James L. Beathard (February 23, 1957 - December 9, 1999) was the closest and best friend of CLIFF BOGGESS on Death Row in Huntsville. James claimed his innocence until the end. A few weeks before his death he wrote his story down - how he came to be on Texas Death Row:
In 1983 my wife divorced me. Our divorce decree granted me visitation rights to our children (a son and daughter). But because of religious and political conflicts between my ex-wife's family and me, they refused to honor my visitation rights. (They are Fundamentalist Protestants and quite Conservative politically. I am Catholic and am a very liberal Socialist.) My ex-wife remarried a man who hated me (I suspect he was a fascist), and in order to avoid court orders that might force them to let me see my children, they moved away. I hired an attorney and an investigator to locate them, but before we could schedule a court hearing, they moved again. This happened a number of times - I'd locate them, and they'd move to avoid a court hearing. As you might surmise, this became quite expensive, and I used all my financial resources.
When I had been in college many years before, I occasionally earned money as a drug runner (courier, smuggler), mostly marijuana. I had distanced myself from the drug world while I was married, because of my children, but when my finances were exhausted in the search for my children, a couple old friends talked me into doing some smuggling for them to earn money. I only did it a few times after my divorce. I was really desperate to see my children, but the drug world had changed too much since my college days. Nobody carried guns when I was in college, and nobody ever got hurt over drugs. But when I became involved with the drug trade after my divorce, everybody carried guns. These was too much money, too many guns, and too many violent people. I had never owned a gun in my life and wasn't going to carry one under any circumstances, so I quit. The whole drug business wasn't fun anymore like it had been in the 1970's. It was ugly and dangerous.
Again, quickly this time, I exhausted my finances in searching for my children. Eventually some hacker (illicit computer operators and programmers) I had known in college helped me find my children and their mother. By this time the judge (magistrate) who had been overseeing my divorce and search for my children agreed that my ex-wife's repeated relocations to avoid my visitation rights was harmful to my children and he agreed to change the divorce decree to give me primary custody of the children, if I could get a court hearing. Which meant hiring an attorney again, a very expensive goal.
One of my associates from the drug business knew of my plight and offered to help me by hiring me to assist him with one last smuggling job. I really didn't want to do it, but I was almost insane with desperation to see my children again, so I agreed. He said he needed my help because the delivery of the drugs was in an area unfamiliar to him, but very familiar to me. This wasn't the first time I had worked with him in a similar procedure, so I had no reason to be suspicious. He knew that this would be the very last time I would ever do any drug smuggling, and he told me it was his last time too. I didn't know until later that I was being tricked.
The night of the drug deal, we left my home town in my associate's auto. He had a gun in the back seat, a shotgun. That didn't seem odd because many people carry shotguns in their autos for protection (I live in a very rural area). In fact I never associated the shotgun with the drug business, and had even been with my associate (G.H.) and my brother and their friends when they shot that very same gun in preparation for hunting season.
I rode with G.H. as he drove to a place deep in the forest about 150 km from our home town. Again, not unusual for places where drug dealers live. When we arrived at a home deep in the forest, G.H. told me to go wait by a travel trailer (mobile outbuilding) a short distance from the home. Again, not unusual. Most drug dealers keep their drug supplies in safe places away from their homes. (If police raid your home, but find the drugs in an outbuilding, it is harder to prosecute the drug dealers in court.) After a while, G.H. came from the home, got the shotgun from the auto, and came to where I was. When he came near I could see he was ANGRY. Actually quite enraged. He wouldn't tell me what was wrong. He just kept saying, "I didn't want to have to do it this way, dammit. I just didn't want to have to do it this way." He would look at me but it seemed as if he didn't see me. He was obviously insanely angry. He started to walk away, but he only took a step or two, and then he picked up the gun and shot at the house. That scared me, and he looked at me again, like he was surprised. I reached out to grab the gun from him, but he wouldn't give it to me at first, so I started to step back in fear. Then he sort of pushed it at me like he didn't want it near him anymore, and I dropped it before I could grasp it. He turned and walked quickly toward the house. I just stood where I was, kind of in shock, trying to decide what I was supposed to do. Follow him? Run away? Stay there? Tackle him and hold him down? I don't remember thinking about much of anything or even thinking about the person in the house. I was still completely in shock at the whole situation and trying to figure what had just happened. All those years involved in the drug trade and never had anyone been hurt, never had anyone used guns. Maybe I suspected that I was in the middle of a drug deal gone bad.
Then I heard more shots coming from the house, a lot of shots. All I could think of then was to get flat on the ground in case bullets came through the walls of the house. I still didn't know what was happening. When the shooting quit, I ran into the forest. I'm ashamed to say that I was so terrified that I didn't even think of whether G.H. was safe or not. And since I grew up in the woods (a safe place for me since childhood), that is where I felt safest. After a while, hiding in the undergrowth, I started to calm down and think a little bit, and that's when I started to worry about G.H., and yeah, the person in the house. What I did was creep as low as I could to the edge of the forest so I could see the house. I couldn't see anyone moving outside and I couldn't see a window from where I was, so I called to G.H. to see if he was still alive. He answered, much to my relief, and told me to go to the auto, which I did. Do you want to hear something weird, really silly? Maybe I was desperately in denial, but I kept thinking, hoping that a bunch of my and G.H.'s friends would run out of the house, laughing and yelling, "Surprise! Hahahaha! We scared you! It was all a prank!" I kept telling myself they would all come out any second. Instead only G.H. came out. He asked me where the shotgun was (I'd forgotten it and left it where he had dropped it), and then he went to get it. Then I thought about the person in the house, and started to see if they were alright, but G.H. stopped me and said, "It's over. You can't go in. There's nothing you can do," and I guess I was too scared to argue. He put the shotgun into the auto and told me to get in. Then he got in and I asked him, "What the fuck just happened?" By then I was starting to get angry as well as scared. He said, "Beathard, you don't want to know. But I guess you'll find out soon enough. Right now the only thing you have to know is that if the cops come to talk to you later, you'd better tell them that we were together all evening, and we went to..." and then he named some places we sometimes visited. Then his tone changed, and he became very dark and told me that I'd understand later, but the important thing, the most important thing for me to remember is that if I were to go to the police later, if I turned him in or "ratted on" (informed on, or signed statements against) him that my family would be in danger. He reminded me that if I knew where my children were, he or his other drug business associates could find them too. My brother's wife was about to have a baby any day, and G.H. reminded me that he or his contacts could get to the baby too. So, I guess I was pretty scared by then, and by that point I'd quit wondering why the drug deal had gone bad. In the back of my mind I hoped that whoever the person in the house was, was merely wounded. Quite frankly I was too afraid of G.H. to go inside and check. My brother has since asked me why I didn't take the shotgun and shoot G.H., but to be honest, the thought never crossed my mind. Remember, as far as I knew it was a drug deal gone sour, and for all I knew someone had either threatened G.H. or something.
We sat there for a minute, me still a bit in shock, G.H. obviously thinking about something. He told me I had to drive the auto, and follow him in the van that was parked at the house. Really, I had no idea how to leave the place we were. We'd driven deep into the forests of East Texas, across many changing roads, some merely trails. I didn't have any choice but to follow him. I did briefly think about abandoning him on the main road before he abandoned the van, but again, fear for my family kept me from doing that. Looking back, maybe I should have killed him. But until this day I don't think I could point a gun at someone and pull the trigger. I just can't imagine that.
He pulled the van to the side of the road after I'd followed him a few miles, got out and got into the auto. He made me move over so he could drive. After that, I really don't remember too much about the trip home. I felt like all my energy just went away, as if it all drained out of my body. What I do remember was looking at the floor, at my knees - just looking down and hoping I would wake up from what had to be a horrible, horrible dream.
He took me back to my house, and before I got out of the auto, he apologized (!) for getting me in this mess, but reminded me of the alibi I needed to remember, and reminded me of his threat to my family. My girlfriend/fiancé knew something was wrong when I came in, but I told her I just was tired (I felt drained). I didn't sleep that night.
The next day after work, the police came to my house, police from another town about 150 km away, I couldn't believe they had linked G.H. to the soured drug deal so quickly. They took me to the police station, and I remember thinking it might be a good idea to tell them what happened, ask them to protect my family and accept drug conspiracy charges. But that idea quickly faded when I arrived at the police station and met the Texas Ranger in charge of the investigation. The first words he spoke were, "OK, you son-of-a-bitch, I've got three dead bodies on my hands, and right now I need convictions worse than I need the right convictions. You better start talking and tell me what I want to hear, because if you don't, you're a dead cocksucker. You'll end up on Death Row or I'll shoot you myself." (Yes, Texas Rangers can kill people and get by with it.) At that point I knew I was in deep, deep trouble. But the truth is, I figured I'd take my chances angering the Texas Ranger (TR). I was between a rock and a hard place. If I made the TR mad, he'd only kill me. But if I made G.H. mad my children or nephew/niece might die. What would you do under those circumstances, given those choices? There was no third choice. What I did was look at the TR and say, "I don't know what you're talking about." You know, I guess I knew I was as good as dead when I said that, but my family was safe. I still think I made the right decision.
Then the TR started asking me where I had been the night before, and I told him what G.H. had told me to say for an alibi. Then he asked me if I'd gone to see G.H.'s parents. That confused me, and I asked why we would go there. He said, "To kill them." I guess the look of shock on my face told him I had no idea what he was talking about. Then he explained that that very morning G.H. had reported going to his parents' house and finding them shot to death. My heart stopped and I quit breathing, I panicked! My mind was screaming, "My god! They figured out who killed their buddies (the drug dealers) and they killed G.H.'s family in revenge. I have to warn my family!" I didn't say it, but it went through my mind in a scream. Then I was trying to "re-reason" and decide whether to tell them the truth or not. My mind was spinning, but the TR kept trying to ask me questions. Then the TR started showing me photographs of where G.H.'s parents had been killed. After a minute or two, I recognized the photos as the same place G.H. and I had been the night before! And that absolutely confused me. At first I thought that maybe I'd misunderstood, and that they knew about the drug dealer getting killed and the TR was trying to confuse me. All at once, all of a sudden it became clear. They were talking about G.H.'s family, and there were no drug dealers. It felt like getting hit in the head with a sledge hammer when I accepted that G.H. had shot his own family, and had involved me. That moment, I knew my life was over, one way or the other, and as much as I feared the TR, I feared G.H. ever more. That bastard had killed his father, step-mother and half-brother the night before, and right then I really didn't care why. All I cared about was my family, and if that bastard could kill his own family in cold blood, he was certainly capable of killing mine. I finally told them I had nothing to talk about, restated G.H.'s alibi, and made them take me home. I made a vow to myself that I'd never say anything to anyone ever about what happened. I hoped that maybe it would all just "go away".
A few days later, G.H. came to see me. I wouldn't let him in my house, but I talked to him on the veranda. He asked me if I were doing OK, as if he were really concerned. I told him that I was not OK, and asked him if he was insane or something. He apologized again for getting me involved, but said he "had to" do it. As for the killings, he said I'd never understand, even if he tried to explain. I told him I didn't know why or care to know why. The only thing I did want to know was WHY ME? Here's what he told me. He said because I was believable, that my reputation as a pacifist was well known. Because of that nobody would ever believe that I'd been involved in a murder, so if he said he'd been with me, nobody would believe he had killed his family. He apologized and said he had reasons he had killed them. He said if I didn't tell the police anything, nothing would happen to me or my family, and in a couple weeks he'd leave the town and I'd never see or hear from him again. But if I ever ratted on him, he'd lie and tell the police I had helped him kill his family, and that he'd try to have my family (my children) killed too.
He disappeared two weeks later and I hoped the matter would fade away. But the police kept after me. They bugged my phone at work, set up remote listening equipment in the house across the street from my house, followed my auto, came into my motorcycle shop to harass customers.
A month after the murders, the TR and other police arrested G.H. I didn't know at that time but he had talked to the person who had helped him plan the murders. This person (N.S.) had gotten frightened and had agreed to help the police arrest G.H. Because N.S. had helped G.H. plan the murders and knew the night the murders were to take place, he was also subject to arrest and conviction too. In other words, if N.S. had stopped G.H. I wouldn't be here today. In exchange for immunity from prosecution, N.S. agreed to help the police arrest G.H. He agreed to wear a concealed microphone and he got G.H. to talk about the murders in detail while the police secretly recorded it. After they had what amounted to a confession, they arrested G.H. They then arrested me the next morning, after beating me up pretty bad. Actually, they had planned to shoot me and plant a gun on my body (another long story), but my home town's police stopped them. They were beating me pretty bad when the attorney my mother hired came to the police station, so they had to quit.
Over the next several days, they interrogated me for hours at a stretch. And all I would tell them is, "I don't know anything." At one point they played the tape they had secretly made of G.H. and N.S. talking, and G.H. said I didn't kill anyone and that he'd threatened to kill me to guarantee my silence. They also played a tape of G.H. made after his arrest. In that tape he told them everything, and cleared my name. I asked the prosecutor why I was arrested, because G.H. cleared me from blame. The prosecutor (DA) answered me by taking the cassette from the tape machine and breaking it and dropping it into the trash can. He then told me that G.H.'s story wasn't what he "needed". He explained that what G.H. had confessed to was "only" regular murder, and not a death penalty offense. He told me that he had to find a way to convert the murders to capital murders, and he needed me to do it, so he could get G.H. the death penalty. I was going to jail for the rest of my life for having lied to the DA and TR, he told me. "Nobody lies to me or tells me 'no'," he yelled in my face. What he wanted me to do was to lie and sign a false statement saying that I had helped G.H. shoot his family, and that it was done so G.H. could collect insurance money. The insurance money made it a death penalty offense. Of course, I could not sign a false confession. Not only was it wrong for me, but it would be a mortal sin to tell a lie that leads to someone else's death. That's just like killing them yourself. I told the DA, "NO!", and he told me, "Nobody tells me 'no'. You'll die for this."
A few days later, he brought me to his office again. He told me that this was my last chance to save my life. Then he put the false confession on the table in front of me. And he explained that if I didn't "take the deal" and sign it, that G.H. would instead. He told me that G.H. was scared that I would be the one to turn into a coward and sign one against him, so he would do it first to stop me, to beat me to the punch, so to speak. I still refused to go along. Remember, what they were wanting me to sign was false, and the DA was very frank about it.
Finally he seemed to be tired of making it into a game, and this is what he said; "Look, Beathard, I have three dead bodies, three citizens from my county. The people here are going to demand that somebody pay with their life. I'd rather that be G.H. than you because I feel like there is hope for you. The thing is, your buddy killed three people, his own family, and I don't care what the law books say, he deserves to die for it. And even that's not enough. Hell, I'd go for three death sentences if I had three people arrested. But I don't. All I got is you and G.H. So it looks like you're going to have to help your buddy pay his debt, but you don't have to die too. You are going to prison for the rest of your life, though. Like I told you, nobody tells me 'no' and lies to me, not in my county. You can sit there and talk about what really happened all day, but you're wasting your time. Right now the only thing that matters ain't the truth, It's what I tell the jury. Because I'm telling you, Beathard, these people in this county, the ones who will be on your jury, they are backward people, and they'd just as soon hang you for being a goddam communist and druggie, and they won't give a damn about proof at your trial. These people voted for me, and they'll vote the way I tell them to in a trial. They'll believe what I tell them to believe. If you think about it, you'll know I'm telling you the truth. Now, before you tell me 'no' again, here is one more thing you need to know. I have G.H. sitting in the next room across the hall. If you don't take the deal and sign this right now, I'm going to take the paper and the deal over to him. And he'll sign it. You know why? Because if he doesn't, I'm going to arrest his wife as a party to his murder. I can't convict her, but she'll spend the next six months in jail. That guarantees the end of her nurse's training. And while she's in jail, their son has to go somewhere. After six months in foster care, no kid comes out. The authorities sure won't let him go back to his mother, not after his father was charged with murder and his mother was investigated for murder. Do you know G.H.'s girlfriend? (G.H. had a mistress.) Did you know she's on parole from prison for a big heroin case? Well, all we have to do is question her and she goes back to prison for eight years. G.H.'s wife will go to jail for six months, lose her career and lose their son. G.H.'s son will never see his family again, and his girlfriend will go back to prison for a long time. That's what G.H. is facing if he refuses my deal. So tell me, Beathard. Who do you think he's going to sacrifice? The three people he loves most in the world? Or his good buddy Beathard? And Beathard, you know I'll do every damn bit of it if I say I will, and G.H. knows it too. So here you go. Save yourself. You don't owe G.H. a damn thing."
I remember that speech well. Who wouldn't? I really don't want to tell you the exact words I used, but I told him 'no'. The DA told me, "You just signed your own death warrant," and picked up the fake confession and walked across the hall. About fifteen minutes later he came back, and laid the signed paper before me and said, "Looks like your buddy G.H. signed your death sentence too." And I knew it was true, and I couldn't do a thing about it.
Although I had been treated badly since my arrest, my treatment was much worse after that. G.H., on the other hand was treated very well. They let his wife and girlfriend bring him food from home and from restaurants. When they didn't come to bring him food, his wife and girlfriend left money with the police and they would bring him food. He had a tape player and radio, and a television in his cell. He also had private visits in his cell with his wife sometimes and his girlfriend other times. Of course, all these privileges were contingent on his agreement to testify at my trial. As for me, I had nothing, sometimes not even light. I learned the hard way that days in total darkness can make you hallucinate. I ate frozen dinners, sometimes still cold. And some days I didn't get to eat at all. Some evenings, I would sit in the dark, hungry and I could smell the pizza they'd brought G.H. to eat and hear his television, and I wanted to cry, regretting that my own sense of honor had put me in that position.
After my trial started, they started to feed me every day, breakfast, lunch AND supper. And they let my fiancé bring me a Sony Walkman to listen to. It felt like heaven, after the hunger, silence and darkness. Plus I got to talk to my fiancé, step-daughter and parents every day in the courtroom.
All through my trial I kept telling my lawyer about G.H., about him for testifying against me, but my lawyer never believed me. He kept saying, "James, he'd be crazy to do that. It would be suicide for him." My lawyer didn't believe it until they brought G.H. into the courtroom and put him on the stand. After swearing an oath to tell the truth, G.H. then proceeded to lie. According to the story he told, he and I had planned the murder weeks in advance. He said I talked him into killing his family so he could get insurance money and so I "could see what it felt like to kill someone." He said he had killed his father, and stayed outside, while I went in and killed the mother and brother. We tried to counter that by making the judge play the tape that the police had made secretly of G.H. talking about the murders with the man who planned them. When he was asked why he said I didn't kill anyone when he was talking on the tape, but said in the trial that I did, he said, "I lied on the tape, but I'm telling the truth now." And he also said that he had not been offered a deal in exchange for his testimony. (The DA, when he offered me the deal, had said that if I agreed to testify against G.H., I had to swear that there was no deal so my testimony wouldn't appear coerced. He said I had to trust him to keep his word. I'm sure the DA told G.H. the same thing.) I guess I knew I was as good as dead at that point, and betrayed by someone I had thought of as a friend at one time. Of course, I was found guilty. After the trial some of the jurors said that they didn't believe G.H., but had convicted me anyway because my involvement in the drug business (all that was exposed at the trial). My political affiliations also hurt me, they said. Nobody admitted it, but my Catholicism probably turned the jurors against me. They people from that area are not only, as the DA said, backward, but they are protestant and fierily anti-catholic.
I was found guilty in the morning, assessed the death penalty after lunch, and I ate supper here an Death Row that same afternoon.
Four months later, G.H. went to trial. At his trial, the DA swore that G.H. had lied at my trial (!!!), BUT he said that I had shot the father and that G.H. had killed the mother and brother. (I suspect that he switched roles because the father, it turned out, was a very cruel, violent man, and his murder would garner less sympathy than the murder of the woman and boy.) Much to everyone's surprise, G.H. got a death sentence too. When G.H. asked about the deal they had made, the DA was heard to remark, "Deal? What deal? You swore under oath at Beathard's trial that there was no deal." As G.H. left the courtroom that day, all the TV and newspaper reporters were waiting to talk to him. Literally, as he was leaving the courtroom from his own trial he told the reporters that he had lied at my trial, that the DA had promised a deal to get him to lie, and had then reneged on the deal. That made it into a lot of newspapers. After he arrived on Death Row, G.H. wrote to me to apologize for what he had done. He also got the address of my attorney, and the addresses for the judge (we had different judges) and the Texas Attorney General, and a list of reporters. He wrote them all and explained that he had lied at my trial, that I was innocent and had nothing to do with the murders. That recantation made front page news in the major papers in the state. All that led to a court hearing, at which G.H. again told the truth and tried to clear my name. At that hearing the DA admitted that G.H. had lied at my trial, but he argued that the lie was irrelevant because he still believed me to be guilty of something, if not the crime I had been convicted for. We countered that the DA was wrong, that I hadn't killed anyone, BUT, even if the DA were right, I should still get a new trial because it is only right that someone be convicted on the truth, not on testimony that everybody agreed to be false. The DA argued that if someone is guilty, but the DA can't win a conviction with the evidence he has, it is OK to win a conviction with false evidence and lies. The judge didn't agree. But what the judge did say was that there was a law called the "30 day rule". The "30 day rule" says that someone convicted of a crime has only 30 days after a conviction to submit new evidence. After that 30 day deadline, the new evidence can't be admitted or considered. Because G.H. told the truth at the end of his trial, four months after the end of mine, his recantation was irrelevant, and the court was barred from considering it. In other words, G.H.'s recantation doesn't exist for purposes of law. Technically, no court can acknowledge the recantation. For what it's worth, the state legislature later rescinded the 30 day rule, or rather they modified it, however when they did so, they specifically made the changes non-retroactive. Which means that because I had already had a hearing, I couldn't ask for another hearing to take advantage of the modified 30 day rule.
My latest and last filing was with the United States Supreme Court. Our claim was that it was fundamentally unfair for a prosecutor to change legal theories at will, and that a prosecutor should be barred from deliberately using false testimony. But the Supreme Court refused to even examine my claim before refusing to hear my case. And so, here I am now, waiting to die in a couple weeks.
Huntsville, November 14, 1999
James Lee Beathard was executed by the state of Texas on December 9, 1999 - although there have been serious doubts concerning his guilt. The protest of more than 200 people didn't impress Governor Bush or the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in any way.
During a hearing concerning a Death Penalty Moratorium in Texas, James Beathard explicit was named as one who was executed although being innocent.
Report about the hearing (March 2001)
This drawing ("Collage") CLIFF BOGGESS did in 1997 for his friend James. He should have received it after being released from prison. Unfortunately this delivery never will happen, and the drawing probably will stay in England.
This moving mail I received in December 2000 from Wendy: "I knew James Beathard personally. The girlfriend/fiancé he refers to was my best friend in school. James was a unique person and best described as a true teddy bear at heart, actually resembling a teddy bear with his thick beard. He could talk so far over my head I would have to ask him to explain what he had just said numerous times. I went motorcycle riding with him many times and the irony of listening to "Freebird" sitting behind him with outstretched arms is overwhelming."
An extensive interview with James Beathard about his case, his life on Death Row, and the Death Penalty in general is to be found here under the title "Cruel and Unusual Punishment".
Some handwriting from James Beathard
James Beathard wrote some lines into the notebook of James R. Meanes. James Meanes was executed in December 1998. A friend of him published the notebook in the internet.