rios, whose ex-wife lived in
Monterrey, Mexico, was a small-time marijuana dealer. "They wanted
dope and money out of him," said Harris County Assistant District
Attorney Marie Munier, who prosecuted the case. Munier said evidence
showed Rios was duct-taped to a chair, tortured and "beat with this
pair of tin snips or metal snips, a humongous pair of scissors, then
stabbed ... The family comes over later that evening to bring
presents and they find bodies."
Friend turned him in
It was almost two years before any arrests were
made in the slayings. Thomas and Clay apparently told friends about
the murders. When one of those friends was arrested on a drug charge,
he gave police information implicating Thomas and Clay. A friend
testified Thomas told him shortly after the slayings he was
responsible for the Rios family killings.
At the time of the
killings, Thomas was on probation for delivery of a controlled
substance, and records show a motion to revoke his probation was
pending. He had also served time at a Harris County boot camp after
an assault conviction.
Thomas declined to speak with reporters in
the weeks before his scheduled punishment. On a Web site where death
row inmates seek pen pals, he described himself as "a very honest
person and those are the type of people with whom I choose to
associate myself with."
Tuesday night Robert Rowell, 50, was executed for
fatally shooting three people at a Houston crack house. One more
execution is scheduled in Texas this year. Convicted killer Tony
Ford is set to die December 7 for the slaying of an El Paso man
during a home robbery a week before Christmas in 1991.
out, the 20 lethal injections would be three less than a year ago
and the fewest for a year in Texas since 17 inmates were carried out
in 2001. A record 40 were executed in 2000.
Texas man executed for Christmas Eve murders
Wed Nov 16, 2005
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas inmate was
executed by lethal injection on Wednesday for killing a man and his
two children during a Christmas Eve 1993 robbery. Shannon Thomas,
34, was the second person put to death this week and the 19th this
year in Texas, which leads the United States in capital punishment.
Thomas said he was nervous and unable to think
clearly as he made his final statement while strapped to a gurney in
the Texas death chamber. "This is kind of hard to put words together.
I am nervous and it is hard to put my thoughts together. Sometimes
you don't know what to say," he told execution witnesses, who
included his sister and a friend. "Let everybody know I love them,
and love is unconditional as Mama always told us. I may be gone in
the flesh, but I am always with you in spirit. I love you," Thomas
Thomas was condemned for shooting and stabbing to
death small-time drug dealer Roberto Rios while robbing him at his
Houston-area home on December 24, 1993. After killing Rios, he went
upstairs and shot his children, Victor, 11, and Maria, 10, so there
would be no witnesses, police said.
Thomas' execution follows that of Robert Rowell,
50, was received a lethal injection on Tuesday for killing two
people in a Houston crack house in 1993. Thomas, who requested no
last meal, was the 355th person executed in Texas since the state
resumed capital punishment in 1982.
Tony Ford, condemned for a 1991 murder in the
western city of El Paso, is scheduled to die on December 7 in the
state's last execution of the year. His lawyers said on Wednesday he
was wrongly identified as the killer and they had filed motions in
various courts seeking a stay of execution and a new trial.
On Dec. 24, 1993, Shannon Thomas and Keith Clay
committed the triple murder of Roberto Rios; Rios' 13-year-old son,
Victor; and Rios' 10-year-old daughter, Maria, at Rios' home.
Clay confessed to only "roughing up" Roberto Rios,
who was found bound with duct tape, beaten with a pair of bolt
cutters, stabbed in the neck, and shot three times. His two children
were found shot execution style in the back of the head. Shannon
Thomas was also present with Keith Bernard Clay during the murder of
a convenience store clerk less than two weeks later. Thomas was
convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for his role as
the primary actor in the Rios family murders.
On Jan. 4, 1994, Melathethil Tom Varughese, the
clerk at the Texaco station who was working alone, was found lying
on the floor behind the cashier's booth with Christmas tree lights
wrapped around his wrists. Two $20 bills were found on the floor
under the register, and eight shell casings were found scattered
around the store.
Varughese had been shot six times in various parts
of his body. He suffered multiple lacerations on his face and
forehead, and suffered extensive blunt force trauma to the head,
including a fractured skull. Items missing from the store included:
most of the money in the cash register, a pistol usually kept behind
the counter, and a small red cigar box kept behind the counter that
occasionally had money in it.
Evidence presented at trial indicated
that the eight shell casings found at the scene came from the same 9
mm Hi-Point pistol. The bullets found in Varughese's body were from
two different guns, one a 9 mm, and the other, a revolver like the
one kept under the cash register.
Houston authorities arrested Clay the following
December under suspicion for Varughese's murder and for the 1993
Christmas Eve triple murder of the Roberto Rios family that had
occurred two weeks before the Varughese murder.
subsequently convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for
his role in the Varughese robbery/murder. Evidence presented during
the punishment phase of Clay's capital murder trial included his
admitted presence and participation in the Rios family incident.
Texas Execution Information
Center by David Carson
Shannon Charles Thomas, 34, was executed by
lethal injection on 16 November 2005 in Huntsville, Texas for the
murder of three people during a home robbery.
At about 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1993,
members of Roberto Rios's family discovered three murder victims in
Rios's Baytown home. Rios's body was downstairs. He had been
severely beaten, stabbed in the neck with shears, and shot three
times. Upstairs, Rios's children, Victor, 11, and Maria, 10, had
been shot once in the head through a pillow as they lay side by side
on the floor.
The day after the murders, Earl Guidry, a postal
worker, contacted the police. He said that he was at the home
delivering mail around noon the day of the shootings and noticed a
beige or white car parked in front of the victims' home. As he
delivered the mail, he saw two men walk down the driveway, get in
the car, and leave. Also on the day after the murders, Keith Clay
reported that his car, a white Cadillac with tinted windows, had
The case remained unsolved for over a year, until
a man arrested on a narcotics violation, Joseph Jones, implicated
his friends, Shannon Thomas, and Keith Clay.
Thomas and Clay were 22
and 25, respectively, at the time of the murders. Jones agreed to
tape record a conversation with Thomas, in which Thomas made
incriminating statements about the murders. Thomas was arrested.
In his first statement, Thomas admitted that he knew Rios and had been
to his home on several occasions, including the day of the crime, to
buy marijuana, but he denied any knowledge of the killings. In a
second statement, Thomas said that Clay, acting alone, killed the
Rioses after he left.
A friend of Rios's testified that he visited the
victims' home around noon on Christmas Eve to drop off some gifts
for the children. He testified that he saw a white car with tinted
windows parked in front of the home. Earl Guidry also identified
Thomas as one of the two men he saw walking down the victims'
driveway as he was delivering the mail around noon on the day of the
crime. In addition to Jones, two other of Thomas's friends testified
that Thomas had confessed the killings to them.
The prosecution stated that Thomas and Clay went
to Rios's home to rob him because they had bought drugs from him
before and assumed he had drugs and money to steal. At Thomas's
punishment hearing, the prosecution presented evidence that Thomas
and Clay committed a convenience store robbery on 1 January 1994, in
which a clerk, Melathethil "Tom" Varughese, was shot and killed.
A jury convicted Thomas of the capital murder of
Victor and Maria Rios in November 1996 and sentenced him to death.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and
sentence in March 1999. All of his subsequent appeals in state and
federal court were denied.
Keith Bernard Clay confessed in writing to being
involved in the Rios murders. He was charged, but not tried, in that
case. He was, however, found guilty of capital murder in the
convenience store robbery. He was executed by lethal injection in
March 2003. Thomas was charged, but not tried, in the Varughese
murder. Thomas declined to speak with reporters while on death row.
The execution was delayed for about 30 minutes by
a late appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In his last statement,
Thomas spoke for about a minute, expressing love and encouragement
to his friends and family. The lethal injection was then started. As
the drugs started taking effect, Thomas asked, "Is the mic still on?"
He was told that it was, but then he lost consciousness. He was
pronounced dead at 6:52 p.m.
National Coalition to Abolish
the Death Penalty
TEXAS - Shannon Charles Thomas - November 16,
Shannon Charles Thomas, a black man, is scheduled
to be executed on Nov. 16, 2005 for the shooting deaths of Roberto
Rios, a Hispanic man, his son, Victor Roberto Rios and, his daughter,
Maria Elda Isbell Rios.
Thomas and another man, Keith Clay, are accused
of entering the home of Rios, a drug dealer, and robbing and killing
Rios. Thomas is then accused of killing the two children. There was
no physical evidence in the case.
Thomas was accused solely on the
basis of circumstantial evidence. Thomas was 22 years old at the
time of the crime. One piece of information on which Thomas’s
conviction was based was the fact that he possessed a gun similar to
the murder weapon. Although many may have also owned similar guns,
this information was part of the circumstantial evidence on which
Thomas was convicted of capital murder.
There were also a number of witness testimonies.
A postal worker claimed that he saw two men, not necessarily Thomas
and Clay, leaving the Rios home at the time of the crime. After
undergoing hypnosis, he tentatively identified Thomas as one of
Another witness secretly tape-recorded a conversation
with Thomas “in which Thomas made incriminating statements.” Another
man claimed to have seen a car resembling Clay’s car near the Rios
home. Again many may have owned such a car, but Thomas is being
convicted because Clay owned such a car.
This witness’s testimony
only actually suggests that Clay was present, not Thomas, and does
not even prove that. Finally two other witnesses stated that Thomas
had admitted the murders to them. Witness testimonies in general are
often unreliable and the reliability of the witness testimonies in
this case are definitely questionable.
Clearly the case against Thomas is purely
circumstantial. Considering the danger of sentencing innocent people
to death it is important that we not implement capital punishment in
cases that lack compelling physical evidence.
Please write Gov. Rick Perry requesting that he
commute Shannon Charles Thomas’s death sentence to a life sentence.
Christmas Eve killer faces death
November 15, 2005
Shannon Thomas faces lethal injection Wednesday
for killing a man and his two children 12 years ago on Christmas Eve
Thomas, now 34, and his accomplice, Keith Clay,
turned the house on 2204 Maryland into a sickening arena of evil.
One lawman described the 1993 murders of Roberto Rios, 32, and his
two children, Maria, 10, and Victor, 11, as “a slaughter.”
family had only lived in the two-story rent assisted wood and brick
house on Maryland Street for only six months. Victor and Maria
attended Ashbel Smith Elementary School. They were excellent
students who had accumulated many award certificates for their
schoolwork and perfect attendance records.
Police found Roberto’s on the floor of the living
room, his arms and torso were bound with duct tape, and he was
covered in blood. He had been shot three times, twice in the head,
and slashed with a steak knife that remained embedded in his neck.
Reports would later indicate that that Roberto Rios had also
sustained broken bones from what appeared to be a severe beating.
Victor and Maria were found upstairs in Maria’s room. Both were dead,
lying facedown on the floor, side-by-side. Each had a single, fatal
gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Known locally as the “Vato Man,” Roberto Rios
supplemented his meager government assisted income by peddling dope
from the house. He primarily dealt marijuana, but was also known to
sell cocaine as well. Rios’ dealing explained the scene to cops:
some of his business associates - detectives reasoned it would take
more than one person to commit the crime - had come to the house
looking for money or dope or both. Or maybe they came to settle a
debt. Whichever way it played out, the killings bore the hallmarks
of an execution.
Shannon Charles Thomas, 22, and Keith Bernard
Clay, 25, had been past customers of Rios’. But on that Christmas
Eve, they would later tell police, the pair came to the home looking
to take the small time dope peddler for everything he had.
Less than two weeks after the slaying of the Rios
family, Thomas and Clay would be involved in another murder in
Baytown. This time their target was Melathethil Tom Varughese, 44, a
clerk at the Airwood Grocery Store on Park Street. Sometime after
8:30 p.m., one of the two entered the convenience store and fired 10
shots at Varughese, hitting him six times. If that was not enough,
the clerk was also beaten with the pistol.
For two years, the Rios killings and the
Varughese murder went unsolved. Police did not even know the two
incidents were related. The break came in December 1995. Baytown
police detectives received information from the Jefferson County
Narcotics Task Force that they had arrested a suspect in an
unrelated case that implicated Thomas and Clay in the Rios slayings.
Police soon arrested the pair and brought them in
for questioning. During the session, both men admitted to being in
the house on Christmas Eve but each fingered the other as the killer.
Soon, however, police sorted out the mess. Thomas pulled the trigger
on all three of the Rios clan while Clay helped out. Clay, on the
other hand, committed the Varughese murder while Thomas waited in
the get-away car outside.
Thomas was sentenced to death by lethal injection
in 1996. Clay was executed in 2003 for the Varughese murder.
Convicted Texas killer in Christmas Eve triple
slaying set to die
HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Relatives carrying gifts to
a home in Baytown on Christmas Eve in 1993 were greeted with the
horror of discovering three of their loved ones murdered. Two
preteen children had been shot in the head and their father shot,
beaten and stabbed, a steak knife still in his neck.
Nearly two years later, two men were arrested for
the slayings of Roberto Rios, 32, his 11-year-old son, Victor, and
10-year-old daughter, Maria. Wednesday evening, one of those men,
Shannon Charles Thomas, faced lethal injection for the murders of
the children. Thomas, 34, would be the 19th Texas prisoner executed
this year and the second in as many nights.
His execution would come almost three years after
his accomplice, Keith Bernard Clay, was put to death for the beating
and fatal shooting of a Baytown convenience store clerk two weeks
after the Rios slayings. Authorities said Clay was the shooter in
that case while Thomas waited outside in a car. Thomas also was
charged in that slaying but was not tried. The U.S. Supreme Court
earlier this year refused to consider an appeal from Thomas. His
lawyers were back in the courts this week trying to get the
Thomas and Clay showed up at the home of Rios,
described as a small-time marijuana dealer. Rios was shot twice in
the head and stabbed. The bodies of the children were found on the
second floor. "He was a single father with two young children and I
think the dad was disabled," said Harris County Assistant District
Attorney Marie Munier, who prosecuted the case. "What he did was
sold little bits of marijuana out of the house. They wanted dope and
money out of him."
Munier said evidence showed Rios was duct-taped
to a chair, tortured and "beat with this pair of tin snips or metal
snips, a humongous pair of scissors, then stabbed... The family
comes over later that evening to bring presents and they find bodies."
"Upstairs, you find two children, a little boy and little girl,
Christmas presents around, school awards on the walls," Baytown
Police Detective Randy Rhodes said Tuesday, recalling the scene from
12 years ago. "They were just laid down and shot in the back of the
head... For the rest of my life, Christmas is going to be associated
with those kids."
Thomas declined to speak with reporters in the
weeks before his scheduled punishment. On a Web site where death row
inmates seek pen pals, he described himself as "a very honest person
and those are the type of people with whom I choose to associate
myself with." "Shannon always had been around trouble," Clay said in
an interview eight days before his March 20, 2003, execution. Clay
said he was with Thomas when they drove to Rios' house but insisted
he did not participate in the shootings. "He told me he wanted to
pick up some weed," Clay said. "I never stepped one foot into that
But the pair apparently told friends about the
murders and when one of those friends was arrested more than a year
later on a drug charge, he gave police information implicating the
two. At trial, the friend testified Thomas told him shortly after
the slayings he was responsible for the Rios family killings.
At the time of the slayings, Thomas was on
probation for delivery of a controlled substance and records show a
motion to revoke his probation was pending. He'd also served time at
a Harris County boot camp after an assault conviction.
Tuesday night Robert Rowell, 50, was executed for
fatally shooting three people at a Houston crack house. A third
person was wounded and left paralyzed. In a brief final statement as
relatives of one of his victims watched through a window, Rowell
apologized for "all the grief I have caused them." He was pronounced
dead nine minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing in his arms.
One more execution is scheduled in Texas this
year. Convicted killer Tony Ford is set to die Dec. 7 for the
slaying of an El Paso man during a home robbery a week before
Christmas in 1991. If carried out, the 20 lethal injections would be
three less than a year ago and the fewest for a year in Texas since
17 inmates were carried out in 2001. A record 40 were executed in
Thurs. May 15, 1997--TEXAS:
A man convicted of murdering a convenience store
clerk has been sentenced to death by lethal injection. The Houston
jury deliberated 8 hours before deciding on the death sentence for
Keith Bernard Clay, 28, in the murder of Melathethil Tom Varughese.
Clay robbed the store in Baytown on Jan. 4, 1994,
shot at Varughese 10 times, hitting him 6, then beat him with a
pistol, said prosecutor Marie Munier. The jury also heard about an
unrelated crime Clay alleged was involved in just a week before the
robbery -- the Christmas Eve 1993 murders of a Baytown man and his 2
young children. Clay's co-defendant in that case, Shannon Thomas, is
already on death row for those murders.
Police say the 2, looking for money, entered
Robert Rios' home on Dec. 24, shot him twice in the head, stabbed
him in the neck, then shot his children, Maria Elda Isabell Rios,
10, and Victor Roberto Rios, 11. The bodies were found by relatives
who came to the house that night with Christmas presents; the
children's bodies were upstairs, face down on the floor with gunshot
wounds to the head.
Police at the time thought the killings were
drug-related because Rios was aknown small-time marijuana dealer.
Though both Clay and Thomas said they were at the house, both denied
shooting the 3 victims. Later, however, they bragged to their
friends about the killings, police say.
Prosecutor Munier said that Thomas did the
shooting, but that Clay may have held the children down.
In the convenience store robbery and murder,
there was witness. Clay went in the store about 8:30 pm. looking
more to kill than to rob, Munier said, adding that "it was a vicious,
brutal murder fork I think, not so much for the money, but to prove
that he was a killer to his friend."
The jury agreed with the prosecution that Clay
constituted a future threat to society, and, rejecting the defense's
call for a life sentence, returned with a verdict of death.
Keith Bernard Clay & Shannon
The Huntsville Item
March 21, 2003
Last week, Delma Banks drew a great deal of
domestic and international attention when he was scheduled to be the
300th person to be executed in Texas since the death penalty was
reinstated. At the last moment, however, his execution was stayed
for a 16th time. On Thursday evening, Keith Bernard Clay, sentenced
to death for the 1994 murder of a Baytown convenience store clerk,
became a footnote to history as the 300th person executed since
1982. With Operation Iraqi Freedom in full swing half a world away,
his execution passed nearly without notice.
Before making a final statement, Clay made eye
contact with the daughter, brother-in-law and sister-in-law of
Melathethil Tom Varghese, the man he was convicted of killing the
night of Jan. 4, 1994. When he spoke, Clay asked for forgiveness
from both them and God.
"I would like to say first and foremost to the
Lord God Almighty that I am sorry and forgive me of every single
solitary sin I have committed these 35 years," he said. "To the
Varghese family, I ask that you forgive me because I know you have
suffered a great loss and I am truly, truly sorry ... there is not a
day that I have not prayed for you."
Clay then addressed his mother, Cynthia Smith,
who was listed on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's
official witness list as his spiritual advisor. Smith is an ordained
minister. "Mom, I love you," he said. "I am going to see the Lord
... this is not goodbye. I will see you later." When Clay completed
his final statement, his mother smiled at him and gave him a "thumbs-up"
sign. There was no visible emotion displayed by Varghese's family.
The lethal dose of chemicals was started at 6:15
p.m. Clay was pronounced dead eight minutes later.
It took nearly a year for authorities to arrest
Clay for Varghese's murder. Clay was one of three men to enter the
Texaco convenience store where Varghese worked to buy cigarettes.
After the other two men left the store, Clay
allegedly bound Varghese's hands with a strand of Christmas lights
and beat him so severely his skull was fractured. Varghese was shot
six times with two different guns, one of which was used in the
store for security purposes and another which was traced back to
Clay. At the time of his death, Varghese, an Indian immigrant, had
been in the United States less than a year.
Clay and his friend, Shannon Charles Thomas, were
taken into custody not only on the suspicion that they were
responsible for Varghese's murder, but also were connected to the
killings of Roberto Rios and his two daughters, ages 10 and 13, on
Christmas Eve, 1993. The two girls were shot execution-style in the
back of the head, while Rios was bound, beaten with a pair of bolt
cutters, stabbed and then shot three times.
After he was arrested, Clay confessed to "roughing
up" Rios but denied having anything to do with his murder. Thomas
was tried for the Rios murders and was sentenced to death. He
currently remains on death row.
Clay's execution was the 11th in Texas this year.
The next execution in the state is scheduled for next Thursday, when
James Colburn of Montgomery County is scheduled to be put to death.
Lamp of Hope.org
To Whom It May Concern:
Well, let me begin this letter by saying hello. My name is Shannon
C. Thomas. I'm a 30 year old male that has been incarcerated on
Texas death row since December 5, 1996. I would very much like to
correspond with a pen-friend in hopes of building a truly genuine
friendship that I am very much in need of.
Now let me give you a brief description about
myself. I'm a very easy going, open minded person, somewhat of an
optimist, as well as a leader by nature. I'm a very honest person
and those are the type of people with whom I choose to associate
myself with. My birthday is 7-27-71. Height is 5ft 8 inches. I am
roughly 235 pounds in weight. Well I'm a serious person but I do
have a sense of humor and I enjoy nothing more than to see a person
smile. My nationality is African American by label. Really I'm a
people person but mostly I enjoy interaction with females on all
levels. By the way, I would prefer females of 23 years old or older,
if possible, but men are equally welcome to respond to my letter if
they wish to do so.
My interests are basic enough although I do enjoy
the finer things in life but the simple things are just as important
to me as well. I enjoy mostly all sports – football, basketball,
baseball etc. Guess you can say I'm a saportaholic. I love pretty
much all type and style of music because I feel that music is a
universal language that any and everybody can feel and understand. I
love good movies, scary, romantic, comedy, and I love reading a good
book and poetry. One more thing – race/ethnic or religious
background are of no concern to me. Only that the person is open to
regular correspondence and building a true friendship.
In closing I would like to thank you very much
for taking the time to read my introduction letter. Please be
assured that if you decide to respond and write me that there's a
lot more to the man behind this pen, therefore I'm waiting to hear
from you. I'm ready to establish a regular correspondence and true
Respectfully, Shannon C. Thomas
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TEXAS 77351 USA
Texas Execution Information
Center by David Carson
Keith Bernard Clay, 35, was executed by lethal
injection on 20 March 2003 in Huntsville, Texas for the robbery and
murder of a convenience store clerk.
On 4 January 1994, Melathethil Varughese was
murdered during a robbery of the store where he was working. His
body was found lying on the floor behind the cashier's booth. His
hands were bound with a string of Christmas lights. Eight 9 mm shell
casings were found scattered around the store. He had been shot six
times. Some of the gunshots were from a 9 mm pistol, and some were
from a revolver which was kept in the store, under the cash register.
He also had a fractured skull resulting from being beaten with a
blunt object. He also had multiple lacerations on his face and
forehead. The money from the cash register had been stolen, along
with another box containing money.
Two men -- Keith Clay, then 25, and Shannon
Thomas, 22 -- were arrested on suspicion of a triple homicide in
Baytown which occurred two weeks earlier. Further investigation
connected them to the Varughese murder. A third man, Ernest King,
testified that he, Clay, and Thomas drove to the convenience store
on 4 January so he could buy some cigarettes. King testified that as
he left the store, Clay entered. King heard gunshots, looked inside,
and saw Clay holding a gun. After more gunshots, Clay came out of
the store carrying a box and the three left in their car.
The 9mm pistol used in the robbery belonged to
Clay. He had bought it from King a month earlier.
Clay had a prior conviction for possession of
cocaine. He received a two-year prison sentence in August 1990.
(Information on time served was not available for this report.) Clay
also confessed in writing to being involved in the December 1993
murder of Roberto Rios and his two daughters in their home. He was
charged, but not tried, in that case.
A jury convicted Clay of capital murder in April
1997 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
affirmed the conviction and sentence in March 1998. All of his
subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied, including
a last-minute appeal claiming that Clay, who graduated from high
school, was retarded.
Shannon Charles Thomas was convicted of capital
murder in the Rios case and is on death row. He was charged, but not
tried, in the Varughese case.
In a death-row interview, Clay denied that he
participated in either murder. He said that he "never set foot" in
Rios' house, and that he waited in the car at the convenience store
while King and Thomas went inside. "Whatever God's will is for my
life, I'm going to accept, Clay said. "Lord Jesus, He was wrongly
convicted for something He didn't do, and paid the price."
"I know you have suffered a great loss and I am
truly, truly sorry," Clay told the victim's family at his execution.
He also asked God to "forgive me of every single solitary sin I have
committed these 35 years I have lived upon the earth." Finally, Clay
told his mother, "Let everyone know that I love them. This is not
goodbye. I will see you later." He began praying softly as the
lethal injection was administered. He was pronounced dead at 6:23
Execution of Baytown man No. 300 in Texas
by Timothy Williams -
March 21, 2003
HUNTSVILLE — Sentenced to death for the 1994
murder of a Baytown convenience store clerk, Keith Bernard Clay
apologized to family members of his victim before he became the
300th Texas prisoner put to death Wednesday.
Strapped to the table, Clay, also from Baytown,
turned his head toward family members of Melathethil Tom Varughese
and asked for forgiveness. “To the Varughese family, I would ask
that you forgive me because I know you have suffered a great loss,
and I am truly, truly sorry,” Clay said. “I know what you have
suffered but please grant me your forgiveness.”
Clay was convicted in 1997 for the shooting death
of Varughese during a robbery at the Airwood Grocery Store on Park
Continuing his statement, Clay told his mother,
Cynthia Smith, that he loved her and would see her again. “Let
everyone know that I love them. This is not goodbye,” he said. “I
will see you later.” Smith smiled and gave him two thumbs up. Clay
was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m., eight minutes after the lethal
dose began. He is the 300th prisoner executed since the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled in 1976 that the death penalty could be reinstated.
The Supreme Court last week refused to review his
case and the state parole board refused to consider a clemency
petition because it was filed 15 days too late. About six
protesters, holding signs advocating an end to the death penalty,
stood outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville as reporters were led
inside to witness the execution.
Clay was linked to the murder with the testimony
of Ernest Lee King. Clay had purchased the 9 mm “Hi-Point” handgun
used in the crime from King, who witnessed Clay in the store holding
a gun after several gunshots had been fired. Varughese was found by
two Baytown women about 20 minutes later at 8:50 p.m. He had been
shot six times in various parts of his body, suffered multiple
lacerations and extensive blunt face trauma that fractured his skull.
His wrists were bound with Christmas tree lights.
Prosecutors also linked Clay to the 1993
Christmas Eve robbery and triple-murder of Roberto Rios and his two
children, 10-year-old Maria and 13-year-old Victor. Clay confessed,
but was never tried for “roughing up” Roberto, who was bound with
duct tape, beaten with bolt cutters, stabbed in the neck and shot
Shannon Charles Thomas, a friend of Clay’s, was
convicted of the murders and sentenced to death row. His case is on
Thomas v. Dretke,
120 Fed.Appx. 526 (5th Cir. 2004) (Habeas)
Background: Petitioner sought federal habeas
corpus relief after he was convicted in state court of capital
murder and sentenced to death. The United States District Court for
the Southern District of Texas denied petition. Petitioner applied
for certificate of appealability (COA) allowing appeal.
Holdings: The Court of Appeals held that:
(1) petitioner was not entitled to COA on claim challenging
admission of in-court identification, and
(2) petitioner was not entitled to COA on claim alleging that state
court violated due process by failing to instruct jury that, if
given life sentence, petitioner would be eligible for parole in 40
years. Request denied.
JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge
Shannon Thomas seeks a certificate of appealability ("COA") from the
denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254. Because Thomas cannot make a substantial showing of
the denial of a federal constitutional right, we deny a COA.
On Christmas Eve 1993, Thomas and his friend
Keith Clay entered the home of *528 Roberto Rios, a marihuana
dealer. Thomas and Clay robbed Rios, then murdered him by shooting
him three times and stabbing him in the neck with a pair of
scissors. Thomas then went upstairs and executed Rios's two
children, ten year-old Maria and eleven year-old Victor, by shooting
each in the head through a pillow as they lay side-by-side on the
The murders remained unsolved for over a year,
until the police received information from Joseph "Boo" Jones, a
friend of Clay and Thomas. After his arrest, Thomas gave the police
two written statements. In the first, he acknowledged purchasing
narcotics from Rios that day but denied any knowledge of the
killings. In his second statement, Thomas asserted that Clay had
acted alone in killing the Rios family after Thomas had left the
Thomas was indicted for the capital murder of
Victor Rios. At trial, no physical evidence was presented to link
him to the murders. He was inculpated, however, by an abundance of
circumstantial evidence, including information that he possessed a
gun similar to the murder weapon. In addition, the state presented
testimony linking him to the robbery and murders. Three witnesses
testified that Thomas had asked them to participate in robbing Rios;
two of them stated that Thomas had admitted the murders to them. One
of the witnesses, Jones, agreed to tape record a conversation with
Thomas at the request of the police, in which Thomas made
incriminating statements about the murders.
Additionally, evidence put Thomas at the scene of
the crime, including the statement of a postal worker, Earl Guidry,
who saw two men leaving the Rios home near the time of the killings.
Guidry tentatively identified Thomas after undergoing hypnosis and
participating in several photograph identification arrays and one
live line-up. Another witness testified that he saw a car resembling
Clay's near the Rios residence shortly before the murders.
Thomas was convicted, and the jury answered the
special issues in a manner requiring the imposition of a death
sentence. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the
conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Thomas v. State, No.
72,701 (Tex Crim.App. Mar. 31, 1999). Thomas did not seek a writ of
certiorari. While his direct appeal was pending, Thomas sought state
habeas relief, which was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Ex
Parte Thomas, No. 51,306- 01 (Tex.Crim.App. Mar. 20, 2002). Thomas
then filed for a federal writ of habeas corpus under § 2254, raising
six claims of error. The district court dismissed the claims on
summary judgment and refused to grant a COA. Thomas v. Dretke, No.
H-03-CV-988 (S.D.Tex. Dec. 10, 2003). Thomas now seeks a COA on two
of his claims.
* * *
Thomas contends it was error to keep the
information about his parole eligibility from the jury based on
Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 169, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129
L.Ed.2d 133 (1994), where the Court concluded that the possibility
of a life sentence without possibility of parole is relevant to a
jury's determination of whether the defendant poses future harm to
society. To support his position, Thomas points to language in
Simmons v. South *531 Carolina saying that "[i]n assessing future
dangerousness, the actual duration of the defendant's prison
sentence is indisputably relevant." Id. at 163.
The Court, however, also specifically delineated
that the holding was inapplicable in circumstances in states where
parole was available for capital offenses, as is the case in Texas.
[FN4] The Court confirmed the limited nature of the Simmons v. South
Carolina holding in Ramdass v. Angelone, 530 U.S. 156, 168, 120 S.Ct.
2113, 147 L.Ed.2d 125 (2000), stating that "Simmons applies only to
instances where, as a legal matter, there is no possibility of
parole if the jury decides the appropriate sentence is life in
prison." Moreover, as the district court observed, we have
repeatedly rejected similar claims seeking to extend Simmons v.
South Carolina to the Texas capital sentencing procedure.
* * *
Because there is no well-settled federal law
supporting Thomas's position, AEDPA precludes federal courts from
granting relief, because it cannot be said that the state court's
application of federal law was objectively unreasonable. Because
binding precedent forecloses relief on this claim, jurists of reason
could not disagree with the district court's decision to dismiss
this claim, and therefore the request for a COA is DENIED.