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Tuesday, February 10, 1998
Steven Renfro executed for 1996 shooting rampage
By MICHAEL GRACZYK / Associated Press Writer
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- Condemned killer Steven Renfro was
executed Monday, less a year after he was condemned for a 1996
East Texas shooting rampage that left three people dead and a
police officer wounded.
Renfro, 40, was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. CST, seven minutes
after a lethal dose of drugs was released into his arms.
In a brief final statement, he turned to three members of his
victims' families and asked for forgiveness.
"I'd like to tell the victims' family how terribly sorry
I am," Renfro said. "I am so sorry. Forgive me, if you
can. I know it's impossible, but try."
He then began praying.
"Take my hand, Lord Jesus, I'm coming home. Glory be to
God," he said.
As the drugs took effect, Renfro blinked his eyes and gasped
three times before he stopped breathing.
"I think it should have been rougher," said James
Carpenter, whose stepbrother, George Counts, was among the people
killed by Renfro and who watched the inmate die. "I can't
forgive him. He turned to us and apologized. He had a smile and
then gasped. All I could think of was: He's lying."
Renfro, who had asked that no appeals be pursued in his case,
went to his death with little of the fanfare that marked the execution
of Karla Faye Tucker six days earlier.
About two dozen death-penalty opponents showed up, arriving
less than 45 minutes before Renfro was to die.
Renfro, who was convicted and condemned less than 10 months
ago, had asked that his lethal injection be carried out as soon
"I think there are some religious overtones, that he believes
this is a way to get to heaven," said Rick Berry, a high
school classmate and the Harrison County District Attorney who
prosecuted Renfro. "By voluntarily going ahead and being
punished, it's like an atonement. He's pretty adamant about this."
Last week, an estimated 1,200 singing, praying or cheering
spectators and some 200 reporters and photographers from around
the world, accompanied by a fleet of television satellite trucks,
converged on the grounds of the prison in downtown Huntsville
as Ms. Tucker became the first woman executed in Texas since the
Convicted of a pickax attack in Houston in 1983 that left two
people dead, her attractive looks and born-again Christian beliefs
made her a fixture on worldwide television as she lobbied for
a life sentence while her attorneys waged a frantic but ultimately
unsuccessful legal battle to keep her alive.
The scene Monday outside the Huntsville Unit of the Texas Department
of Criminal Justice was much more tranquil, with little indication
an execution even was scheduled.
Dennis Longmire, a routine execution protestor, called the
scene surrounding Tucker's lethal injection "a circus, absolutely
"I was dumbfounded," Longmire said outside the death
house Monday. "The celebration on both sides seemed to be
Longmire, who on several occasions has been the only demonstrator
at the prison for executions, said the Tucker chaos was more of
a media event than an expression for or against the death penalty.
Renfro had avoided the media, rejecting requests for interviews.
No legal steps were taken to try to spare him.
On Aug. 25, 1996, after taking what he told authorities were
70 doses of the tranquilizer Valium along with liquor, Renfro
put on camouflage clothing, blackened his face and armed himself
with four guns, including a military assault rifle, and some 500
rounds of ammunition.
He shot and killed his live-in girlfriend, Rhena Fultner, 36,
then an aunt who lived with them, Rose Rutledge, 63. Then he went
to the nearby trailer home of Counts, 40, an acquaintance against
whom he had a grudge, and fatally shot him, firing more than 150
rounds into Counts' mobile home.
When police responding to reports of gunfire arrived, he opened
fire again, wounding Marshall Officer Dominic Pondant in the shoulder
and turning his patrol car "into Swiss cheese," as authorities
described it. Police exchanging fire were outgunned by Renfro's
.45- and .50-caliber handguns and an AR-15 rifle, but one of his
weapons malfunctioned and Pondant was able to hit the gunman.
"I killed them all," the wounded Renfro told officers
who arrested him.
Renfro was known to authorities in Marshall, with frequent
arrests for drunken driving and assault. Berry said even in high
school Renfro was known for a quick temper made even worse by
"When he's drinking, he'd hit you with a pool cue, shoot
you, try to stab you or just beat you to a pulp," Berry said.
"If drinking, he's the kind of guy who would fight a grizzly
In April, after a jury convicted him of capital murder, he
ended his trial by telling jurors he should be put to death. They
Last November, after a judge in Marshall set his execution
date for Monday, the former high school classmates -- the prosecutor
and the killer -- sat down together in Berry's office, munching
hamburgers from a fast food restaurant.
"We talked about what it was like to be kids here ...
about life, the death penalty," Berry said. "We had
kind of a handshake deal, that we're going to see this thing through.
"He needs to be subject to the sentence that the jury
put forward for the crime he did. He slaughtered these people.
He would have killed several Marshall police officers if given
the opportunity, except for a little bit of bad luck on his part
with a gun jamming and the good luck of police officers, it would
have been a much worse situation.
"But whether three or six people died, one is too many."
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