Thursday, October 06, 2005

"Rap Murder" Killer Set to Die

Ronald Ray Howard will be executed tonight in Huntsville for the murder of Texas state trooper Bill Davidson.

On April 11, 1992, 18-year-old Howard shot and killed Davidson after being pulled over in a stolen vehicle for a broken headlight on U.S. Highway 59 outside Edna. The trial took place Austin, where a Travis County jury found Howard guilty of capital murder. I covered the punishment phase of this trial for Billboard during the summer of 1993.

Just before the shooting, Howard told a grand jury he was listening to "Soulja's Story" from Tupac Shakur's 1991 debut, 2Pacalypse Now. Defense attorney Allen Tanner seized on gangsta rap as a mitigating factor in hopes of saving Howard from death row.

Meanwhile, Davidson’s widow filed a product liability suit against Tupac Shakur, Interscope and Time Warner claiming the anti-police sentiments on 2Pacalypse Now contributed to her husband’s death. During the punishment phase of the trial in July 1993, Tanner introduced several rap songs as evidence, and the Travis County Courthouse halls echoed with N.W.A.’s "Fuck tha Police" and the Geto Boys’ "City Under Siege."

It was surreal to hear those songs in that context, but it didn't help Howard's case in the least. After six days of deliberation, the jury sentenced Howard to death by lethal injection. The fact that a jury deemed rap’s role inconsequential helped undermine the basis for the civil suit, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

While the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Howard's death sentence in 1996 because a potential juror was improperly eliminated from the jury pool, he was again sentenced to die at a second trial in Corpus Christi in 1999.

Howard, now 32, has a website maintained by friends with his writings. I find it hard to muster any sympathy for a cop killer, but I don't see how having the Great State of Texas strap Howard to a gurney and shoot poison in his veins is going to do a goddamn bit of good.

It creeps me out that Howard's executioner gets a paycheck signed by the same Tough Grandma that signs mine.

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