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Not in My Name

...but they're dead just the same...

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#203 - John Christopher Sawyers - TX - 5/18/1993

I’m not even sure what to say about this one.  But then it has never even crossed my mind to beat my neighbor’s head in with a skillet and rob her.  No matter how intoxicated I was.

Victim:  Ethyl Delaney (67)          2/2/1983

Source:  murderpedia.org

John Sawyers murdered Ethyl Delaney of Houston on February 2, 1983. 

Sawyers broke into Delaney’s home, stole money, three rings and her car. Once inside Delaney’s house, he ripped off her clothes, slapped her and beat her in the head four times with a cast-iron skillet.

John Sawyers’ mother died when he was very young and his father is a “Right-Wing” minister. Sawyers father testified on his behalf during the trial. 

Charlie Baird, one of Sawyers’ lawyers, said that Sawyers was truly sorry for his actions but did not offer any remorse to the Delaney family. They never came into contact with one another.

Delaney lived next door to Sawyers in Northwest Houston. She was a notary public and property manager. Delaney, who lived alone, had previously notarized some of Sawyers’ personal papers.

Sawyers had no previous prison record so lawyers were hopeful in getting a less severe sentence. Sawyers was intoxicated at the time of the murder, but the jury felt this was insufficient for a mistrial. He was arrested for Delaney’s murder after being involved in a traffic accident while driving her car. 

Alex Bunin, Sawyers’ appeals attorney, said that Sawyers was not desperate to live since 10 years had passed since the murder. The case went to the Supreme Court two days before the execution, but was denied a stay of execution. Sawyers then knew it was all over. 

Sawyers was executed by lethal injection on May 18, 1993 and was pronounced dead at 12:23 a.m. His family witnessed his execution. His eyes were closed and he answered “No” for his final statement.

John Sawyers became the 59th person to be executed in Texas since the Supreme Court resumed capital punishment in 1976.

Source:  Court docs

Sawyers murdered Ethel Delaney in Houston on February 2, 1983. After his arrest he signed a written statement which recounted the details of the crime: 

On Wednesday February 2nd, 1983, I went to Ethel Delaney's house on Ojeman Road. I went there to talk to her to make up my mind whether or not I should steal her car from her and to decide whether or not I should murder her. I decided I was going to murder her.... I went to the kitchen and I grabbed a cast iron skillet from under the stove and went back into the bedroom and hit her on the head with it four times. The skillet broke on the fourth hit, the handle broke on it. Blood started coming out of her head so I assumed she was dying. I took the frying pan back to the kitchen and put it under the stove along with the broken handle. 

I went back to the bedroom and found her purse, her car keys were in there with the rings and some money, it was over thirty dollars. I took the purse and left the house closing the door behind me. I took her car and I drove straight to the pawn shop and pawned the rings for $200.00. Then I went and picked up Desma Hejl and Carl Peterson and we went riding around and I had a wreck in the car later that night. 

In his second application for a writ of habeas corpus in the state courts, Sawyers argued that the sentencing jury was prevented from considering and giving mitigating effect to evidence that he was intoxicated when he killed Ethel Delaney. The primary evidentiary support for that claim consisted of the testimony of two of Sawyers' acquaintances--Desma Hejl and Chrystal Howard--who saw Sawyers at the Tacoma Car wash on the day of the murder.

At trial Hejl testified that, when Sawyers arrived at the car wash, he was "pretty well waxed out," "pretty high," "too hyper to be normal," and "talking faster than normal." According to Hejl, Sawyers said that he had taken Mandrex, "a Mexican qualuden," earlier that day. 

Howard testified that, when Sawyers arrived at the car wash, "it seemed like he might have been intoxicated or under the influence of something else." The evidence revealed that Sawyers had already murdered Ethel Delaney when he arrived at the car wash. Hejl testified that Sawyers arrived in a new car, and both Hejl and Howard testified that Sawyers showed Howard several rings which he claimed to have received from his ex-wife. 

The trial court reviewed Sawyers' habeas application and entered written findings of fact, which stated that:

There was no evidence that [Sawyers] was intoxicated at the time he committed the instant capital murder. At most, the evidence showed that at some time after [Sawyers] killed the decedent, he visited friends who believed he was intoxicated or "high." There was no evidence adduced at trial that demonstrated that the instant capital murder was in any way drug-related. 

Sawyers also argued in his second state habeas application that he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel, in violation of the Sixth Amendment. Sawyers claimed that his attorneys underestimated the likelihood that he would receive the death penalty, and consequently failed to call his family to testify in his behalf at trial. Sawyers presented the affidavits of several of his relatives, who stated that they would have appeared at Sawyers' trial if his lawyer had not advised them not to, and would have testified to certain mitigating facts, such as Sawyers' history of drug abuse and his service in the navy. 

The trial court's written findings of fact stated that Sawyers' counsel never underestimated the probability that Sawyers would be sentenced to death; neither did counsel advise Sawyers' family that it was unlikely that he would receive the death penalty, or that it was unnecessary for them to appear at trial. The trial court further found that counsel made a tactical decision not to introduce evidence of Sawyers' substance abuse and naval service, because that evidence was not likely to be regarded by the jury as mitigating. The trial court concluded that Sawyers received effective assistance of counsel at trial.

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It is yet another example of a criminal trying to blame someone or something other than himself for his actions. Just for the sake of argument, let's suppose he was intoxicated at the time. Are we supposed to somehow lessen his culpability because of it? Did the victim force him into a state of intoxication? No! By his own words he stated that he was trying to decide to murder and rob the victim and he chose to do both. It was a choice.

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