Granville Riddle, 33, was executed by lethal injection on 30 January 2003 in Huntsville, Texas for murdering a man during a home burglary.
On 9 October 1988, Riddle, then 19, and Brad Bybee, 18, drove to the Amarillo home of Ronnie Bennett, 39. Riddle pried the screen off the kitchen window with a tire iron and entered the house. Riddle then beat Bennett to death with the tire tool, striking him 15 times. He then took Bennett's wallet and stole his pickup truck.
The pickup was found burned the next day in a ravine outside of Borger. Bybee reported the crime to police, and Riddle was arrested five days after the murder.
In his initial statement to police, Riddle stated that he entered the home through a screen window, which he pried open with the tire iron. He said that Bennett confronted him in anger and that he struck Bennett with the tire iron in self defense. When Bennett fought back, Riddle kept beating him on the head until he died.
At age 19, Riddle already had an extensive criminal history involving at least six burglaries, as well as shoplifting, criminal trespass, auto theft, probation violations, and drug possession. He served 2 months of a 7-year sentence for burglary before receiving parole in June 1988. (At the time, early release was common in Texas due to strict prison population caps imposed by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice.)
While awaiting trial, Riddle escaped from jail. He eluded an extensive manhunt for three days before being captured on a highway 20 miles north of Amarillo. At the time of his capture, he had in his possession a .22-caliber rifle and other items which he had stolen from a mobile home during his flight. Riddle unsuccessfully attempted two more escapes while in jail. He also was involved in at least three fights with other inmates.
At his trial, Riddle claimed that the victim was a close friend and that he and Bybee visited his house to see if he wanted to go out drinking. He said he had Bennett's permission to enter the home, but he took a tire iron with him in case he needed to pry a window open to get inside. Riddle also claimed that he did not have to enter through the window because he found a sliding door unlocked. He said that once inside the home, Bennett, who was drunk, made homosexual advances toward him and began trying to molest him. He said that he hit Bennett in the knee in an attempt to drive him off, and only hit him on the head when he would not back down. He testified that made the home look burglarized in an attempt to conceal what really happened.
The prosecution disputed Riddle's self-defense claim by presenting evidence that Bennett's blood alcohol level was .29, which would have rendered him unconscious. Ralph Erdmann, a pathologist testifying as an expert witness for the prosecution, stated that Bennett was struck first in the head, not the knee, as Riddle claimed.
Brad Bybee testified that Riddle called him into the home, pointed to a few items on the floor, and told him that those items were theirs to keep. He also testified that he watched as Riddle swung the blunt end of the lug wrench into Bennett's head one final time, leaving it embedded in the victim's skull. Bybee testified that it was at this point that he left.
A jury convicted Riddle in November 1989 of capital murder and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in June 1994. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
In 1992, Dr. Ralph Erdmann was convicted of falsifying autopsy reports in other cases. He received a 13-year prison sentence and was released in 1997. In his last round of appeals, Riddle claimed that the state's case was flawed because Erdmann, one of their key witnesses at his trial, had been discredited. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected this claim by a 6-3 vote the day before his execution.
While on death row, Riddle married Mallory Kessler, a Swiss death-penalty opponent who he met as a penpal. Kessler attended the execution. Riddle began his last statement by speaking to her in French. Switching to English, he spoke lovingly to his family. He then stated, "I have no grudges against anyone, or any of the things that have gone wrong. I would like to say to the world, I have always been a nice person. I have never been mean-hearted or cruel. I wish everybody well." Telling Kessler one more time, "Je t'aime," he gasped and let out a long breath as the drugs began to take effect. He was pronounced dead at 6:17 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 1 February 2003.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's Office, Associated Press, Huntsville Item.