HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Convicted killer Carl Blue never disputed filling a convenience store cup with gasoline, tossing it on his former girlfriend at the door of her apartment and setting her ablaze. He argued it was a prank gone terribly wrong, but Texas prosecutors said it was capital murder.
Now, more than 18 years later, Blue is scheduled to be executed Thursday for the death of his ex-girlfriend, Carmen Richards-Sanders. The 38-year-old woman was severely burned in the September 1994 attack and died 19 days later.
If his late appeals fail, Blue's execution would be the first this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.
Prosecutors said Blue walked seven miles from his home to a convenience store in Bryan, about 100 miles northwest of Houston, and had been drinking malt liquor and smoking crack behind the store when he filled what lawyers called a "Big Gulp" cup with gasoline. Court records said he waited outside Richards-Sanders' apartment, then rushed in when she opened the door, telling her: "I told you I was going to get you." He doused Richards-Sanders with gasoline and set her on fire.
Blue then discovered another man, Larence Williams, at the apartment, and threw what was left of the gasoline on Williams, setting him on fire, according to court records. Williams survived and testified against Blue.
"That was just a horrible way to kill someone," said Shane Phelps, a former Brazos County prosecutor who tried the case. "You could tell something about what's in the mind of somebody like Carl Blue when he does something like that. He could have shot her, he could have hit her on the head with a club, but he set her on fire."
Blue's lead trial attorney, John Quinn, who did not participate in Blue's post-conviction appeals described it as more a crime of passion.
"Obviously, he killed Carmen because he was still in love with her and didn't want the relationship to end," Quinn said. "His emotions were jealousy and they took over and he wasn't thinking clearly."
Hours after the fire, Blue turned himself in to police.
An appeal to delay the execution was rejected last Wednesday by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a brief ruling. Blue's attorney, Michael Charlton, said he would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Charlton argued it was a conflict of interest for one of Blue's trial lawyers to also represent him in earlier stages of his appeals because the trial lawyer likely wouldn't file claims contending his work was legally deficient.
Charlton also contended that evidence of Blue's poor upbringing and drug use wasn't uncovered and could have convinced jurors to choose a punishment less than death. The attorney general's office said Blue had waived his right to a different lawyer, negating the conflict claim, and that the federal appeal was meritless.
Blue, 48, declined to speak with reporters from death row as his execution date approached.
Asked by a judge at a court hearing in November if there was any reason his execution should not be scheduled, Blue replied: "No, other than I don't feel I'm guilty of capital murder."
Five years after his conviction, Blue's death sentence was among about a half-dozen in Texas overturned by a federal judge who ruled it was improper for a former state prison psychologist to testify that race should be a factor during punishment deliberations.
In Blue's case, the psychologist had testified the black man's race could indicate a propensity for violence.
A second punishment trial was held in 2001, but Blue again was sentenced to die. Jurors at that trial heard a taped interview in which Blue contended Richards-Sanders pulled the door open while holding a lit cigarette, causing the fire. In a second interview, he said he didn't know why he set her and Williams on fire and didn't intend to kill them.
An earlier appeal in his case raised questions about whether Blue was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty under U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The appeal was rejected after state lawyers successfully argued that tests showed his IQ was not low enough to designate him mentally impaired and there was no evidence he ever was diagnosed previously as mentally impaired. The high court last October refused to review Blue's case.
Blue is among at least 12 prisoners scheduled for lethal injection in the coming months in Texas, which executed 15 inmates last year.