Gary Johnson, 59, was executed today by lethal injection in Texas for the April 1986 slayings of James Hazelton, 28, and his brother-in-law, Peter Sparagana, 23.
Johnson was the second person executed in Texas in 2010 and the 449th since 1982.
TDCJ says Johnson was a former laborer with 8 years of formal education.
Johnson’s attorneys went to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to keep him from becoming the second prisoner executed this year in the nation’s most active capital punishment state. A clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was turned down last week.
Gary Johnson was executed Tuesday for fatally shooting a ranch foreman and another man who interrupted his burglary of a southeast Texas ranch nearly 24 years ago.
Johnson, 59, was the second inmate to receive lethal injection this year in the state that executes the most prisoners. At least six others have execution dates scheduled for the coming months.
He was condemned for the April 1986 slayings of James Hazelton, 28, and Hazelton’s brother-in-law, Peter Sparagana, 23. The two were gunned down while investigating a call from a neighbor who reported intruders had driven through a chained gate at the Triple Creek Ranch about 10 miles west of Huntsville.
Hazelton’s brother, George, was among who watched Johnson die. He stood just a few feet away and watched through a glass window. He declined to meet with reporters following the execution.
One of Johnson’s brothers, Dell, and a daughter were among witnesses in an adjacent room.
Johnson declined the warden’s offer to make a final statement.
“Just tell my family good bye,” he said. But then, his voice choking with emotion, he urged relatives to tell other family members “what they did was wrong for letting me take the fall for what they did.”
“I never done anything in my life to anybody,” he said.
Eleven minutes later, at 6:26 p.m. CST, he was pronounced dead.
It took about two years for investigators to assemble their case against Johnson, who once worked at the ranch, and his brother, Terry. The brothers became suspects after the neighbor who saw men drive into the ranch described distinctive brake lights on their truck.
Terry Johnson, 62, took a plea deal with a 99-year prison term. Gary Johnson went to trial on capital murder charges, was convicted and sentenced to death.
“This was not their first nighttime burglary,” recalled Frank Blazek, the prosecutor at Johnson’s trial. “They knew the various pastures and that was part of a pattern they had.”
Hazelton and Sparagana discovered Terry Johnson but didn’t see his brother, who opened fire with a .44-caliber Magnum pistol and shot Sparagana, according to evidence and statements from Terry Johnson. Hazelton tried to run but was caught by Gary Johnson, who once worked for him.
“He put the gun in Hazelton’s mouth,” Blazek said. “Hazelton begged for his life and people across the way, in the nearby pasture, couldn’t see all this but could hear a man begging for his life.”
Shannon Ferguson, the neighbor who called Hazelton about the suspicious truck entering the ranch, and her husband were in a pasture tending to a horse about to give birth.
She said last week she’s always “felt kind of responsible” for the two men being murdered because they wouldn’t have investigated if she hadn’t called. But Ferguson also believes if she ignored the Johnson brothers’ suspicious activity, “I think they probably would have gone on and murdered more people.”
The murder weapon was recovered at the home of another Johnson brother in Union, Mo.
Johnson declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his scheduled execution. Before arriving on death row, he had no previous prison record. Trial testimony showed that in 1972, in his native Missouri, he paid $150 in restitution to a man whose dog he shot and killed. The dog’s owner was a few feet away at the time.
Blazek said investigators found the same slogan etched in concrete outside Johnson’s home and on a T-shirt he was wearing in a photograph: “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”
“It indicated a callousness about human life,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Johnson’s lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution, saying he was nearly blind, in poor health and posed no danger to society if he was spared from the death chamber. The court rejected their plea.