HUNTSVILLE, Texas – An inmate who murdered a sleeping man during a burglary apologized to his victim's family and sang a hymn before he was executed Tuesday evening.
Joseph Ries expressed love to friends who watched through a death chamber window and urged them to stay strong because "Jesus is coming back soon."
Looking toward another window, he told two daughters of his victim he was "really sorry for what I've done." Ries said he prayed that they would find peace through God.
As the lethal drugs began flowing, he started to sing a hymn. "Our God is an awesome God," he sang. "Lord I lift your name on high." He then slipped into unconsciousness and was pronounced dead seven minutes later at 6:17 p.m. CDT.
Ries, 29, was executed for fatally shooting Robert Ratliff after breaking into the 64-year-old's rural Hopkins County home in 1999.
Ries was the 12th prisoner executed this year in the nation's most active death penalty state and the first of two scheduled to die this week. Two were executed last week and two more are set to die next week.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals by Ries' lawyer, James Terry Jr., who wanted the court to halt the punishment and examine the case.
Terry contended that Ries' rights were violated because his earlier appeals were handled by an incompetent attorney. He also argued that Ries' trial lawyer failed to adequately show jurors how Ries was raised by a drug-addicted and alcoholic mother whose parental rights twice were revoked, and how Ries was abused in some of the dozen foster homes where lived.
"We've got a system that's broken and at every level it's been broken for him," Terry said. He acknowledged the crime was horrible but contended Ries' life had been "shaped by the failures of those whose legal and moral duty was to help him."
Ries had lived at Ratliff's home in Cumby, about 65 miles northeast of Dallas, but Ratliff kicked him out after he suspected Ries of stealing some items.
Ries had stolen Ratliff's pickup, then came back with a friend, Christopher Lee White, to steal the man's Lincoln Continental instead because the truck got poor gas mileage. Ratliff wasn't home at the time, but they waited until he came home and went to sleep, then killed him.
"Why Mr. Ries decided to stop and murder him, it's beyond me," said Martin Braddy, the Hopkins County district attorney who prosecuted Ries. "That's something only he can understand. He had the keys and he was leaving the house when they killed him. It just seemed so cold and callous and so useless."
Ries was arrested in Oklahoma. Prosecutors said he was the triggerman, and a jury deliberated seven minutes before convicting him. White was tried separately and received life in prison.
Ries said he was high when the shooting occurred, and later when he made a videotaped confession to police.
"I'm not sure exactly what happened," he said recently in an interview outside death row.
The prospect of death was frightening "in a way," Ries said, but added that he'd accepted Christ into his life and was prepared for it.
"Life is just a bridge," he said.