UPDATE: Court Order Restores Scheduled Thursday Execution
Updated Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 4:47 p.m. CDT
HOUSTON (AP) -- The execution of a Texas prisoner convicted of a robbery-abduction 10 years ago that left an East Texas man dead was back on schedule for Thursday in Huntsville after a federal appeals court overturned an order that halted the punishment.
Beunka Adams won a reprieve Monday from a federal district judge in Texarkana, but the Texas attorney general's office challenged the ruling as improper, saying the judge had no jurisdiction and the appeal itself was improper. Adams' attorneys contended he had deficient legal help at his trial and in early stages of his appeals.
A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit agreed with the state Wednesday and overturned Adams' reprieve.
Adams' lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Attorney Thomas Scott Smith said an additional appeal would go to the high court Thursday.
Adams and a companion, Richard Cobb, both were sent to death row for the slaying of Kenneth Vandever, 37. He and two women were abducted from a convenience store. Vandever was fatally shot. The women also were shot, and one of them was raped.
Vandever was described as a mentally challenged man who frequented the store in Rusk. The shootings occurred about 10 miles away from the store, just outside Alto in Cherokee County.
The two women survived. One of them recognized Adams when he removed a mask during the abduction and her information helped lead to the pair's arrest. Cobb was convicted and condemned in a separate trial eight months before Adams. He does not yet have an execution date.
Adams was 19 at the time of the holdup and shootings. Cobb was 18. Evidence showed it was the latest in a string of robberies involving the two within days.
Testimony showed Adams and Cobb met as 9th graders at a boot camp and began committing burglaries together, then switched to more lucrative armed robberies.
On the night of Sept. 2, 2002, they donned masks and were armed with a shotgun when they walked into the store and demanded money, then the key to a car belonging to one of the female clerks.
According to testimony, Adams gave the orders during the holdup and initiated the abductions. One of the three victims said she thought she knew Adams so he slipped off his mask. As they arrived at a remote area, he demanded Vandever and one of the women get into the trunk of the car and raped the other woman. Testimony also showed he forced all three to kneel as they were shot. One of the women said he grabbed her by her hair and kicked her to find out if she was still alive.
"She played dead," Elmer Beckworth, the Cherokee County district attorney who prosecuted Adams and Cobb, recalled last week. "If she cried out, they would have killed all three of them."
Cobb would say later that Adams handed him the shotgun and told him to kill Vandever, saying he "just closed my eyes and pulled the trigger."
Vandever was fatally wounded. The women were kicked and shot again. Cobb and Adams believed both women were dead and fled. One of the women, however, was able to get up and run to a house to summon help.
Adams and Cobb were arrested several hours later in Jacksonville.
Adams was tried for capital murder under the Texas law of parties, which makes an accomplice equally culpable as the actual killer. A fellow inmate in the Cherokee County Jail testified Adams bragged to him that he did the shootings, but Beckworth said evidence from Cobb showed Cobb was the gunman. Their shotgun never was recovered, but DNA evidence, along with the victims' testimony, tied Adams to the sexual assault.
"I think there were victims on both sides," Sten Langsjoen, one of Adams' trial lawyers, said. "It was a terrible event and I think there's no winners in that."
The defense strategy was to show Cobb as "the motivating influence and that Beunka was kind of a tag-along ... the one who got roped into it in a fashion," he said.
Adams declined to speak from death row with reporters as his execution date neared.
Beckworth said Vandever had suffered a brain injury in a traffic accident and was known around Rusk for riding his bicycle and keeping people company at the convenience store. He was in an eating area separate from the clerks and apparently wasn't spotted by the robbers until he got up to leave.
"If he had hid or stayed still, they may not have seen him," Beckworth said.
Adams was among at least six Texas inmates with execution dates in the coming months and would be the fifth put to death this year. Another is set for next week.
RUSK -- A victim's family is voicing concerns about the criminal justice system after a 29-year-old convict was granted a stay of execution from a federal judge.
Beunka Adams was set to die by lethal injection Thursday evening in Huntsville for the September 2002 slaying of 37-year-old Kenneth Vandever outside Rusk. Vandever and two women were abducted during a convenience store robbery, one of the women was raped, and all three were shot. The women survived. Richard Aaron Cobb, who also was convicted for his involvement, was sentenced to death, but his execution date was not set as of Tuesday.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Michael Schneider in Texarkana ruled that Adams' execution should be delayed until the courts review allegations that Adams had poor legal help in the early stages of his appeals. The Texas Attorney General's Office then followed up with a motion to vacate Adams' stay of execution, claiming that the lower court "improperly granted the motion for stay without granting the motion for relief from judgment."
In Adams' reply filed Tuesday, he contends that the district court did have jurisdiction to enter a stay of execution and did not abuse its discretion in doing so.
Tom Kelley, with the Texas Attorney General's Office, said the decision now sits with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, so attorneys are waiting for the court to rule.
As attorneys wait, family members of Nikki Ansley, who was raped by Adams and shot that night in 2002, are hoping to raise awareness for victims by talking about their story.
"I'm a mom. I'm outraged over it all. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. And you talk about forgiveness -- that's between me and God," Nikki Ansley's mother, Melinda Ansley, told media Tuesday afternoon.
"We're not the only people this is being done to. Someone needs to stop something in our systems."
That's why the family decided to talk about it publicly.
Nikki Ansley's brother, Troy Ansley, said he's spent almost 10 years as a peace officer dealing with victims, but Monday was the first time he's questioned himself.
"I push hard. You break the law, and I'm there to do everything I can to make sure there's going to be justice, but ...why does the victim get put on the back burner?" he said.
He also questioned why the stay of execution was happening years later, after the case already has gone through the state court of appeals, as well as the Texas Supreme Court, and was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Something's got to change," he said, adding that he believes it's not likely that his group of attorneys made a mistake.
Nikki Ansley said she felt shocked upon hearing Monday's news.
She said she's heard various comments from people, such as that the convict is someone's loved one, but asked, "What about the victim?"
"Kenneth (Vandever) didn't get to say goodbye ... (but Adams) got six or seven second chances," she said.
Still, Melinda Ansley acknowledged that Adams' death won't change what happened in 2002.
"Nikki without a shadow of a doubt knows he shot her, he raped her, he beat her, he lifted her by the pony tail, looked into her eyes. Her eyes were wide open. She was looking in his face, and he said 'She's dead'... and dropped her, stepped across her," she said. "She remembers that."
Nikki Ansley called the experience, which left her with physical pain that she still endures, "pure hell" but said she stays strong for her two children.
"I have to make it through for my two kids. I have to be there for them, and I have to watch out for them. If I stay sad and let it get to me like that, then I've let him get the best of me," she said.
She said she also believes the Lord knows who to place in certain situations, and that maybe he knew it would bring her to the point she's at now and hopefully change things.
She's also looking for remorse from Adams, something she said she didn't see when his execution date was set.
"For him to have remorse or show something, I don't know how that's going to feel, but I'm sure it's going to touch (her) a certain way. It's going to make things a little better I'm hoping," she said.
Moving forward, Melinda Ansley said she won't stop her efforts and is seeking any advice from attorneys or other law experts.
"I don't want to stop. I'm from a little small town. All I've ever known to be is mom, but now I want to change something. Something needs to change within our system..." she said.
"My husband and I still ask ourselves 'Did it really happen?' I can only imagine other parents that actually have to bury their children. I didn't have to bury mine, but she did lose a piece of Nikki."
Troy Ansley said he sees advocating for victims as a way to pay the Lord back for keeping his sister alive, and that he will stand with his family.
"This is how we've made it the past nine almost 10 years, and this is how we'll continue to make it all together," he said.
As for Vandever's family, Cherokee County District Attorney Elmer Beckworth said they would like to see closure, justice done and the execution to occur.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Members of the Ansley family address media Tuesday afternoon in regard to Beunka Adams, a convict who was granted a stay of execution. From left to right are, Melinda Ansley, Nikki Ansley, Troy Ansley and Brandie Ansley. (Staff Photo By Kelly Gooch)