A quarter-century since the bullet-riddled body of a furniture salesman was found by a fisherman near Lake Houston, the man condemned for the slaying was poised for a trip Tuesday evening to the Texas death chamber.
Donald Miller was 19 when he and two accomplices were arrested for the robbery and execution-style shootings of Michael Mozingo, 29, and Kenneth Whitt, 19. Now at age 44, Miller is one of the longest-serving of Texas' nearly 400 death row inmates.
"Very disappointing," said Bert Graham, one of the Harris County prosecutors who in 1982 tried Miller for capital murder for Mozingo's killing. "It's 25 years he's been living and Mr. Mozingo has been gone for 25 years and his family hasn't had the opportunity to share that 25 years with him."
Mozingo and Whitt, who prosecutors said were from North Carolina, traveled the country selling furniture out of the back of their 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck. Mozingo, the driver, was carrying at least $5,000 in cash. The furniture in their truck was valued at some $40,000.
Miller would be the sixth condemned Texas prisoner put to death this year and the third this month in America's busiest capital punishment state. Five more are set to die in March, including two next week.
The U.S. Supreme Court in October refused to review Miller's case. On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed a late appeal to the state courts that contended prosecutors suppressed evidence and the trial judge made erroneous rulings on defense requests to see some evidence.
"He's probably going to be executed," said lawyer James Rytting, who had described the appeal as a longshot. No additional appeals were planned, he said.
Miller declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his scheduled execution. In a letter to the Houston Chronicle, however, Miller said he didn't "mean to imply I'm a saint."
"I'm connected to this case just not to the degree portrayed at trial," he wrote. "A tale I'll continue to hold close as a fool becomes a skeleton in the family closet!"
"He's intelligent and artistic and by all accounts a very amiable person completely changed from the 19-year-old who was charged with a capital offense," Rytting said.
Court records show Miller and companions Danny Woods and Eddie Segura lured the furniture salesmen to Segura's house for a delivery. When the pair arrived, they were confronted by Miller, armed with a handgun, and Woods, who pulled out a shotgun.
The two men were robbed, gagged and bound with electrical tape, then were taken to an area near Lake Houston in northeast Harris County where they were ordered to walk toward a fence and told they wouldn't be harmed. As they walked away, Miller and Woods opened fire.
"It was just a cold killing," Graham recalled.
Miller, who was tried only for Mozingo's slaying, told authorities he was involved in the robbery but did not shoot anyone. He was arrested in Channelview, east of Houston, about two weeks after the shootings.
Segura pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery charges, was sentenced to two 25-year prison terms and was the key prosecution witness against Miller. He was released in October under mandatory supervision, a form of probation. Woods pleaded guilty to murder, received two life terms but did not testify. His next parole eligibility is April 2008.
A federal judge threw out Miller's death sentence in 2004, ruling prosecutors improperly withheld evidence. But in 2005, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to reverse the lower court ruling, the AP reports.
In 1980 Miller pleaded guilty to stealing a truck and was placed on probation, then pleaded guilty to stealing a car seven months later, revoking his probation. Records show after his release, he was involved in an armed robbery of illegal drugs and was planning another robbery when the killings occurred.
Miller's case predated changes in appeals procedures intended to move death penalty cases through the courts faster. His conviction initially was upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1987. A second round of state appeals wasn't complete until 1998, sending his case into the federal courts.
Scheduled to die after Miller is Robert "Beaver" Perez, 48, identified as a general in the Mexican Mafia prison gang. Perez faces execution March 6 for the slayings of two men during a power struggle within the gang in 1994.