HUNTSVILLE, Texas – An Oklahoma man convicted of shooting an 85-year-old woman to death during a burglary in far northeast Texas in 1993 was executed Tuesday night.
From the death chamber gurney, Willie Pondexter said he didn't murder anyone, but expressed remorse and apologized for his involvement in the crime.
"I am not mad. I'm a little upset and disappointed in the courts. I feel I've been let down," he said.
Pondexter said that was all right. "I just played the hand that life dealt me," he said.
He looked toward the district attorney who prosecuted him and a distant cousin of his victim and said, "I know I'm wrong asking you to forgive me."
Before he could say anything else, the lethal drugs began taking effect. At 6:18 p.m., nine minutes after the lethal injection began, he was pronounced dead.
Pondexter, 34, was one of two men condemned for the murder of Martha Lennox at her home in Clarksville. He was the ninth Texas inmate executed this year and the first of two scheduled to die on consecutive nights in Huntsville.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop the execution in a ruling that came less than 30 minutes before he was scheduled to die.
Pondexter was a high school dropout from Idabel, Okla. At the time of the slaying he was a 19-year-old unmarried father of two with an extensive criminal record.
Pondexter said he was in Lennox's elegant Victorian home near the courthouse square the night of Oct. 28, 1993. He acknowledged shooting her but said he didn't fire the fatal shot.
"I wasn't the guy who killed her," he told The Associated Press recently from death row. "For the part I played in it, I apologize."
Lennox was shot twice — once in the jaw and once in the head. A medical examiner testified that either shot could have been fatal.
Pondexter said a companion, James Leon Henderson, 35, shot Lennox first and then gave the gun to him to fire the second shot.
"At 19, I was like, a follower," he said. "If I didn't go along, you're a punk. At 19, that's my thought process."
Lennox's family was worth millions and a foundation in the family name continues its work although neither she nor her two deceased older brothers ever married.
Pondexter, Henderson and three others involved in the burglary and slaying fled with less than $20 from her purse and the woman's Cadillac. They were arrested hours later in Dallas after trying to rob a man walking along a street.
Pondexter and Henderson were sentenced to death; Henderson remains on death row. The three others received prison terms.
In 1997, some three years after arriving on death row, Pondexter nearly escaped with another condemned inmate by cutting through a recreation yard fence with a hacksaw blade.
Jack Herrington, the Red River County district attorney at the time who prosecuted Pondexter, said the slaying of one of Clarksville's most prominent residents "shook the whole community."
"She was the sweetest lady, lived in the big house all by herself," he said.
Lennox's great-great grandfather was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and she had donated a forest preserve north of town to the Nature Conservancy of Texas. The family foundation had assets topping $16 million as of a year ago and continues to make charitable donations.