By Karen Brooks and Bill Cotterell
AUSTIN, Texas/TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Texas and Florida are scheduled to execute convicted killers on Wednesday, one of whom murdered an East Texas man at the end of a deadly six-month crime spree that the killer described in court as "a whole lot of fun."
Elroy Chester, who is due to be put to death in Texas, admitted killing five people and sexually assaulting or raping three girls during his spree in 1997 and 1998, according to an account of the case by the Texas Attorney General's Office.
Chester, 43, pleaded guilty to capital murder charges in the shooting death of Texas firefighter Willie "Billy" Ryman III on February 6, 1998, during a burglary and rape. He was sentenced to death in August of that year.
Chester is due to be executed by lethal injection after 6 p.m. CDT (2300 GMT) at a state prison in Huntsville. He would be the seventh person executed in Texas this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Defense attorneys for Chester have argued that with an IQ repeatedly measured at a level of mild mental retardation, he is not mentally competent to be executed.
On the night in question, Chester cut the phone lines and broke into the home of Kim Ryman in Port Arthur, about 100 miles east of Houston, with a stolen gun, wearing a ski mask.
He cleaned out the house of jewelry and money, then raped a 17-year-old girl and sexually assaulted her 14-year-old sister, both of whom live at the house, while a 1-year-old slept in a nearby room, according to the account.
During the attack, Ryman arrived to check on his nieces and was shot and killed by Chester as he entered the home, according to the account.
The killing was the last of a violent crime spree that began with the rape of a 10-year-old girl in August 1997 in her home and included the murders of five people - including an 87-year-old woman and a 78-year-old man, both of whom he had awakened while he was burglarizing their homes.
Asked to describe his feelings about burglarizing homes, Chester said in court that it was "a whole lot of fun," according to the account.
In Florida, a man involved in the killing of a guard during a botched prison break was also scheduled to be put to death late on Wednesday at the Florida State Prison. He and Chester would bring to 15 the number of inmates executed in the United States this year.
In 1987, William Van Poyck and another man, Frank Valdes, led a heavily armed attempt to free a prisoner being transported by prison guards to a doctor's office. A prison guard was shot and killed after he tossed the van's keys into the bushes in a bid to disrupt the escape attempt.
Van Poyck, 58, and Valdes fled without the prisoner they hoped to free and were later captured after crashing a getaway car into a tree. Valdes was stomped to death in prison in 1999. Three prison guards were put on trial for his death but were ultimately acquitted.
Van Poyck had been paroled from a life sentence for armed robbery in late 1986. Last week, the Florida Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Van Poyck based on Valdes' widow, who said her husband told her he killed the prison guard.
The court ruled the execution should go forward because Van Poyck was an "instigator" and played a "major role" in the crime.
(Editing by Kevin Gray, Cynthia Johnston and Bob Burgdorfer)
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