Muneer Deeb

A rumor on the jailhouse grapevine led to Muneer Deeb's death sentence

Muneer Mohammed Deeb was sentenced to death in 1985 for the contract murder of a woman in McLennan County, Texas, under a seemingly improbable scenario.

The prosecution theory of the crime apparently began as a jailhouse rumor. The grapevine had it that the victim had been mistakenly murdered by three men Deeb had hired to kill a different woman. The other woman worked for Deeb at a convenience store he operated in Waco. The supposed plot on the employee's life was said to have been a scheme to defraud an insurance carrier.

Prosecutors alleged that Deeb had agreed to pay $5,000 for the murder. There was no evidence of such a payment, however, and other evidence of the plot was weak and circumstantial. None of the alleged co-conspirators testified — although they too were charged with capital murder and, therefore, were in a position to negotiate leniency for themselves in exchange for testifying against the purported mastermind of the plot.

Deeb's alleged motive

Deeb was the beneficiary of an accident insurance policy on the supposed target of the plot, and the policy carried a $20,000 death benefit. But Deeb carried such policies on all of his employees, none of whom ever had been murdered, and he said the policies were only a hedge against worker-compensation claims.

The prosecution theory was all the more questionable because the facts of the crime were not exactly hallmarks of a professional hit. Not only did Deeb's purported co-conspirators killed the wrong woman, they also raped and tortured her. And they did the same to two of the wrong woman's friends.

Because it was a conspiracy case, one witness was permitted to testify that Deeb had acknowledged he would receive insurance money if one of his employees ever was murdered. As innocent as such a remark may have been — it was, after all, a fact — the innuendo was anything but innocent.

After Deeb testified, however, the prosecution called as a rebuttal witness a man who had shared a jail cell with one of Deeb's alleged co-conspirators. The rebuttal witness testified that his cellmate had described the murder-for-hire scheme in detail. The trial judge permitted the testimony, holding that it fell within a conspiracy exception to the rule barring hearsay.

Exoneration

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, however, and on the ground that the jailhouse informant's hearsay whould not have been admitted, reversed and remanded the case in 1991. A jury acquitted Deeb two years later.


— Rob Warden