Johnny Frank Garrett

Executed in Texas on February 11, 1992, for the rape and murder of an elderly nun in Amarillo on Halloween night 1981 — a crime to which he allegedly confessed but in all likelihood was committed by Leoncio Perez Rueda. In 2004, Rueda was linked by DNA and pleaded to a similar crime that occurred in the same neighborhood four months earlier. Initially, the local district attorney had told reporters that the crimes were “too similar” not to have been committed by “the same man.” Initially, police were focusing on Cuban suspects who had arrived on the 1980 Marial boatlift from Cuba. Witnesses had reported seeing someone with dark skin and black curly hair near the nunnery where the latter victim, seventy-six-year-old Sister Tadea Benz, was slain. Black curly hairs had been found at the crime scene. Garrett, who was Caucasian with brown hair, became a suspect only after a self-described clairvoyant known as “Bubbles” told the Amarillo Daily News that she had had a “vision” in which the killer was a teenage male who stood about five-eleven, wore an “Afro-type” wig during the attack, and lived in a frame house with dirty hardwood floors on the same street as the nunnery. Garrett, who was seventeen and had a learning disability, was interrogated by police, who claimed that he confessed but refused to sign a confession. Garrett denied that he confessed. He could not have been the source of black curly hairs found at the crime scene. A pathologist hired by the prosecution testified that semen was recovered from Sister Benz’s body, but he could not test it with the equipment he had, and discarded it because no one had instructed him to keep it. A jailhouse snitch testified that Garrett admitted both rape and murder of both Sister Benz and seventy-seven-year-old Narnie Bryson, the woman who had been murdered in a similar fashion four months earlier. Garrett was not charged with the Bryson murder, perhaps because physical evidence pointed to someone else. Twenty-three years after the murders, and a dozen years after Garrett’s execution, a search of the FBI’s DNA database linked Rueda to the Bryson murder. He pleaded guilty to that crime after the prosecution agreed not to seek the death penalty, even though it clearly was an easily provable capital offense. To have taken Rueda to trial no doubt would have made public evidence that he also had slain Sister Benz — a crime for which the state apparently had executed an innocent man.