1794: Jacques Roux, the Red Priest, cheats the guillotine 1937: Tom Steinbock and Juan Mirbol in Sartre’s The Wall

1992: Johnny Frank Garrett, “kiss my ass because I’m innocent”

February 11th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1992, Johnny Frank Garrett was executed by lethal injection, with the tart last words,

“I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my everloving ass, because I’m innocent.”

Although Garrett was only 17 at the time a nun from a neighboring Amarillo convent was raped and murdered, and he may have qualified as developmentally disabled to boot — both factors that today would exclude him from execution — that whole innocence story didn’t have much public traction.

“No, no, not at all,” New Mexico attorney Jesse Quackenbush told this site in an interview. “He was villainized from day one: he was a nun-murderer who needed to be executed. The only sympathy really came from the Pope.”

But two decades on, Garrett’s dying profession is one of the more troublesome skeletons in the Texas execution machine’s closet, thanks in no small part to Quackenbush himself.

Quackenbush directed the documentary The Last Word (viewable free on Netflix), a powerful brief not only for Garrett’s innocence* but against the comprehensive rot of the system that shunted hm off this mortal coil — from the front-line investigators all the way through the Lone Star State’s intentionally broken executive clemency farce.

“It was a system-wide failure that caused this kid to die. It wasn’t just the legal system,” Quackenbush said. “The media played a part. The governor was looking more to her own re-election hopes.* There was a dysfunctional family. The Supreme Court wasn’t morally deep enough to realize that executing 17-year-olds and ‘mentally retarded’ prisoners was wrong. There’s the system in Texas that allowed the prosecutors to hand-pick the pathologists to provide junk science.

“It’s a multifaceted failure, and no one facet is more to blame than the others.”

Garrett, a white teenager, disappeared into a Kafkaesque legal labyrinth, after the alleged supernatural vision of a local soothsayer acclaimed him the culprit in the murder of a nun named Tadea Benz. Corporeal indicia of guilt falls somewhere between circumstantial and laughable: fingerprints in a convent he had visited many times, the inevitable jailhouse snitch, and an unrecorded supposed “confession” that Garrett refused to sign.

As in a preponderance of death cases, especially in Texas (pdf), a meek and all-but-unfunded defense team offered scant resistance as prosecutors made the most of this eminently disputable evidence: once the one-sided trial was in the books and the crucial direct appeals likewise slipped past, the proceedings lay beyond the reach of judicial review.

This novel is inspired by the Garrett case.

For all that, there yet remains one un-litigated piece of evidence.

Around the time of Sister Benz’s death, there was another rape-murder of another elderly Amarillo woman, a crime that authorities publicly described as “too similar” to the Benz case not to be part of the same crime spree.

That case went unsolved … but years after Garrett’s execution, DNA databases matched an old semen sample from that second crime to a Cuban rapist (he was among the criminals and undesirables that Castro expelled to the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift) named Leoncio Perez Rueda.

Suggestive.

More dispositive evidence in the form of still-testable crime scene samples may yet reside in Amarillo’s evidence lockers — semen and blood samples that, in the era of DNA, Quackenbush thinks would exonerate Johnny Frank Garrett.

If testing this sort of thing sounds like a no-brainer, you don’t work for Amarillo.

“The [Garrett] family offered the city of Amarillo complete civic immunity and they still refused to run a DNA test, and threatened to countersue** if the family tried to pursue it,” Quackenbush says. “In the state of Texas there are still only laws protecting DNA access for living people: if you’re already executed, you have no rights.”

Which is a particular pity — since “the chances of executing innocent people are still really high.”

* Quackenbush’s case for Garrett’s innocence is outlined in this legal memo (pdf). This site maintains an extensive archive of resources about the case.

** In this, it’s not unlike the Ruben Cantu case, where post-execution evidence of innocence has also been met with legal threats by the state.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Famous Last Words,History,Interviews,Lethal Injection,Murder,Other Voices,Political Expedience,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,The Supernatural,USA,Wrongful Executions

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9 Responses to “1992: Johnny Frank Garrett, “kiss my ass because I’m innocent””

  1. 1
    Meaghan Good Says:

    I read a book by a psychiatrist who interviewed him shortly before his execution. She believed Johnny had multiple personalities and it was the bad personality that killed the nun, and the other Johnny was kind and meek. Based on the “kiss my ass” comment, she thinks it was the bad Johnny that lay down on the gurney.

  2. 2
    JCF Says:

    Multiple personalities don’t have multiple semen types!

    Probably NONE of Johnny’s “personalities” were guilty…but Texas is going to make damn sure we don’t find out.

    I think some people REALLY BELIEVE that the execution of the random innocent person now and then is an acceptable price for “justice.”

    As long as it’s no one *they* know&love, of course!

  3. 3
    Meaghan Good Says:

    Oh, I know some people who really believe that. Among them my own sister.

    One website I saw compared it to car accidents: we get car accident deaths every year, but that’s no reason to stop driving, it said. *headdesk*

  4. 4
    Janet Weaver Says:

    Murder is a very sensitive subject. I stood beside my brother as his life was taken. Never have I been in a more helpless situation. My mom and my sister stood three feet away and we couldn’t do anything to help save him except tell him how much we love him. It took sixteen long minutes for the state of Texas to murder my brother Johnny Garrett. I will declare his innocence with my last breath. Try arguing the death penalty with me or my mom. Its still murder.

  5. 5
    Tamera Says:

    My prayers go out to your family Janet. I watched the documentary ‘The Last Word’ on Netflix last night. My heart ached seeing the pain and torment that your mother went through as she talked about Johnny. I fought back tears on several occasions and tried to wrap my mind around the blatant lack of representation by his court-appointed attorneys.

    From watching this documentary it does not take a 4 year law or criminal justice degree to see that Johnny was innocent and was rail-roaded by an unethical, uncaring and immoral group of law enforcement & city officials. May you and your families tragedy be turned into triumph.

  6. 6
    J. Kirk Says:

    Ms.Weaver, words are not enough to apologize to you and your family for the murder of your brother. The movie was heartbreaking as we watched Johnny Frank railroaded through the system in a hideous manner.

    I hope there is an attorney out there who has taken up your mother’s attempt to have your brother exonerated!

  7. 7
    Sally Stewart Says:

    I had a close 17 yr. old relative murdered VERY violently. Only much time lessoned the EXTREME pain it caused. Past few years( as Max has been dead 34 years now) I have been re-thinking the death sentence I became to believe in. After hearing your story ,I know I can no longer condone the death sentence. May God , Jesus , and your family forgive my past ignorance. I also do not believe Johnny left an evil curse. The child was human. Anyone else in that situation would have said a million times worse . I believe with all my heart the Holy-spirit spoke Gods curse thru Johnny. As ‘Vengence is MINE SAYETH THE LORD” And the curse bestowed upon the evil doers of that community I believe can AND are only rightious and possible enough for only Gods devine power to have created. Your son was NEVER a monster, but a victom of a backwards selfish, cruel, un-caring, greedy society. And Gods and your innocent little boy and sweet brother. He had a lower II.Q. obviously just from the last words he left. Quite innocent words for an INNOCENT person hooked up to LETHAL INJECTION NEEDLES. If it were me , I’d say A HELL A HELL of a lot MORE than ‘Kiss My ass” MAN don’t even get me started on the kinds of things I’d say if I’d been Johnny! And that shrink with A BIG- BIGGOTT HEAD saying Johnny had split personalities. Shame on her arrogance and ignorance. What she thinks is ” say what sounds good for the state and to get her greedy little blood-stained hands on that measley little state pay check. Good enough really just to satisfy her BIG HEAD FULL OF EVIL POWER TRIPS. Money WE know CAN NOT BEGIN to ease your pain. However along with Johnnys exoronation most all of us of all religions and no religion believe it is VERY WARRENTED! Words to other humans go out along with some of our prayers for you dear Garretts and Ms. Weaver and your children and childrens children and so on. Mom Garrett when in pain try to remember happy and even funny times with Johnny. After some , alot of time we can begin to turn those tears to little smiles, when we take ourselves to happy times with the loved ones TAKEN from us so MELICIOUSLY by others at such a young age. May God only seek vengence, may others seek and help you and yours obtain to totally clear Johnnys name and also more peace and happiness, including a large financial ammends to help bless your life a little and the future generations of your family. You deserve actually SO MUCH MORE than that. SO much more for the boy that was born Christmas eve And NOT on halloween. sincerely, Sally Stewart

  8. 8
    go4gayleon2 Says:

    go4gayleon2
    I vaguely remember this story as it was happening in 1992…. I work in the film industry now and will be working on the feature film that will start production soon to expose the truth to a lot more people…. Texas is very proud of the fact that they have an express lane to the execution room table…. After reading the script and watching the documentary from 2008, I have not thought of much else except the wrongful conviction and execution of Johnny and his family left in disbelief….. We are supposed to be a society of compassion and understanding…. Whether or not Johnny cursed others that wronged him or not….. we all are guilty of things that others view more horrible than others….. I am extremely proud to be a part of the production of this true event…. I can tell you that the crew is VERY passionate and will do our best to honor Johnny’s story and give a peace to him and his family that they were denied for years….

  9. 9
    Debbie Gray Says:

    Why not use Familial DNA to test and see if it is even possible that he could have been the rapist? I’m not sure if it would be legal in the court system but It could exclude him from being the rapist and at least certainly put people’s minds at ease if it proved that he could be innocent.

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