By Frank Miles
Published September 05, 2019
A Texas death row inmate was executed Wednesday for the murder of an 89-year-old woman and her 71-year-old daughter, whom he stabbed over 16 years ago after barging into their Fort Worth home under the pretense of doing some work for them.
Billy Jack Crutsinger, 64, received a lethal injection Wednesday evening at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the 2003 killings of Pearl Magouirk and her daughter, Patricia Syren. In a final statement that lasted four minutes, Crutsinger thanked three friends who witnessed the execution.
“I’m at peace now and ready to go and be with Jesus and my family,” Crutsinger said.
Then, as the lethal dose of pentobarbital began, he said he could feel it “in my left arm. It’s kind of burning.”
Crutsinger then began coughing and breathing heavily and then made snoring noises at least 29 times before he stopped moving.
At 6:40 p.m. CT, 13 minutes after the lethal injection started, Crutsinger was pronounced dead.
Investigators said Crutsinger killed the two women and stole Syren’s car and credit card. Police arrested Crutsinger three days later at a bar in Galveston, over 300 miles away.
Michele Hartmann, one of the prosecutors with the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office who convicted Crutsinger, told jurors Crutsinger’s actions had nothing to do with alcohol but were the result of “evil.”
Friends and family described Magouirk, known as “R.D.,” as an avid gardener. Syren volunteered as a receptionist at her church. Both women were retired and lived together.
Crutsinger had been “spiraling downward much of his adult life,” including three failed marriages and a propensity for violence when he drank, according to a report by a forensic psychologist hired by his trial attorneys.
In the months before the murders, Crutsinger became homeless and increasingly desperate after his wife kicked him out of their home and his mother, who had enabled his behavior, stopped helping him, according to the report.
When Crutsinger realized Magouirk and Syren didn’t have enough work to give him much financial relief, he flew into an alcoholic rage, the report said.
“All of his anger at being left to fend for himself and of having his safety net taken from him was then brought to bear on the victims,” according to the report.
Crutsinger was the 14th inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the fifth in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state. Ten more executions have been scheduled in Texas for this year.
No family members of Magouirk and Syren witnessed the execution. Crutsinger did not mention the two women during his final statement.
“The defendant stabbed two elderly women to death in their own home. They had offered him a chance at honest work. The loss of mother and daughter Pearl Magouirk and Pat Syren is still felt deeply by their family and the Fort Worth community. Our sympathy and thoughts continue to be with them,” Hartmann said in a statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court had declined a request by Crutsinger’s attorney to stop the execution. The lawyer had argued Crutsinger’s previous attorney had a long history of incompetent work in death penalty cases.
“The jury heard nothing from the defense that provided an explanation about the disease of alcoholism in relation to the offense conduct,” including such things as “a history of domestic violence and abuse, and repeated losses of significant friends and relatives,” Lydia Brandt, Crutsinger’s current attorney, wrote in her one of her Supreme Court petitions.
Brandt also argued lower courts had wrongly denied Crutsinger funding to investigate competency and mental health claims that were not sufficiently reviewed by prior attorneys.
Lower appeals courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also had declined to stop the execution.
Investigators said DNA evidence tied Crutsinger to the killings and he confessed.
Brandt described Crutsinger’s previous appellate lawyer, Richard Alley, as a “great word processor” who cut and pasted “worthless” legal arguments from other cases and who was removed from another death row client’s case and suspended from practicing in federal court.
Brandt alleged that Alley performed similar shoddy work in at least six other death penalty cases. Four of those inmates have been executed. An attorney for former death row inmate Bobby Woods also alleged incompetent work by Alley before Woods was executed in 2009.
In 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals removed Alley from its list of lawyers eligible to represent death row inmates in their appeals. Alley died in 2017.
“I do the best I possibly can on all these cases,” Alley told the Austin American-Statesman in a 2006 story that was part of a series that looked at the bad work by court-appointed attorneys in appeals of death penalty cases.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office called Crutsinger’s allegations against Alley “speculative” because he had not identified any claim that Alley should have raised but did not. The attorney general’s office also said Crutsinger’s case has received an “extensive review” during his appeals process.
Fox News' Shannon Bream and The Associated Press contributed to this report.