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A jury convicted Kunkle of capital murder in February 1985 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in June 1986. Because Kunkle was convicted before a 1996 federal law that sets limits on federal appeals for criminal defendants was passed, his lawyers were able to file numerous appeals for decades. All of them were denied, although he did receive several stays of execution during his twenty years on death row.
Lora Lee Zaiontz was convicted of capital murder and received a life sentence. Information regarding her current status was unavailable for this report. Aaron Allen Adkins and Jerry Russell Stanley were convicted of murder and received 30 year sentences. Stanley served 6 years of his sentence, then was paroled in July 1990. Adkins was paroled in February 1991. (At the time, early release was common in Texas due to strict prison population caps imposed by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice.) Both are still on parole as of this writing. Stanley is scheduled to be discharged in 2014. Adkins is scheduled for discharge in 2017.
In a 1996 interview from death row, Kunkle said that his life had been transformed, thanks to prison ministers. "I get along better with others, which I had a problem with in the past. ... I do think about my victim every day."
As a previous execution date approached in July 2004, Kunkle's lawyers files appeals claiming that the jury should have been instructed to consider Kunkle's history of drug and alcohol abuse and his "troubled and turbulent home environment." The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution, but later declined to hear the case and rescinded the stay.
In a 2004 death-row interview, Kunkle said that he didn't believe he was given a fair trial, because the jury did not get a chance to hear about his troubled childhood and abusive parents. He called his crime a "juvenile mistake made with juvenile peer pressure." Kunkle said that when his execution comes, "I'm hoping that I will be forgiven."
Stephen Horton's daughter and son-in-law came to Huntsville to witness the execution. "I would like to ask you to forgive me," Kunkle told them as he lay on the gurney. "I made a mistake, and I am sorry for what I did. All I can do is ask you to forgive me." He then recited the Lord's Prayer. As the lethal injection was being administered, Kunkle repeatedly mouthed "I love you" to his friends and relatives. He was pronounced dead at 8:12 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 26 January 2005. Minor editing corrections made on 29 September 2014 and 31 August 2015.
Sources: Texas Attorney General's office, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Associated Press, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, San Antonio Express-News.