Resendiz sentenced to death

Tuesday, May 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON - After hearing gruesome details of his cross country rape-and-murder rampage, a jury on Monday sentenced a train-riding Mexican serial killer to death by injection, rejecting defense warnings that the verdict might create an international incident.

Jurors took less than two hours to impose the maximum penalty on Angel Maturino Resendiz, 40, who was convicted Thursday in a single case, the December 1998 robbery, rape and murder of 39-year-old Houston physician Claudia Benton in her bedroom while her family was out of town.

During the punishment phase of the trial, prosecutors detailed eight other killings from August 1997 through June 1999 near railroad tracks in Texas, Illinois and Kentucky in an effort to persuade jurors to choose death by injection rather than life in prison for Mr. Maturino Resendiz.

"I suspect that ... long after whatever happens to this defendant, you will still have people who hear that lonesome whistle blow and think about this defendant and the carnage and the mayhem and the destruction and the misery that he has left for an awful lot of people,'' Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes told the jury in arguments before they began deliberations Monday. "Any other verdict but one that will cause him to be given the death penalty is ... absolutely inappropiate.''

Mr. Maturino Resendiz appeared unemotional at the verdict, but his mother wept and blew him a kiss as he was taken from the courtroom. He merely raised his eyebrows in response.

After the verdict was read, state District Judge William Harmon asked Mr. Maturino Resendiz if he had anything to say before formal sentencing. Mr. Maturino Resendiz, who interrupted the trial several times to complain about evidence, accused the Texas Ranger to whom he surrendered in July of lying about their deal.

Members of Mr. Maturino Resendiz's family, who persuaded him to surrender to Texas Rangers, testified that they thought they had made a deal that precluded the death penalty.

Ranger Drew Carter told reporters after the trial that Mr. Maturino Resendiz's complaint was meritless. "He got a lot fairer shake here in these proceedings than any of his victims got,'' Ranger Carter said.

Defense lawyer Allen Tanner told the jury before it began deliberations that returning the death penalty would break promises given to Mr. Maturino Resendiz's family.

"The crimes are awful,'' Mr. Tanner said. "But as Americans do we want to send a signal out around the world that we make deals with people and then we wink? ... I promise you that there will be some problems in Mexico if we kill this man.''

Mr. Maturino Resendiz's lawyers had admitted that he committed all nine killings in asking the jury to find him not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury rejected that plea in convicting him last week.

Assistant District Attorney Devon Anderson urged jurors not to be swayed by "some twisted patriotic theory or threat of an international incident," and Mr. Holmes told the jury that there was no such deal.

"They did not get any promises ... that the state of Texas would not seek appropriate punishment in this case,'' Mr. Holmes said.

Defense lawyer Rudy Duarte argued that Mr. Maturino Resendiz should get some consideration for turning himself in to get help, to avoid hurting more people. "He very easily could have gone into the mountains ... never to have been caught. ... But he recognized he had a problem and he turned himself in.''

Ms. Anderson, her voice shaking and teeth clinched, recounted testimony that Mr. Maturino Resendiz committed sex acts on dying women, left a pickax stuck in a woman's head and perhaps forced a father to witness his daughter's death.

"I challenge you to find anything in the record over the last two weeks that reduces his moral blameworthiness,'' Ms. Anderson said. "There is something wrong with him. But does it make him any less ... responsible? No. Because he knows what he's doing is wrong ... and he won't stop.''

After he was convicted last week, Mr. Maturino Resendiz told Judge Harmon that he wanted to be sentenced to death and did not want his lawyers to offer any defense during the penalty phase. But his lawyers apparently persuaded him to allow objections and arguments.

Jurors heard eight days of testimony and deliberated nine hours over two days before convicting him.

The penalty phase began Friday, and jurors were shown gory photos during the testimony about the other killings committed by Mr. Maturino Resendiz.

The last prosecution witness Monday was a 23-year-old woman who was raped, beaten and left for dead near railroad tracks in Lexington, Ky., in 1997. She testified that Mr. Maturino Resendiz beat her boyfriend, Chris Maier, 21, to death, then beat and raped her, pausing grimly to grant one request.

"I said I heard Chris gurgling and asked him to make sure Chris' head was turned to the side so he wouldn't choke on his own blood,'' she said, weeping. "He went over to him, and came back and said, 'He's gone. You don't have to worry about him any more.'"

After the trial, Mr. Holmes told reporters that he was not concerned that the government of Mexico might be unhappy.

"Our relations with Mexico on the death penalty haven't been all that swell to start with,'' said Mr. Holmes, who has put more people on death row than all but two states.

Ms. Anderson expressed satisfaction with the outcome. "I've lived with this case a long time. I've gotten to know the families. It's personal,'' she said.

Mr. Tanner said the defense team was "sad'' about the outcome. Mr. Maturino Resendiz "is not 100 percent there mentally, but he's sad.''

Jurors did not talk to reporters, but Ms. Anderson said they took several hours to decide guilt or innocence and nearly two hours on punishment because "this jury ... was very thorough.''

Several family members of victims expressed satisfaction with the conviction and death sentence.

"It's been difficult. It's been hard. But there can be nothing harder that I can do in my life than to tell my daughters that their mother has been murdered,'' Dr. Benton's husband, George, said.

"I was very relieved. I think the jurors did a fine job,'' said Minnie Foltermann, the mother of victim Karen Cernik. But the trial "was like sitting through a horror movie, only it was real. It's a nightmare.''

Mike Malone, first assistant commonwealth attorney in Lexington, Ky., said he hoped to take Mr. Maturino Resendiz to Kentucky for trial, but he had no timetable. "We feel it's appropriate,'' he said.

Mr. Holmes said all other jurisdictions involved had interests in the case, but "you may have noticed that in Harris County we don't need a lot of backup.''