Serial killer guilty of capital murder

Thursday, May 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON – Closing a chapter in a serial-killing saga that gripped the nation, a jury today convicted a train-riding Mexican drifter of capital murder in the beating and stabbing death of a Houston physician.

Jurors rejected defense lawyers' pleas to find Angel Maturino Resendiz, 40, innocent by reason of insanity in the December 1998 robbery, rape, beating and stabbing of Dr. Claudia Benton in her West University Place home.

Before the sentencing phase of his trial began, Mr. Maturino Resendiz told State District Judge William Harmon outside the presence of the jury that he wants to be executed.

"I've decided that injection is better than spending life in jail, so I want to do that,'' Mr. Maturino Resendiz said in English. If he had to serve at least 40 years before being eligible for parole, he would be 81, he said.

Mr. Maturino Resendiz said he wanted his lawyer to offer no defense against the death penalty.

The judge asked Mr. Maturino Resendiz a few questions to make sure he understood what he was doing but told him the sentencing hearing would go on and that he could change his mind at any time.

Defense attorney Allen Tanner told Judge Harmon that he had advised his client against the strategy and would try to persuade Mr. Maturino Resendiz to change his mind.

During testimony in the trial, Mr. Maturino Resendiz's defense admitted that he killed Dr. Benton and eight others in Texas, Illinois and Kentucky between August 1997 and June 1999. But they argued that he should be institutionalized, not held criminally responsible.

The jury of six men and six women instead agreed with prosecutors that Mr. Maturino Resendiz, who had a long history of problems with the law, was not legally insane and should be convicted.

As the verdict was read, Mr. Maturino Resendiz's mother, Virginia Resendiz, wept quietly, and Mrs. Benton's husband, George, stared straight at the defendant without blinking.

Mr. Maturino Resendiz stood calmly and did not react visibly as the verdict was read and each juror was asked if it was their individual decision. Each said simply, "It is.''

In the punishment phase of the trial, prosecutors planned to present evidence of other killings to persuade jurors to impose death rather than life in prison.

A key witness is expected to be the lone survivor of his interstate rampage, a woman left for dead after her boyfriend was killed in Lexington, Ky., in August 1997.

Jurors took about nine hours over two days to reach their verdict after final arguments Wednesday. They were sequestered in a hotel overnight and deliberated less than an hour today before announcing they were ready.

In seven days of testimony, jurors heard family members' descriptions of Mr. Maturino Resendiz's troubled childhood and conflicting diagnoses from psychiatrists.

Mr. Maturino Resendiz's mother said he was dropped on his head at birth and suffered other head injuries growing up. He grew up without a father and lived much of his childhood with a grandmother, she said.

Defense doctors said Mr. Maturino Resendiz was paranoid schizophrenic and had delusions that he was an angel of God punishing evil people. They cited letters he wrote to prosecutors and the news media describing his delusions.

Defense lawyer Allen Tanner argued that Mr. Maturino Resendiz could not stop killing because he thought he was obeying a higher power.

Prosecution psychiatrists said the defendant was depressed and had unusual ideas but was not insane.

Prosecutor Lyn McClellan cited letters that Mr. Maturino Resendiz wrote to his wife without mentioning delusions. Mr. McClellan suggested his insanity plea was a ruse. He noted that the defendant had helped other prison inmates draft insanity pleas.

Dr. Benton, 39, was attacked in her home on Dec. 17, 1998, while her husband and two daughters were out of town.

The victim, who had been training to become a genetics researcher, was found in a bedroom with a bloody kitchen knife and piece of sculpture beside her body. She died of multiple stab wounds and blows to the head.

Fingerprints in the house and her car, found abandoned in San Antonio, were compared to FBI records to identify Mr. Resendiz under one of the 30 aliases he used in crisscrossing the U.S.-Mexico border over the last 20 years.

Mr. Maturino Resendiz became the subject of a six-week nationwide manhunt last year after authorities linked him to several other killings near railroad tracks.

After weeks of fruitless searches of train yards and homeless shelters across the country, Mr. Resendiz surrendered to Texas Rangers in El Paso July 13 after negotiations beteen authorities and members of his family.

Trial coordinator Janet Warner said Harris County officials were surprised at the low level of interest in the case from news organizations outside Houston.

"We had interest expressed,'' Ms. Warner said, noting about 40 organizations requested space in the courtroom or an overflow room equipped with a video feed. "But some people didn't even show up.''

Officials speculated that the small turnout reflected the rapid pace of events, the frequency of high-profile killings, shifting news priorities and short public attention spans in an age of fragmented media markets.

Breaking national
news from A.P.