When police in North Texas arrested Ronnie Threadgill for a carjacking and fatal shooting, he was hiding under a semitrailer, clinging to an axle. Blood on his clothing matched that of a 17-year-old boy who had been sitting in the back seat when a masked gunman burst in and opened fire.
Threadgill, 40, was due to be executed Tuesday evening for the slaying of Dexter McDonald 12 years ago in the parking lot of a club in Mustang, a community south of Corsicana. He'd be the third inmate executed in Texas this year.
His attorney, Lydia Brandt, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the scheduled punishment, arguing that Threagill had deficient legal help at trial and in earlier stages of his appeals.
Threadgill, who was 29 when he stood trial in 2002, had spent much of the previous decade locked up. Court records showed he had felony convictions for cocaine possession and burglary and numerous misdemeanor convictions. Three months before the fatal carjacking, he was released on mandatory supervision, a form of parole.
"All the extraneous facts in the case made him look so damn culpable, the jury found him guilty," Rob Dunn, one of his trial attorneys, recalled last week. "He'd had a long criminal history."
A clinical psychologist testifying for the defense said that Threadgill was chemically dependent and came from a family with a history of substance abuse.
Brandt argued in her Supreme Court appeal that jurors weren't given an accurate picture of Threadgill's abusive and tumultuous childhood. She also said the lawyers who represented Threadgill in the early stages of his appeals failed to properly document the environment in which grew up.
State attorneys told the justices that his legal help throughout had been proper and competent and his appeal was "nothing more than a meritless attempt to postpone his execution," according to Stephen Hoffman, an assistant Texas attorney general.
Witnesses said McDonald was with two friends leaving the club in Mustang in the early morning hours of April 15, 2001. He was in the back seat when a gunman with a scarf covering his face jumped into the car and opened fire. A passenger in the front seat bailed out and the car sped off.
A short distance away, the carjacker pulled the mortally wounded McDonald from the back seat and left him on the ground. The driver skidded into a ditch to end a police chase, then ran on foot toward some tractor trailers at a service station.
That's where officers found Threadgill under the truck. A bandana identified as his was stuffed under the truck trailer frame. Besides blood evidence, investigators found Threadgill's fingerprints on a door of the hijacked vehicle.
At least 10 other Texas prisoners have executions scheduled in the coming months, including one set to die next week.