Eric Charles Nenno, 47, was executed by lethal injection on 28 October 2008 in Huntsville, Texas for the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl.
On 23 March 1995, Buddy Benton was celebrating his birthday at a friend's house in Hockley. Benton, a guitarist, was playing with his band, while his daughter, Nicole, played in the front yard. Nenno, then 33, lived two houses away. He saw Nicole and approached her. Nenno told the girl he was going back to his house to get a guitar to play with the band, and asked her to go with him. She did. Once they were inside Nenno's home, he attempted to rape her. When Nicole cried and resisted, he strangled her to death. He then raped her. He hid her nude body in his attic and stuffed her clothing in a filing cabinet. He continued to have sex with Nicole's body repeatedly over the next two days.
Neighbors searched the neighborhood for Nicole and for clues about her disappearance. The police set up a command post in the neighborhood and went door to door looking for information. After two days, a neighbor advised the police that Nenno had recently been accused of fondling a 10-year-old girl. Police went to Nenno, who agreed to go down to their command post to be questioned. When police asked him what he thought happened to the girl, he answered that she was probably abducted, raped, and murdered. When asked who he thought might have done it, he replied, "Someone like me." Nenno then consented to a polygraph test. After the test was finished, the officer administering the test did not speak. Breaking the silence, Nenno blurted out, "I flunked it, didn't I." He then confessed to killing Nicole, and led police to her body in his attic. In addition to the girl's clothing, investigators found her hairs on his carpet. Nenno's DNA was found beneath her fingernails. An examination showed that the victim was sexually assaulted both before and after her death.
Nenno had no prior criminal record, but testimony at his punishment hearing indicated he had a history of pedophilia. The 10-year-old girl who had previously accused Nenno testified about that incident. She said that Nenno offered to repair her broken bicycle. After fixing it, he grabbed her and pulled down her panties. Nenno admitted to masturbating while watching children playing in the neighborhood park, and also admitted to a recurring fantasy of having sex with his ex-girlfriend's 10-year-old daughter.
A jury convicted Nenno of capital murder in January 1996 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in June 1998. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
Four days after Nenno was convicted, Buddy Benton filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Nenno and his relatives who owned the house where Nenno lived. The lawsuit alleged that Nenno's relatives knew or should have known about his deviant tendencies and should not have allowed him to live in a neighborhood with children. An investigation showed that Nenno's sister asked him to live in their house for two years while she and her husband, who was in the U.S. Navy, lived overseas. Police determined that the couple had no knowledge that Nenno was a child molester. Benton dropped the lawsuit in August 1996.
In an interview from death row the week before his execution, Nenno said that at the time of the killing, he was addicted to pornography and had been drinking. He also said, though, that nothing could excuse, his crime. "I can't apologize enough," he said.
Nenno's lawyers did not file any late appeals on his behalf, but Nenno did write an appeal for clemency to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. "During the years that I have been imprisoned, I have often thought about the devastating grief and pain I caused Nicole Benton, her family, and friends," he wrote. "There is no excuse or rationale which would be sufficient to justify this heinous act of violence perpetrated by me." The board declined Nenno's petition.
Nenno did not look at Buddy Benton or the other members of the victim's family who attended his execution. When asked if he wanted to make a last statement, he replied, "No, warden." The lethal injection was then started. He was pronounced dead at 6:20 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 29 October 2008.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's Office, Associated Press, "The Monstrous Crimes of Eric Charles Nenno" by Robert A. Waters, court documents.