Texas executes man for killing 89-year-old woman and her daughter in 2003

/ AP

This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Billy Jack Crutsinger. Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice

A Texas death row inmate was executed Wednesday for fatally stabbing an 89-year-old woman and her daughter more than 16 years ago after entering their Fort Worth home under the pretense of doing some work for them. Billy Jack Crutsinger, 64, received a lethal injection Wednesday evening at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the 2003 killings of Pearl Magouirk and her 71-year-old daughter Patricia Syren.

Authorities said Crutsinger killed the two women and stole Syren's car and credit card. Crutsinger was arrested three days later at a bar in Galveston, more than 300 miles away.

In a final statement that lasted four minutes, Crutsinger thanked three friends who witnessed the execution.

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"I'm at peace now and ready to go and be with Jesus and my family," Crutsinger said.

Then as the lethal dose of pentobarbital began, he said he could feel it "in my left arm. It's kind of burning."

Crutsinger then began coughing and breathing heavily and then made snoring noises at least 29 times before he stopped moving.

At 6:40 p.m. CT — 13 minutes after the lethal dose started — Crutsinger was pronounced dead.

No family members of Magouirk and Syren witnessed the execution. Crutsinger did not mention the two women during his final statement.

"The defendant stabbed two elderly women to death in their own home. They had offered him a chance at honest work. The loss of mother and daughter Pearl Magouirk and Pat Syren is still felt deeply by their family and the Fort Worth community. Our sympathy and thoughts continue to be with them," Michele Hartmann, one of the prosecutors with the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney's Office who convicted Crutsinger, said in a statement.

Crutsinger was the 14th inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the fifth in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state. Ten more executions are scheduled in Texas this year.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined a request by Crutsinger's attorney to stop the execution. Crutsinger's attorney had alleged his previous lawyer had a long history of incompetent work in death penalty cases.

"The jury heard nothing from the defense that provided an explanation about the disease of alcoholism in relation to the offense conduct," including such things as "a history of domestic violence and abuse, and repeated losses of significant friends and relatives," Lydia Brandt, Crutsinger's current attorney, wrote in her one of her Supreme Court petitions.

Brandt also argued lower courts had wrongly denied Crutsinger funding to investigate competency and mental health claims that were not sufficiently reviewed by prior attorneys.

Lower appeals courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had also declined to stop the execution.

At trial, Hartmann told jurors Crutsinger's actions had nothing to do with alcohol but were the result of "evil."

Friends and family described Magouirk, known as "R.D.," as an avid gardener. Syren volunteered as a receptionist at her church. Both women were retired and lived together.

Crutsinger had been "spiraling downward much of his adult life," including three failed marriages and a propensity for violence when he drank, according to a report by a forensic psychologist hired by his trial attorneys.

In the months before the slayings, Crutsinger became homeless and increasingly desperate after his wife kicked him out of their home and his mother, who had enabled his behavior, stopped helping him, according to the report.

When Crutsinger realized Magouirk and Syren didn't have enough work to give him much financial relief, he flew into an alcoholic rage, the report said.

"All of his anger at being left to fend for himself and of having his safety net taken from him was then brought to bear on the victims," according to the report.

Magouirk was stabbed at least seven times while her daughter was stabbed at least nine times.

Authorities said DNA evidence tied Crutsinger to the killings and he confessed to the crime.

In an email, Brandt described Crutsinger's previous appellate lawyer, Richard Alley, as a "great word processor" who cut and pasted "worthless" legal arguments from other cases and who was removed from another death row client's case and suspended from practicing in federal court.

Brandt alleged Alley performed similar shoddy work in at least six other death penalty cases. Four of those inmates have been executed. An attorney for former death row inmate Bobby Woods also alleged incompetent work by Alley before Woods was executed in 2009.

In 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals removed Alley from its list of lawyers eligible to represent death row inmates in their appeals.

Alley died in 2017.

"I do the best I possibly can on all these cases," Alley told the Austin American-Statesman in a 2006 story that was part of a series that looked at the bad work by court-appointed attorneys in appeals of death penalty cases.

The Texas Attorney General's Office called Crutsinger's allegations against Alley "speculative" because he had not identified any claim that Alley should have raised but did not. The attorney general's office also said Crutsinger's case has received an "extensive review" during his appeals process.

First published on September 4, 2019 / 10:26 PM

© 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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