HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A Texas man condemned for fatally shooting his estranged wife and the neighbor who became her boyfriend denied killing them Wednesday, moments before he was put to death by lethal injection.
Strapped to the gurney inside the death chamber, Keith Thurmond declared, "I didn't kill my wife. ... I swear to God I didn't kill her."
His execution for the 2001 slayings near Houston came about an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments to halt the capital punishment, the third this year in Texas. The 52-year-old Thurmond was pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m. — 11 minutes after lethal drugs began flowing into his arms.
Thurmond's attorneys argued that lawyers representing him in earlier appeals were "grossly deficient" and that his execution should have been postponed until justices decide on a similar case in Arizona.
With his death nearing Wednesday, Thurmond blamed the shooting deaths on another man before telling prison officials, "Go ahead and finish it off."
As the drugs began flowing, he said, "You can taste it." He wheezed and snored before losing consciousness.
The killings occurred after sheriff's deputies showed up at Thurmond's mobile home on Sept. 25, 2001, with a court order removing his 8-year-old son and putting the boy in the care of his mother.
Thurmond became irate and stormed down the road to the mobile home where his 32-year-old wife, Sharon, was living with her new boyfriend, Guy Fernandes, 35, near Magnolia in Montgomery County, about 35 miles north of Houston.
Fernandes' father, brother and sister were among those who witnessed Thurmond's execution. They were joined by Sharon Thurmond's brother and two nieces. All stood stoically a few feet from Thurmond and declined comment after his death.
Thurmond's brother, Tom, was at Thurmond's home the day of the killings, heard gunshots and looked out the door. He saw Thurmond outside standing over his wife with a gun in his hand.
At the 2002 capital murder trial, Keith and Sharon Thurmond's son testified that he saw his father shoot his mother repeatedly in the yard behind Fernandes' mobile home.
Thurmond surrendered to police after a two-hour standoff.
Evidence showed Sharon Thurmond had been shot seven times with a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun that was later found in Thurmond's home. The same gun was used to shoot Fernandez twice in the head. The gun's firing pin was missing and pieces of it were near the body of Fernandez, who also had been beaten in the head with the weapon.
During the punishment phase of his trial, a former girlfriend testified that Thurmond stalked and raped her after she ended their relationship. She told jurors that he cut her stuffed animal's head off and that she feared he would do the same to her.
A second woman testified that she faced similar abuse and harassment until she obtained a court order against him. Sharon Thurmond also had two court orders against him.
Prosecutors said these incidents proved Thurmond was a threat to society, an element Texas jurors must consider when deciding on the death penalty. John MacDonald, Thurmond's lead trial attorney, said that background on Thurmond's character very much hurt his defense.
In an appeal petition, Thurmond's attorneys said the sentence was too harsh. They said his former appellate lawyers failed to track down any of his relatives who could have testified that he had been abused as a child and that this could have accounted for his behavior.
State lawyers opposed the petition, arguing that unlike the Arizona case, Thurmond's earlier attorneys didn't abandon him and that any information now from the prisoner's relatives likely would not have altered the outcome of the trial.