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A.K.A.: "Kamau"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Jewelry store robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 28, 1990
Date of birth: July 15, 1971
Victim profile: Chung Myong Yi, 43 (store owner)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Harris County, Texas, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Texas on March 14, 2000


On Nov. 28, 1990 Ponchai Wilkerson and accompolice Wilton Bethony entered the Royal Gold Jewelry Store in Houston, Texas following a month-long crime spree.

Wilkerson left the store, returned, pulled a gun from under his jacket, and without saying a word, shot and killed store owner Chung Myong Yi across the counter. Both men then proceeded to smash the jewelry cases and seize the rings and necklaces inside.

A customer, friends with Bethony, later identified Wilkerson, along with another witness who identified Wilkerson as running from the store.

Wilkerson's monthlong crime spree included numerous auto thefts, robberies and burglaries - including one in which guns worth $40,000 were stolen - and drive-by shootings that left at least one person dead and three others wounded.

Wilkerson attempted an escape from death row in 1998, and held a prison guard hostage for 13 hours in February 2000. At his execution, Wilkerson spit out a universal handcuff and leg iron key.


Texas Attorney General

Media Advisory


AUSTIN - Friday, March 10, 2000

Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Ponchai Wilkerson who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 14th:


On Nov. 28, 1990, Ponchai Wilkerson and his companion, Wilton Bethony, entered the Royal Gold Jewelry Store in Houston, Texas following a month-long crime spree. While Bethony was looking at rings, Wilkerson purchased a $35 pendant from store owner Chung Myong Yi.

At that time, Bethony's friend, Chris Jones, entered the store. Jones later testified that he and Bethony spoke while Bethony continued looking at rings and Wilkerson stood nearby. After Bethony bought two rings, Wilkerson exited the store for the first time and told Bethony he was going to a nearby leather store.

Wilkerson returned to the store almost immediately, picked up the cars keys he had left on the counter, and exited again. Wilkerson then returned to the store a second time, one or two minutes later, stood behind Bethony, and pulled a gun from under his jacket. Without saying a word, Wilkerson shot and killed Yi across the counter.

The medical examiner later found that Wilkerson's Glock pistol had been fired from within 12 inches of Yi's temple. Wilkerson and Bethony then proceeded to smash the jewelry cases and seize the rings and necklaces within. Jones immediately ran to the business next door and asked them to hide him because he had just witnessed the store owner next door being shot.

While Jones hid in the bathroom, Alan Krizan stepped outside and witnessed two men running from the jewelry store carrying black boxes with chains hanging out of them. Krizan identified Wilkerson as one of the men he saw running from the store. Wilkerson and Bethony loaded the stolen jewelry into a car and drove away.


Wilkerson was indicted in Harris County, Texas, for the capital murder of Chung Myong Yi during the course of committing the offense of robbery. Wilkerson was tried before a jury upon a plea of not guilty in the 184th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas.

Wilkerson testified at trial that the murder was not committed in self-defense nor was it an accident. On July 16, 1991, the jury found him guilty of capital murder. On July 26, 1991, in accordance with Texas law, the trial court sentenced Wilkerson to death.

Because Wilkerson was sentenced to death, appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence on March 23, 1994. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on Dec. 12, 1994.

Wilkerson then filed an application for habeas corpus relief with the convicting court on Dec. 29, 1994. The trial court recommended that relief be denied, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed on Sept. 13, 1995.

On Oct. 31, 1995, Wilkerson filed a petition for federal habeas corpus relief in federal district court, and relief was denied on May 1, 1996. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Wilkerson permission to appeal on Aug. 18, 1999, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on Jan. 18, 2000.


During the punishment phase of the trial, the State presented evidence of Wilkerson's involvement in a crime spree in 1990.

In Aug. 1990, Wilkerson pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and was sentenced to three years deferred adjudication and given probation. His probation officer testified that Wilkerson failed to report after his initial interview.

On Nov. 5, 1990, Wilkerson and Bethony assaulted and robbed Anthony Jolivet of his vehicle at gunpoint in a self-serve car wash.

On Nov. 13, Wilkerson, Bethony, Kenneth Joseph, and Eddie Bolden, stole Carolyn Cangemi's Suburban and drove it back to Wilkerson's apartment. After assembling in the stolen Suburban, the group proceeded to a friend's house where they acquired a 20-gauge shotgun and a ski hat full of shells. Wilkerson and Bethony then decided to rob the neighborhood Shop and Get owned by Bolden's friend Zahir Ali. Despite Bolden's refusal to participate, Wilkerson, carrying an automatic pistol, and Bethony, carrying the shotgun, robbed Ali's store. Ali survived the robbery despite being shot in the chest by Bethony with the shotgun.

On Nov. 18, Wilkerson and Bethony burglarized CoCo's Fashions by driving a vehicle into the front of the store and through the burglar bars. The pair escaped with approximately $10,000 worth of merchandise.

On Nov. 19, Wilkerson, Bethony, Joseph, and Bolden located, and Bethony stole, Bernard Sezon's Plymouth Voyager.

On Nov. 20, Wilkerson and his group drove into the Fondren Glen Apartments at approximately 4:30 p.m. looking for a person who had pulled a gun on Bolden earlier. While they did not locate the person they sought, Wilkerson stopped as he was exiting the parking lot, turned down the radio, and said to Jimmy Johnson and Jarrode Turner, who were sitting on a nearby fence, "You talking to me?"

When they responded that they were not, he started shooting at them. Wilkerson hit both of the young boys as they ran away. Also struck by one of Wilkerson's bullets, one inch from her heart, was 13-year-old Kesia Nealy, who was walking home from school. Wilkerson did not express any regret or remorse following the shooting. In fact, he called a friend to tell her to watch the news for it.

On Nov. 20, Wilkerson, Bethony, and Bolden drove a vehicle through the front of the Alamo Gun Store. The trio threw $7,000 worth of guns into the van and drove away. Some of the guns were recovered from Wilkerson's apartment, some were used in later crimes, and others were sold on the street for $100 each.

On Nov. 23, in a Buick Regal they had previously stolen, Wilkerson and Bethony entered the Westwood Village apartments parking lot around 10 p.m. Bethony stepped out of the car and declared "let's get it on LA style," firing his semi-automatic weapon into the apartments and vehicles.

Bethony fatally shot Bobby Holley twice in the back as he ran away. Bethony also shot James McGowen as he ran away. After Bethony's gun ran out of bullets, Wilkerson opened fire randomly upon the apartments with another semi-automatic weapon. After another individual fired from the backseat of the car, Wilkerson and Bethony got back into the car and drove off.

On Nov. 24, Wilkerson and a companion drove into the parking lot of the Breckenridge apartments just after midnight. Using at least two of the same weapons that were used in the Westwood Village shooting a few hours earlier, and without any provocation, Wilkerson began firing into the apartments. Twenty-nine shell casings were recovered at this scene and 35 bullet holes were found in the apartments.

On Nov. 25, Wilkerson and at least one accomplice burglarized Collectors' Firearms of 86 weapons worth approximately $40,000. Four days later, Wilkerson and Bethony robbed the Royal Gold Jewelry Store.

Most recently, on February 21, 2000, Wilkerson and another death row inmate, Howard Guidry, took Texas Department of Criminal Justice guard Jeanette Bledsoe hostage at knife-point for approximately 13 hours. Bledsoe was released on Feb. 22, when the inmates were allowed to meet with anti-death penalty activists at the Terrell Unit in Livingston, Texas.

Wilkerson and Guidry were previously among seven death row prisoners who took part in a botched escape attempt at a prison near Huntsville on Thanksgiving Day in 1998. Only one inmate, Martin Gurule, managed to escape, but he later drowned in a nearby river.

DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL - No evidence was presented at trial that drug or alcohol use was connected with the murder.

Ponchai Wilkerson was sentenced to die for the Nov. 28, 1990, robbery-shooting of Chung Myong Yi in a Houston jewelry store. Wilkerson shot him in the head from less than a foot away and stole a box of jewelry. Wilkerson never denied shooting Yi during the robbery, but he contended he fired the shot after becoming alarmed by the jeweler's movements behind the counter.

Before November 1990, Wilkerson, the son of a retired deputy sheriff, had run afoul of the law only once, for auto theft. He is believed to have committed a string of felonies before the incident in which he shot and killed Yi, including three additional burglaries, three auto thefts and had shot four other people in two separate drive-by shootings.

Prosecutors also claimed that Wilkerson was a party to attempted capital murder when another store clerk was shot with a shotgun. Wilkerson was involved in two escape attempts and a hostage situation during his time on death row.


Abolish Archives

March 9, 2000 - TEXAS:

An anti-death penalty activist was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for her courtroom outburst over the setting of a man's execution date. State District Court Judge Jan Krocker gave Wessie Scyrus, who also uses the name Njeri Shakur, 48 hours to report to the Harris County jail to begin her sentence for contempt.

After the hearing, Scyrus said she didn't believe her actions disrupted the court during the Feb. 8 sentencing of Ponchai Wilkerson. She said she was merely reacting to the plight of a friend. "What I exhibited was passion and pain. I responded out of human emotion. I said what was true. I can't regret that," said Scyrus. Her attorney, Martin Mayne, said, "30 days is a lot of time in jail. It's a serious sentence. I don't think jail time was that necessary. It was put on television. (Krocker) felt the need to counter the activity that was broadcast. It made the frontier for this thing much larger."

Scott Durfee, general counsel for the Harris County District Attorney's Office, said Krocker could have given her up to 180 days and a fine. "What makes it a little more problematic is that it was a capital murder defendant," said Durfee. "She added to the chaos in the courtroom at the time. I think 30 days was the right number under the circumstance." After receiving the execution date, Wilkerson had to be restrained by deputies and dragged away. Scyrus said she was upset because she didn't think Wilkerson was being allowed to talk.

Wilkerson is scheduled to die March 14. Last month he and inmate Howard Guidry held a prison guard hostage for 13 hours to protest the death penalty and conditions in the prison. Scyrus and SHAPE Community Center Executive Director Deloyd Parker and another activist were called into the Terrell Unit to help talk the 2 into surrendering.

Krocker denied requests from her attorneys that she be allowed to complete the sentence on the weekends or to report to jail after Wilkerson's execution date. "She has 48 hours if she wants to talk to him or go see him," said Krocker. Scyrus said she was disturbed at not being allowed to start the sentence after Wilkerson's execution. "He's been my friend for nearly 3 years. It's a tremendous loss," she said.

A few members of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement attended the hearing. They sat quietly through the hearing, but outside they protested the 30-day sentence. "Here is a lady who should be getting a letter from the governor for what she did (in the prison guard hostage situation)," said group member Johnnie Stevens. "Instead, this is what she gets. It's a travesty and it's political."

DeLoyd Parker also complained the sentence was political. "I think George Bush would be proud of her," he said. "All of this is associated with a death penalty case. When you slap someone in the anti-death penalty movement, you're speaking up for pro death penalty."


Killer Spits Up Escape Tool at Execution; Inmate Had Universal Handcuff Key

APBNews Online

March 15, 2000

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- A convicted killer who twice escaped his death row cell stunned authorities during his execution by spitting out a small key as lethal chemicals flowed into his body. "The secret, as of Wilkerson," Ponchai Wilkerson mumbled, according to James Brazzil, a chaplain who stood next to the inmate in the death chamber Tuesday evening.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Larry Fitzgerald described the inch-and-a-half key as a universal handcuff and leg restraint key. It's unknown how Wilkerson got it.

Wilkerson, 28, was convicted of the 1990 murder of jeweler Chung Myong Yi, 43, whose slaying capped a monthlong crime spree that included robberies and drive-by shootings that left at least one person dead and three others wounded.

More recently, Wilkerson, armed with a sharpened piece of metal fashioned from a typewriter part, slipped from his cell Feb. 21 and helped hold a prison guard hostage before surrendering.

On Thanksgiving night 1998, Wilkerson and six other condemned prisoners fled their cells in another escape attempt. One convict drowned near the prison, while Wilkerson and five others gave up after guards began shooting at them.


One Last Fight; Inmate Found With Handcuff Key During Execution

By Michael Graczyk -

March 14, 2000

Huntsville, Texas, (AP) — A defiant condemned killer spit out a handcuff key seconds before he was executed for a 1990 murder tonight. Ponchai Wilkerson, 28, had struggled with prison guards all day. He refused to leave his holding cell near the death chamber and guards had to use additional restraining bands to bind him to the gurney.

Wilkerson declined a final statement. But as the lethal drugs began taking effect, he spit out a key he had been holding in his mouth. “The secret, as of Wilkerson,” the inmate mumbled, according to James Brazzil, a chaplain who stood next to Wilkerson in the chamber.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Larry Fitzgerald described the inch-and-a-half key as a universal handcuff and leg restraint key. It’s unknown how he got it. The key fell from Wilkerson’s mouth onto the side of his face, where a shocked warden, Neill Hodges, picked it up. Wilkerson then gave a gasp and fell unconscious.

He was pronounced dead at 6:24 p.m., seven minutes after the flow of lethal drugs began. “It’s not uncommon to find keys in prison,” Fitzgerald said later. “Our major concern is how the inmate came in possession of it. It’s going to be the focus of an investigation beginning tonight.”

Fitzgerald said he didn’t think it was intended to be an escape attempt by Wilkerson. “That’s the nature of Ponchai — always messing with the system,” he said. “It didn’t work.”

His Last Hours

Hours before the execution, guards had to use a Mace-like gas on Wilkerson when he refused to leave his cell at the Terrell Unit prison near Livingston for the 40-mile trip west to the Walls Unit in downtown Huntsville.

The inmate then struggled with guards in the hallway outside his cell shortly after noon and had to be carried to and from the van that took him to Huntsville, Fitzgerald said. Wilkerson also declined to select a final meal and refused to tell prison officials how they should dispose of his body, Fitzgerald added.

He was the 11th convicted murderer to be executed in Texas this year and the first of two scheduled this week. Timothy Lane Gribble, 36, convicted of the rape, abduction and strangling of a Galveston County woman in 1987, was set to die Wednesday evening.

Wilkerson was convicted of the murder of Chung Myong Yi, 43, whose slaying capped a monthlong crime spree that included numerous auto thefts, robberies and burglaries — including one in which guns worth $40,000 were stolen — and drive-by shootings that left at least one person dead and three others wounded.

More recently, Wilkerson, armed with a sharpened piece of metal fashioned from a typewriter part, slipped from his death row cell Feb. 21 and, with another inmate, held a female prison guard hostage for 13 hours before surrendering.

The guard was not harmed. “Ponchai is the perfect example of how a person can be a continuing threat to everyone around him and society needs to be protected from him,” said Roberto Gutierrez, the Harris County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Wilkerson. “When I think of Ponchai today, I think of how correct the jury was in realizing he was going to be a continuing threat to society.”

On Thanksgiving night 1998, Wilkerson and six other condemned prisoners fled their cells in another escape attempt. One of the convicts drowned after scaling a pair of tall fences that surrounded the Ellis Unit northeast of Huntsville. Wilkerson and five others gave up after guards began shooting at them.

Wilerson’s Fight for Justice

After Wilkerson appeared before a Harris County judge last month to receive his execution date, he fell to the courtroom floor, refused to move and had to be dragged away by deputies. “I will not walk away pretending this is justice and fairness in this court,” Wilkerson said. It’s uncertain what triggered Wilkerson’s 1990 crime spree.

At the time, the son of a retired sheriff’s deputy was on probation after pleading guilty to auto theft three months earlier. “The tragedy is, despite coming from a good background, he chose the wrong road, the devil’s road, if you will,” Gutierrez said. “He chose to involve himself in the life of crime and he hurt so many people in the process.”

On Nov. 28, 1990, he and a companion, Wilton Bethony, walked into the Royal Gold jewelry store in west Houston and bought a $35 pendant. He left, then returned and pulled a gun from under his jacket, put the pistol about 12 inches from Yi’s temple and fired. He and Bethony smashed the jewelry cases, grabbed rings and necklaces and fled.

Bethony was convicted of aggravated robbery and received a life sentence. Wilkerson never denied the shooting but said he fired after the victim’s movements alarmed him. Still, he said today he didn’t belong on death row, Fitzgerald said. “He looked at me and said, ‘It’s not a capital murder case. That’s all I have to say,’ “ Fitzgerald said. A Harris County jury deliberated about four hours before deciding on the death sentence.


Man who killed Houston jeweler fights execution up to very end

Wilkerson hid handcuff key in his mouth until injection

By Bill Murphy - Houston Chronicle

March 14, 2000

HUNTSVILLE -- A death row inmate who tried to escape in 1998 and took a guard hostage last month fought in vain Tuesday to keep guards from taking him to the death chamber.

After receiving the lethal injection, Ponchai Wilkerson, strapped tightly on a gurney, mumbled, "The secret, as of Wilkerson."

He then spit out a inch-and-a-half-long black key used to open handcuffs and leg restraints. Warden Neil Hodges removed the key from his lips.

Within minutes, Wilkerson, 28, the son of a retired Harris County deputy sheriff, was pronounced dead, at 6:24 p.m.

Asked earlier by prison officials if he had anything to tell the media, Wilkerson said, "This is not a capital murder case. That's all I have to say."

Prison officials are investigating how he got the key, said state prison spokesman Larry Fitzgerald.

Wilkerson was executed for the murder of jeweler Chung Myong Yi, 43, in southwest Houston on Nov. 28, 1990. While holding up the store with another teen, he held the gun about a foot from Yi's head and fired.

Wilkerson, on death row for more than eight years, refused to select a final meal or to tell officials how to dispose of his body.

About noon, he began resisting attempts to take him from his cell in the Terrell unit in Livingston to the Walls Unit here, about 40 miles away.

He was asked three times to leave the cell, but sat mute on his bunk, wrapped in a blanket, said Larry Todd, a prison system spokesman.

After guards sprayed a Mace-like gas into the cell, Wilkerson stuck his hands through the bars so they could be cuffed. A five-member "cell extraction team" wearing protective gear then sprayed him with another substance to neutralize the gas and shackled his legs.

When guards took off Wilkerson's cuffs so they could fasten them to a waist belt, which connected to the leg irons in front, he started scuffling with them.

They put Wilkerson -- whom Fitzgerald called "a wiry guy who's in good shape" -- on the floor, fastened the cuffs, then carried him to a van for the drive to the prison here.

Guards had to pin him against the wall when he resisted their efforts to take him from a holding cell to the death chamber. Extra restraints were used to strap him to the gurney in the chamber.

When Hodges asked him whether he had a last statement, Wilkerson said nothing. The warden signaled that a technician behind a one-way mirror should start the lethal dose.

Fitzgerald said the spitting out the key was Wilkerson's final statement.

"It was just the nature of Ponchai to mess with the system," Fitzgerald said. "It was Ponchai's way of saying, "I fooled you.' "

Wilkerson had a history of disciplinary problems as an inmate. On Feb. 21, he and another death row inmate took correctional officer Jeannette Bledsoe, 57, hostage at the Terrell Unit, southwest of Livingston.

Armed with a 15-inch cylinder filed to a point and a tool that guards use to open cell food slots, the two men shackled the officer's legs and cuffed her hands and held her in a recreation area. They demanded better conditions and reviews of their cases.

After 13 hours, they released her when prison officials agreed to let Wilkerson and the other convicted killer, 23-year-old Howard Guidry, talk to several activists, including Kofi Taharka, chairman of the Houston chapter of the National Black United Front.

Wilkerson and six other condemned inmates tried to escape from Huntsville prison in November 1998. The seven had work privileges and enjoyed greater freedom of movement than other death row inmates.

After hiding on a roof until shortly after midnight Nov. 27, 1998, the inmates were heading toward a fence topped with razor wire when guards spotted them and let loose a hail of automatic weapon fire.

Wilkerson and five others turned back. Martin Gurule, 29, was the only one to make it out, but his freedom was short-lived -- he drowned in a creek about a mile from the prison.

After a judge set his execution date last month in a Harris County courtroom, Wilkerson said, "I've been wronged by these courts. This case is not a capital murder case."

He dropped to the floor and appeared to latch onto a table. He fought attempts to handcuff him. Extra deputies had to be brought in to help.

Wilkerson was the 210th inmate to be executed since the state began executing prisoners again in 1982. He was the 11th to be executed in Texas this year and the first of two scheduled this week.

Timothy Lane Gribble, 36, convicted of the rape, abduction and strangling of a Galveston County woman in 1987, is scheduled to die this evening.

In November 1990, Wilkerson, then 18 with an auto theft conviction on his record, went on a monthlong crime spree.

On Nov. 28, he and a companion, Wilton Bethony, walked into the Royal Gold jewelry store in west Houston and bought a $35 pendant. He left, then returned and pulled a gun from under his jacket, put the pistol about 12 inches from Yi's temple and fired.

He and Bethony smashed the jewelry cases, grabbed rings and necklaces and fled. Bethony was convicted of aggravated robbery and received a life sentence.

At his trial, Wilkerson did not deny shooting Yi, but contended he had only fired when Yi's movements alarmed him.

Jurors imposed the death sentence after prosecutors called dozens of witnesses to describe Wilkerson's month of crime.

A man testified Wilkerson or two other youths with him shot and killed a 20-year-old man and wounded two others in an apartment parking lot on Braeburn Glen Nov. 23, 1990.

A then-15-year-old testified Wilkerson shot and wounded him and a man near him because he felt they were staring at him outside apartments on Fondren Street Nov. 20, 1990.

A convenience store clerk testified a teen, accompanied by Wilkerson, shot him in the arm and chest at the store at Tanglewilde and Triola Nov. 13, 1990.

Jurors also were told Wilkerson and his friends burglarized two gun shops and another store.


USA: Texas Prisoner is Defiant 'till the End

By Greg Butterfield -

March 16, 2000

Huntsville, Texas - On March 14, Ponchai Kamau Wilkerson, 28 years old-- revolutionary, organizer, death-row activist--lay strapped to a gurney. Did he have a final statement, the warden asked. "This is not a capital case," Wilkerson said.

As a lethal injection was pumped into his veins, the young African-Asian whispered, "The secret, as of Wilkerson," and spit out a key--the kind of key used to open prison handcuffs and shackles. Somehow he had kept it hidden from his captors.

It was a final act of rebellion and defiance from a youth who lived and died a fighter behind the walls. The Texas Death Machine pronounced him dead at 6:24 p.m. The battle to end the death penalty reached a new level of resistance as the State of Texas executed Wilkerson. He was the 210th person executed here since the death penalty was reinstated, and the 123rd to die on Gov. George W. Bush's watch.

As Kamau Wilkerson was being legally lynched in the Walls Unit, 35 angry protesters outside chanted, "George Bush, serial killer!" and "Moratorium now!" A banner from the Texas Death Penalty Moratorium Committee called on Bush to enact a moratorium on executions.

Other signs demanded freedom for Wilkerson's companion Njeri Shakur, a political prisoner in the Harris County jail. Members of the National Black United Front from Houston performed a Swahili chant in his honor. Wilkerson's comrades and friends from the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, SHAPE Community Center and a local college spoke of their determination to continue the struggle.

When the authorities emerged from the death house, signaling that Wilkerson had died, the demonstrators shouted "Murderers! Murderers!" Protesters here were supported by death-penalty opponents in cities like New York, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, who took up the Abolition Movement's call for a National Day of Action for a Moratorium on Texas Executions. They targeted Bush's presidential campaign, Republican offices and federal buildings.

March 14 was also the day of Texas' primary elections. The Abolition Movement called on registered voters to write in Ponchai Kamau Wilkerson for president in the Republican primary. Both Bush and his likely Democratic opponent, Al Gore, support the death penalty. Political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal added his voice, too. In a statement from Pennsylvania's death row, he wrote: "While Ponchai now has only hours of life measured to him, it is still an appropriate time to speak out against the political machine of death in favor of the simple human right of life."

Others around the world supported the Abolition Movement's call by flooding Bush campaign offices with phone calls, faxes and emails demanding a stay of execution for Wilkerson and a moratorium. A hidden and flawed Warrant of Execution--uncovered by activist Ward Larkin and investigated by attorneys Dick Burr and Mandy Welch--was not enough to stop the courts' wheels of injustice.


"I will not cooperate with your act of murder," Wilkerson had told Warden Robert Treon when asked about his last meal. He meant it.

Wilkerson refused to sign papers requesting family, friends or a spiritual advisor to view the lethal injection. He refused to sign away his remains or cooperate in any way with the government executioners' "standard procedures."

When the guards came to take him from the Terrell Unit in Livingston to the Huntsville death house, Wilkerson refused to leave his cell. A SWAT team was called in--standard procedure when a prisoner shows defiance. He was gassed and hog-tied with chains.

Supporters expected nothing less from the only person to ever attempt escape from Texas' death row twice. On Feb. 21-22, Wilkerson and Howard Guidry--both members of the death-row movement Panthers United for Revolutionary Education--said "no more." Entombed in a high-tech Terrell fortress--its builders called it "resistance proof"--Wilkerson and Guidry took a prison guard hostage for 13 hours to dramatize their righteous anger over brutal prison conditions and the railroading of youths to death row.

Njeri Shakur of the Abolition Movement, Deloyd Parker of SHAPE and Kofi Taharka of NBUF met with the prisoners and presented their demands to prison officials.

The guard was released unharmed. Their militant act shook the Texas prison system. It helped put the moratorium demand on the front burner. "They made a choice to do something about injustice," Njeri Shakur said. "They were two brothers who had risen to a position of revolution. Now for those of us who have been fearful it is a good time to do something."

Shakur received a 30-day jail sentence from Judge Jan Krocker, who also set Wilkerson's death date, because she stood up and objected to bailiffs beating him in the courtroom. A group of men have been locked down at Terrell since Wilkerson's and Guidry's demonstration. Warden Treon charged them with "communicating with two Black offenders" and "hampering negotiations in a hostage situation."

In a March 6 letter, PURE's Emerson Rudd reported: "We prisoners are faced with more repression and retaliation. . Sgt. Poole informed me that our [good] behavior meant nothing and that when Warden Treon said the lockdown would progress, that's when it would."

The lockdown, now in its fourth week, means the prisoners are denied the right to hot meals, regular showers, recreation and visits from family and friends. The Abolition Movement is asking supporters to call and fax protests to prison officials. To help, call the Abolition Movement at (713) 521-0629 or visit the website at


A furious pace of activities around the death penalty and other working-class issues shows a movement is bursting from under the surface. The Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Houston March 9-10 for a rally and mass march to demand equal funding for historically Black public colleges like Texas Southern University and Prairie View A & M.

He'd just come from a march of 50,000 for affirmative action against Florida's Gov. Jeb Bush. At the March 9 rally at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, Jackson gave what he called "meat talk": "In every city I visit I see at least two new buildings," Jackson reported, "a new ballpark and a new jail. We have first-class jails and second-class schools. "As of Feb. 15 there were two million people in jail in the United States," said Jackson. "We are 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prison population.

African Americans are 12 percent of the population but 55 percent of the jail population. Put Black and Brown together and we are 75 percent of the prison- industrial complex." He said Texas under Bush ranks 50th in spending on teachers' salaries; first in the percentage of children without health insurance; 41st in per-capita spending on education, and fifth in percentage of people living in poverty.

At the same time, Texas is first in executions--an average of one every two weeks since Bush took office. Urged on by NBUF elder Jean Dember and artist Michael Demarris, Jackson declared his support for a moratorium and expressed solidarity with Njeri Shakur, who was just hours away from being jailed. "We don't just support you," Jackson told Shakur, "we are with you." About 20 family members, community activists, and young supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal accompanied Shakur to the Harris County Jail March 10. After marching several blocks to the booking station, they entered as a group, holding a banner reading, "Stop the execution" and leafleting workers inside.

Shakur embraced her daughters and gave a clenched-fist salute as she was taken away. The Abolition Movement then joined the Jackson-led march from TSU to the University of Houston, where they distributed hundreds of flyers and signed up students on petitions.

On March 11 the group traveled to the University of Texas at Arlington, near Dallas/Ft. Worth, where Gloria Rubac spoke on the panel at the opening of Richard Kameral's anti-death-penalty art exhibit, "The Waiting Room." "The death penalty is a continuation of slavery," Rubac said. "The prison system is set up like a plantation system for big landowners. `The farm' is still a free-labor system."

The escalation of struggle doesn't surprise Shakur. When Workers World spoke to her by phone from her jail cell, she said, "Kamau and Howard set things in motion. Things can never be the same again."


Death Row Inmate Dragged Away After Execution Date Set

A death row inmate appearing before a judge Tuesday for his execution date fell to the courtroom floor, refused to move and had to be dragged away by five bailiffs.

Ponchai Wilkerson, 28, complained about his sentence after state District Judge Jan Krocker set a March 14 execution date for him, according to courtroom observers and a court reporter's transcript. "I will not walk away pretending this is justice and fairness in this court," said Wilkerson. The Houston Chronicle reported today that Wilkerson's courtroom display seemed to be encouraged by a woman in the audience who refused to follow the judge's order to sit down and be quiet.

Wilkerson was among seven condemned inmates who tried to escape from death row on Thanksgiving weekend in 1998. He and five others who scaled a fence at the Ellis unit near Huntsville surrendered when guards opened fire on them. The body of the seventh, Martin Gurule, 29, was found Dec. 3, 1998, about a mile from the prison. He had drowned in a creek.

Wilkerson, who prison authorities said had tried to escape before then, has an extensive history of disciplinary problems behind bars. He was sentenced to death in July 1991 for the Nov. 28, 1990, robbery and shooting of Chung Myong Yi, 43, a jewelry store owner. Wilkerson was eventually taken back to his cell after the courtroom scene. No one was injured.


Petition for Executive Clemency for Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson, #999011

To the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles

February 22, 2000

I am scheduled to be murdered by Gov. George Bush and the State of Texas in 21 days, on March 14. 

This is an appeal for clemency presented by Ponchai “Kamau”  Wilkerson and his friends, supporters and activists in the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, at the SHAPE Community Center, and the National Black United Front, Houston Chapter.

I am presenting this appeal myself, through death-penalty abolitionists in Houston, because my attorney, Troy McKinney, has refused to file for me. 

The state must not be allowed to murder me for the following reasons:

Like 90 percent of those on death row, I could not afford to hire my own attorney.  I had incompetent counsel who did not make any objections to actions during my trial.  There was nothing honorable or just or noble about the way I was sentenced. 

For example, the foreperson of my jury was a friend of one of the prosecution’s main witnesses against me. Neither my attorney nor the judge objected.  The District Attorney was allowed to use and position my own body to portray my position during the crime.  He moved my body into positions that were inconsistent with what actually happened and neither my court-appointed attorney nor the judge objected.

My case was not a capital case.  I was not involved in another crime being committed during this unfortunate killing. I should not have been sentenced to death.

As the result of these wrongs, the things that have happened to me since are wrong.  This is not justice.  It is a mockery of it.  It is an insult, even to the victim’s family, which has been deceived. 

As an Afro-Asian youth, I was not tried by a jury of my peers.  Not only was the criminal justice system fraught with racism, but the death penalty itself is applied in a racist manner.  While my people are a small percentage in the population,  we are almost half of those facing lethal injection.  I should not be executed because the death penalty is not applied fairly.

Not one single person should be executed in Texas until, like Illinois, political leaders as well as the grassroots communities investigate the application of the death penalty and the corrupt practices of the courts, cops and DAs.  There must be an immediate moratorium on executions.

Not one more life should be sacrificed to the Texas killing machine. The executions of Cornelius Goss, Betty Lou Beets and Odell Barnes, as well as my own, must be stopped.

Therefore, for my mother, for my family, for my ancestors and my people, for the progressive people around the world, for humanity, in the name of Righteousness and everything that we must hold sacred, I am fighting to preserve this life.

I am asking for executive clemency.

Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson


The Final Statement of Ponchai Wilkerson

Ponchai Wilkerson was executed by lethal injection in the state of Texas at the turn of the Millennium. Strapped down on the bed, as the deadly poisons were beginning to take their effect, the man suddenly spit out a handcuff key from his mouth, and it fell onto the side of his cheek along with some drool, and was immediately picked up by the Warden. "The secret, as of Wilkerson," were his dying words, when the priest standing beside him asked him if he had anything to say. And then he spit the key out.

Not many people can appreciate how genius that is- what a joke it was. It would be probably the biggest joke ever against the Texas government, if not the whole country. Of course the prison system didn't find it funny and locked down every prison in the state for a week and did massive searches for illegal weapons and contraband.

Ponchai had tried twice to break out of Death Row. The first time on Thanksgiving night along with 6 others, only one of them succeeding, but drowning shortly thereafter. The rest gave up when guards began shooting at them in the yard with shotguns.

Three weeks before his execution date, he tried again. He was able to unlock his cell door from the inside while another prisoner was being escorted down the hall for a shower, and the 2 prisoners immediately overpowered the female guard, holding her hostage for 13 hours before finally surrendering.

The day of his execution he was not friendly. He had to be maced by the guards to get him out of his cell. He fought with them and was held down and put in arm and leg restraints and kept restrained all day, and thereby nullifying the standard body search and body cavity search which would have probably produced the hidden key.

He refused to talk or eat all day, and would try to struggle and fight if anyone came near him, and did not make any last parting statements. He rebelled all the way to the death chamber, and extra straps were used to hold him down.

He was born the son of a Texas police chief, but somehow he himself ended up one of the bad guys, and was put to death in Texas for the 1990 accidental death of Chinese jewelry store owner Chung Myong Yi. Once again the perpetual Death Penalty Debate brushed the headlines, again this time making news from the Lonestar State of Texas, especially with the election approaching. The oil state leads the way in executions- but still has one of the highest murder rates in the country. That is saying something.

Here is Ponchai Wilkerson's final written statement. He was executed on March 14th, 2000- just one in a recent long run of media story after media story of high-profile criminal executions in the States. The case left even more mystery when he spit out an old, rusty handcuff key as he lay dying, his last dis back at a government and criminal justice system that he felt wronged him- and had wronged many many others in the past- and it was good one.

A federal prison religious committee made a statement after that Ponchai "had perhaps wanted to take the key with him to the afterlife, in case there was a jail in the hereafter." But maybe he wanted to just get the last laugh in this life, and it was one of the best, on an old, corrupt justice system that stinks and needs to be buried. *"Mumia Abu Jamal is innocent.

Shaka Sankofa is innocent. Nanon Williams is innocent. And all their cases should be thrown out and they should be freed as they are completely innocent of the crimes of which they were alleged to have committed.

"Me, Ponchai Wilkerson, I'm not innocent of all wrong doing but I am most surely NOT guilty of capital murder. I did not deliberately or intentionally kill anyone nor did I rob them of their merchandise. This is not a capital case. My case derserves another trial. Prosecutorial misconduct warrants it.

"It is one thing to have to deal with the fact that my actions, in all its disgracefulness, caused the death of another human being, but then to have those actions taken up by someone else, convicted and sentenced to death upon the lies and manipulations.

Well that is more than enough to question the intent of these prosecutors and judges claiming to represent some semblance of justice and uphold the sovereignty of the state. Am I ashamed of my actions. Indeed, as I am human. And a human with a soul. But, too, I am angry... As I, too, have been wronged. Wronged how? What of "misconduct."

"During trial as I gave testimony, and upon instruction of the prosecutor, rising before the jury and demonstrating my actions (what exactly took place) the prosecutor was allowed to approach me, grab hold and position my body to his liking, take my arms himself and move them about in motions to fit his ill conceived, fabricated version of the incident.

As I protested and moved to re- demonstrate for the jury what actually and factually happened, I was instructed then to seat myself back down. It was through! Damage done! I never got to show what happened. My own body misused against me to incriminate me.

"Small and/or irrelevant in your opinion? How damaging could that really be? Such actions are likened to taking a bullet, a gun, a blood or hair sample and putting it in a place where once it was not or where once one never existed. In this case, in this instance, the prosecutor's positioning of my body and moving about my hands added into this case "deliberateness" and "intent" where never there was any.

The judge allowed it without contest, and my inexperienced lawyer did not object. It was one of the most damaging acts of prosecutorial misconduct that took place in my case.

The state plans to murder me now. This small act of misconduct is crucial in whatever fate lies ahead of me. I did not deliberately nor did I ever (not for one minute, not one second), have any intent to kill anyone. As it is fact, the evidence too shows that I never robbed anyone in this case. It shows that I ran off without any jewelry whatsoever, frightened because things occured that were never intended.

"This case started off as one thing and then transformed by detectives and the prosecutor into another. In such an instance a new trial is warranted. In the meantime, I encourage more and more people/groups/organizations to begin attending these trials.

Go into these courtrooms (fill them) and see firsthand the dirt that gets slung around in there. Organize group trips to the trials and analyze (even critically) the works of those claiming to represent and serve "justice" and "fairness" there in the dark.

"Look at the defendant and then over on the other side and see for yourself if that seems like a "jury of his peers". Listen and look at the inexperienced, overworked, and underpaid, State appointed attorneys. Listen to some of the wisecracks and even the rascist or sexist comments of some judges.

Witness, document and expose it all. You could be of help in some way to someone like myself and so many many more who have been wronged by the courts. Otherwise, in silence and seclusion, the injustices will continue on and on and on until we all become victims of corruption in the courts.

Ponchai Wilkerson, March 6, 2000, Texas


Ponchai Wilkerson



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