Mother asks state to spare son's killer

May 15, 2002 at 1:21 PM
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AUSTIN, Texas, May 15 (UPI) -- Texas pardon and parole officials early next week are to consider the unusual request of a mother who wants them to spare the life of her son's killer.

Johnny Martinez, 29, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Wednesday for killing Clay Peterson during a 1993 convenience store robbery in Corpus Christi. The 20-year-old college student was stabbed eight times in the neck, back and shoulders.

In a rarely seen move, Lana K. Norris, the mother of Peterson, has written the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asking that Martinez's death sentence be commuted to life in prison.

"There is no doubt in my mind, that to execute Mr. Martinez would be a double crime against society," she wrote in the May 7 letter obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Norris said she has struggled emotionally with the loss of her only son and the fact that Martinez faces the death penalty. She said it led her to depression and even considering suicide at one time during the nearly nine years since the crime.

Norris, who said she believes in the death penalty, met with Martinez for four hours at a state prison in an unusual mediation session allowed by Texas law. She now believes the condemned man has repented and can help other inmates if his life is spared.

"Here is a young man that has truly repented and regrets his actions of July 15, 1993," she wrote. "If his sentence is commuted to a life sentence he will be 54 before his 1st possible chance of parole. During that time, he could be a positive influence on other inmates that he comes in contact with. He may be able to help them understand how to change their life and direction for the better."

Nueces County District Attorney Oscar Valdez, whose office prosecuted Martinez, said Wednesday he opposed commutation before the Norris letter and it has not changed his mind because of the viciousness of the crime.

"We feel in this case we have reason to believe that he will pose a danger to society if he is released," he said.

To receive the death penalty in Texas, a jury must determine that the offender is a continuing threat to society.

The murder of Peterson was captured on videotape at the Corpus Christi store and it depicts vividly the viciousness of the crime, Valdez said.

"There is a point during the commission of the offense where the defendant stops and thinks, and you can almost see him thinking about whether or not to do it, and then he goes ahead and stabs him several times in the throat," he said.

The board of pardons and paroles will take up the clemency request on Monday or Tuesday, considering the Norris letter along with the offender's prison record and other information. If they recommend commutation, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, must approve the board's decision.

Clemency requests are rarely granted for death row inmates in Texas. The last was in 1998 when then Gov. George W. Bush commuted the sentence of Henry Lee Lucas to life in prison because of doubts about one of the murder cases that sent him to death row.

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