James Paul Collier, 55, was executed by lethal injection on 11 December 2002 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of two people.
In March 1995, Collier's 13-year-old daughter, Tina, was spending spring break with her former stepfather, Philip Hoepfner. Hoepfner lived in Witchita Falls in a house with Tim Reed, 32. On 14 March, Collier, then 48, went to the home armed with a rifle. He shot Reed's mother, Gwendolyn Joy Reed, 51, three times through a glass door, killing her. He then entered the home and chased down Tim Reed. After the first shot, Tim yelled, "It's Jimmy!" Collier shot him three times, killing him. Hoepfner fled and escaped harm. Reports did not indicate whether Tina was present.
Collier was apprehended nine days later in New Mexico, after he was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. He was taken back to Texas, where he confessed. In his confession, he admitted shooting the Reeds. He stated that he went to the home because he was angry at his daughter and ex-wife because they refused to have contact with him. He said that he believed Hoepfner had sexually abused his daughter. There was no evidence of this, however. Collier did not know the Reeds.
At his trial, authorities claimed that Collier went to the home to kidnap Tina.
When Collier asked for permission to represent himself, his court-appointed lawyer, John Curry, tried to dissuade him, as did prosecutors and the judge. Nevertheless, Collier insisted, and after he was deemed mentally competent, his request was granted.
"It was horrible," Curry recalled in an interview. "He couldn't have done anything more to get himself on death row than he did, short of threatening the judge and jury." For example, Curry said that the jury watched Collier's daughter, Tina, recoil in the witness chair as he approached her to question her.
A psychologist testified that Collier's IQ was somewhere in the range of 78 to 91. The threshold for mental retardation is generally considered to be 70.
Collier had a previous conviction for robbery, two assault convictions, and two convictions for selling narcotics. He received a 5-year sentence for the robbery conviction and served 2½ years in prison from October 1971 to March 1974. In January 1995, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated, and the arresting officer found an illegal sawed-off shotgun in his vehicle.
One of Collier's prior assault victims testified that when he was a teenager working at a Sonic restaurant, Collier beat him violently when he found out there was no salt in his bag. According to the district attorney, Collier's own mother took out a restraining order against him in 1987.
A jury convicted Collier of capital murder in April 1996 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence in December 1997. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
In a death row interview, Collier said that he decided to defend himself when his lawyer told him that the best he could hope for was a life sentence. "I didn't know nothing about law, except I watched 'Perry Mason' with the kids. That was my whole schooling as far as courtroom tactics," he said. Collier described himself as mentally ill, a "child in a man's body." "Back when I was young, I got into a lot of trouble because I had all those disorders," he said. "Most of my trouble was caused by other people, not something I did." Of his prior convictions, he said, "The DA made it look like I was some kind of notorious criminal, but most of that stuff wasn't nothing but minor stuff."
In a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant Collier a stay of execution. The dissenters were Justice John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
For his final meal, Collier requested a T-bone steak, 30 jumbo shrimp with cocktail sauce, a baked potato, french fries, a chocolate malt, a gallon of vanilla ice cream and three cans of Big Red. He was served fried fish, chicken fried steak, a baked potato, and ice cream.
There were no witnesses to Collier's execution, other than reporters, the warden, and the chaplain. "The only thing I want to say is that I appreciate the hospitality you guys have shown me and the respect," Collier said in his last statement. "The last meal was really good. That's about it." The lethal dose was begun. Collier was pronounced dead at 6:15 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 12 December 2002.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, Associated Press, Huntsville Item.