Condemned woman asks Texas parole board to commute her sentence

Investigation is faulted after 2nd gun mentioned

August 25, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON - A lawyer for Frances Newton, who is scheduled to be executed Sept. 14 for the murders of her husband and two children, asked the state parole board yesterday to commute her sentence, saying new information casts doubt on the credibility of the investigation that led to her 1988 conviction.

Similar assertions filed earlier this summer with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals were rejected yesterday, with that panel deciding the new evidence was not compelling enough for the court to intervene.

Prosecutors accused Newton, now 40, of shooting her family - husband Adrian, 23, and children Alton, 7, and Farrah, 1 - to collect $100,000 in insurance benefits. She maintained that a drug dealer she knew only as Charlie committed the murders in a dispute over money owed by her husband, also a dealer.

In a filing with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Newton's lawyer asserts that on the night of the murders, police recovered two guns - not just the one Newton had access to - and that Newton's defense team was never told about it.

In a recent TV interview, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson acknowledged the existence of two guns, said David Dow, Newton's lawyer and a professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

During the television interview, which Dow has on tape, Wilson dismissed the relevance of the second gun because it hadn't been fired and was not involved in the crime.

But in a court document filed in response to assertions about a second weapon, Wilson apologized for a "mistaken statement," saying she meant to say that police recovered ammunition, not a gun, from the murder scene. Wilson also said she had "no recollection of making the erroneous statement."

Last December, hours before she was to have been put to death, Texas Gov. Rick Perry granted an unusual reprieve so more testing could be done on evidence that helped to convict Newton.

New ballistics analysis on the gun believed to be the murder weapon did not clear Newton. But her attorney said that news of the second gun calls into question the relevance of those ballistics tests.

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