June 18, 2015
Gregory Russeau ( Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP file)
Asked by a warden if he had a final statement, Russeau thanked his family and friends for what they had done for him and thanked three friends who were witnesses “for being here with me so I do not have to transition alone.”
“I’m at peace, I’m good,” he said. “I’m ready to go home.”
He began snoring as the lethal dose of pentobarbital began and all movement stopped within about a minute.
He was pronounced dead at 6:49 p.m. CDT, 21 minutes later.
Russeau will be the ninth Texan executed this year
On Thursday, June 18, the state of Texas plans to execute Gregory Russeau, a 45-year-old Tyler man, convicted in Oct. 2002 of killing 75-year-old James Syvertson in his auto shop’s garage on May 30, 2001.
Russeau was found guilty of capital murder after jurors deliberated for less than an hour. He argued, after his conviction, that he was found guilty because his attorney Clifton Roberson fumbled his handling of witnesses and failed to argue that law enforcement planted evidence (two hairs belonging to Russeau found on a bottle) at the crime scene. Those concerns were raised in subsequent petitions for writ of habeas corpus filed by Jeffrey Haas.
Haas, it should be said, had his own issues. As a petition for relief filed in 2012 by Carlo D’Angelo notes: “Both the 2004 and 2009 petitions for habeas corpus that Mr. Haas filed in the state district court contained no claims that were based upon any evidence or the result of any investigation that occurred outside of the Clerk’s Record and trial transcript in either of the Petitioner’s cases, thus indicating that Mr. Haas did virtually nothing to investigate the facts pertaining to the actions of trial and appellate counsel, potential mitigation, and potential prosecutorial misconduct and withholding of evidence.”
The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Dec. 2, 2004, during which Roberson and his co-counsel Brandon Baade testified to the competence of their representation of Russeau. Six months later, in June 2005, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an opinion that upheld Russeau’s conviction but remanded the case back to trial for a new sentencing. There, he was represented – once again – by Roberson and Baade, the two attorneys who failed to properly represent him in the first place, and whom Russeau specifically asked the court to not appoint for the second hearing (on the grounds that Roberson and Baade had waived the attorney-client privilege when they testified at the hearing.)
Russeau’s second punishment-determination hearing was held in 2007 and resulted in the same findings and sentence as his first. (Unsurprisingly, his argument hinged on the claim that Roberson and Baade did a bad job representing their client.) He was denied a 2009 petition for relief, filed by Haas, in 2010, at which point D’Angelo assumed Russeau’s counsel. A Feb. 2012 federal petition was denied, as was an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in March 2014. Appeals for relief from the U.S. Supreme Court were denied in October.
Russeau will be the ninth Texan executed this year, and the 527th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Death row inmate maintains innocence to the last