Gun at center of death row appeal

Woman's execution scheduled for Wednesday in slaying of family
08:31 PM CDT on Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Associated Press

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – The gun inside 7-year-old Alton Newton's blue knapsack was the focus of the last-ditch legal battle lawyers were fighting in hopes of keeping the slain boy's mother out of the Texas death chamber Wednesday.

Frances Newton Frances Newton, 40, faced lethal injection for the fatal shooting 18 years ago of her son, her 21-month-old daughter, Farrah, and her husband, Adrian, 23, at their Houston apartment.

She would be the 13th prisoner executed this year in the nation's most active capital punishment state but only the third woman in Texas – and the first black woman – since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982. Nationally, she'd be the 11th woman executed since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed the death penalty to resume after a decade-long hiatus.

Ms. Newton, who denies involvement in the killings, spent Tuesday visiting with relatives at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Mountain View Unit outside Gatesville in Central Texas, where the state's 11 condemned women are held. It's about 140 miles northwest of Huntsville, where she would be taken for the lethal injection scheduled for after 6 p.m. today.

Her attorneys waited for word from the U.S. Supreme Court, where they filed an appeal Monday after Texas courts, lower federal courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected their arguments that she was innocent.

Claims her attorneys have made are that evidence used at her trial was improperly destroyed, that the gun linked to the slayings was not the only weapon recovered by police and that she has not been a problem inmate.

Ms. Newton, accompanied by a cousin, found the bodies the evening of April 7, 1987. Her husband had been shot in the head, the two children in the chest.

Ms. Newton acknowledges hiding a .25-caliber handgun in the bag at an abandoned house where it was recovered by police. Ballistics tests showed it was the gun used in the slayings, but her attorneys argued it wasn't the weapon Ms. Newton left there, that police recovered a second weapon and the guns were switched.