Texas Execution Information Center

Execution Report: Dennis Dowthitt

Dennis Dowthitt
Dennis Dowthitt
Executed on 8 March 2001

Dennis Thurl Dowthitt, 55, was executed by lethal injection on 7 March in Huntsville, Texas for the sexual assault and murder of a 16-year-old girl.

In June 1990, the bodies of two girls were found along a pipeline in a community north of Houston. Grace Purnhagen, 16, had her throat slashed and had been sexually assaulted. Her sister, Tiffany Purnhagen, 9, had been strangled, with a rope found around her neck.

The police received a tip that Delton Dowthitt, 16, Grace's former boyfriend, had told a friend about the crime. Four days after the girls' bodies were discovered, Delton Dowthitt was arrested in Louisiana. He originally confessed to killing both girls. Later, he recanted, saying that he killed Tiffany at the order of his father, Dennis Dowthitt, then 44. He said Dennis actually killed Grace. Delton led police to the place where he said his father had disposed of the knife. Police also found a bloody bottle and rope at Dennis Dowthitt's used car business.

At his trial, Dennis testified that he and his son met the sisters at a bowling alley the night of the killings and drove them to a wooded area nearby. Delton testified that he and "Gracie" were making out in the bed of the pickup while his father sat in the cab with Tiffany. He said that Tiffany suddenly got out and ran to the rear of the truck, terrified, and that he saw his father holding a knife. Saying he had made a mistake, his father told him, "Man, we've got to kill them." He threw Grace to the ground and slashed her throat, then attempted to rape her. He yelled twice at Delton, "do it," meaning he wanted him to kill Tiffany. Delton strangled Tiffany with his hands, then tied a rope around her neck. Delton testified that his father was unable to rape Gracie, so he sexually assaulted her with a beer bottle and ordered him to rape her, but he refused. Dennis then cut her throat again.

Dennis initially said that he knew nothing about the killings, but later admitted to being at the scene of the crime. His fingerprint was found on a beer bottle covered with Grace Purnhagen's blood. Two of Dowthitt's daughters testified how they had been assaulted with objects or molested by their father for years, including one occurrence 4 days before the murders. Nevertheless, Dennis Dowthitt contended that his son committed both murders.

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