Death Row Inmate Maintains Innocence During Execution

Steven Michael Woods' last words: "You're about to witness a murder..."

Former drifter and drug dealer Steven Michael Woods was executed Tuesday evening for a double murder more than a decade ago in The Colony.

Woods, 31, acknowledged he was present in May 2001 when Ronald Whitehead, 21, and Bethena Brosz, 19, were fatally shot and had their throats slashed near a golf course in Denton County but insisted he was not involved and blamed the murders on another man, his friend Marcus Rhodes.

Woods was tried first for the slayings, was convicted and sentenced to die. Rhodes then pleaded guilty and accepted a life prison term, avoiding a possible death sentence.

"You're not about to witness an execution, you're about to witness a murder ... I've never killed anybody, never," Woods said. "This whole thing is wrong ... Warden, if you're going to murder someone, go ahead and do it. Pull that trigger."

A needle carrying the lethal drugs on his right arm pierced a green tattoo of a rose branch. The distinctive tattoo had identified him when he was arrested. He said he could feel the drug working, uttered "Goodbye," then took several deep breaths before all movement stopped.

Woods was pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m., 10 minutes after the lethal drugs began.

About eight hours earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from his attorneys, clearing the way for the 10th execution in Texas this year. Another lethal injection is scheduled for Thursday and two more were set for next week.

Woods had argued before the high court his legal help early in the appeals process was deficient and kept him from raising a claim of jury bias from his trial. The justices, without comment, turned him down.

In an interview last week outside death row, Woods told The Associated Press he was terrified of execution, was optimistic it wouldn't happen but was "fairly realistic as well."

"I've seen a lot of my friends walk to the gurney," he said.

Brosz and Whitehead, were found by golfers May 2, 2001, along a golf course road near The Colony. Whitehead was shot six times in the head. Brosz was shot twice in the head and once in the knee. Both had their throats cut. Brosz was alive when she was found but died the following day.

Witnesses testified at Woods' 2002 trial that he lured Whitehead to the isolated road on the pretense of a drug deal and killed him because he knew about another killing involving Woods two months earlier in California. Prosecutors said Brosz merely was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was killed because she was a witness to Whitehead's death.

"This has been a long road, and a hard one," Janet Shires, Brosz's mother, said after watching Woods die. "We will miss her forever, of course. There is no sentence that would change that. But I feel such a profound relief today -- relief that he can never hurt anyone anywhere ever again."

Woods also blamed Rhodes for the California slaying.

"Justice has let me down," he said in the moment before he died Tuesday.

Woods said he and Rhodes, described by prosecutors as one of his drug customers, were high on LSD the night of the slayings. Asked last week if he could have committed the murders and not remember, Woods said although he was "under the influence, you know what you're doing."

He said as he was lighting a cigarette for Whitehead, Rhodes shot the man in the head, then shot Brosz. Witnesses at his trial said Woods told of planning to kill Whitehead and later bragged about the killings.

"No possible way," Woods said.

A friend tipped police to his whereabouts in California and when confronted by authorities, Woods gave them a false name. The large tattoo of a red rose on a long green branch extending down his right arm indicated his real identity, Woods said.

He said he was in "complete disbelief" when he was convicted of capital murder and received the death penalty.

"The whole situation is crazy," Woods said. "It didn't register. I was more concerned about my cat. It didn't really hit me."

He'd been arrested in Garberville, Calif., about 200 miles north of San Francisco, some two months after the Texas killings. Authorities said Woods had been supplying drug dealers with liquid LSD and other drugs sold at clubs and parties in Deep Ellum, a trendy entertainment district near downtown Dallas. When Rhodes turned himself into police three days after the Denton County murders, Woods hit the road.

He was from Livonia, Mich., a Detroit suburb, quit school in the 11th grade and drifted through Chicago, New York and then Dallas in search of drugs and punk rock clubs and living in abandoned buildings.

"My friends were using and I was trying to fit in," he said. "I was a junkie."

Court records, which he disputed, described him being involved in Satanism, bomb-making activities, abusive treatment of his brothers and animals, and affiliation with white supremacists.

Authorities recovered backpacks belonging to the slain pair in Rhodes' car. Guns used in the slayings were recovered from the home of Rhodes' parents. Prosecutors said a latex glove carrying Woods' DNA was found in Rhodes' car after the killings.

On Thursday, a Houston man, Duane Buck, was set to die for a double slaying 16 years ago.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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