A Texas man convicted for the slayings of an elderly couple found brutally beaten and stabbed in their home more than 14 years ago was executed Thursday.
Larry Wooten was condemned to death for the 1996 murders of 80-year-old Grady Alexander and his 86-year-old wife, Bessie, in the northeast Texas town of Paris.
The Alexanders were beaten with a cast-iron skillet and a pistol, stabbed and had their throats slit and heads almost severed. Prosecutors said Wooten robbed the couple, taking their savings of $500 so he could buy cocaine.
Wooten was the 17th inmate executed this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.
During his brief final statement, Wooten, 51, did not mention the Alexanders.
"I don't have nothing to say. You can go ahead and send me home to my heavenly father," Wooten said.
He cried as the drugs were administered and let out one final gasp as the lethal injection took effect. Nine minutes later, at 6:21 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.
No family members of the Alexanders attended the execution. Wooten's two sisters, who witnessed the execution, cried and prayed. Between 10 to 15 anti-death penalty protesters stood about a block away outside the prison that the execution chamber is housed in, with one woman using a bullhorn to say, "The state of Texas has committed another murder."
Wooten had maintained that he didn't kill the couple, for whom he formerly worked doing odd jobs. He claimed he went to their home in Paris, located about 105 miles northeast of Dallas, found the bodies and fled. Wooten had at one time been married to the couple's niece.
DNA evidence, including blood found on the Alexanders' kitchen floor and matched to Wooten, helped convict him. A pair of Wooten's pants stained with Grady Alexander's blood also was found near an area where Wooten had bought drugs around the time of the murders.
Wooten's attorneys exhausted their appeals after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday rejected a plea to commute his sentence to life in prison. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Wooten's appeal.
Kerye Ashmore, a former Lamar County district attorney who prosecuted the case, called Wooten a "scary guy" with a history of violence, including a prior conviction for assaulting an elderly woman after breaking into her home. He also was a person of interest in the slaying of another elderly woman in Paris who was killed a couple of weeks before the Alexanders, Ashmore said.
"If you are going to have a death penalty, this is the kind of people you want to have the death penalty for," said Ashmore, who is now the first assistant district attorney in nearby Grayson County.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Wooten's attorneys argued he wouldn't have turned down a plea bargain if he knew about additional DNA evidence that didn't become available until after his trial began.
Wooten had turned down a plea agreement of life in prison after DNA experts working for his trial attorneys believed the blood evidence didn't reliably connect him to the crime. But after the trial began, additional lab results showed the DNA evidence was stronger than originally thought, Wooten's appeals said.
Ashmore said he never misrepresented the strength of the DNA evidence.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March that both sides are at risk in a plea offer and there's no constitutional right to a plea bargain.
In prior appeals, Wooten had claimed he should not be executed because he is mentally retarded. But his claim was denied as tests put his IQ between 77 and 84. An IQ of 70 is considered the threshold for mental impairment.
The next execution in Texas is scheduled for Dec. 1, when Steven Staley is set to die for the 1989 slaying of a Fort Worth restaurant manager during a robbery.
Associated Press Writer Michael Graczyk contributed to this report.