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Derrick Jackson was headed to the Texas death chamber today
Tue Jul 20, 2010 15:13

Convicted killer of opera singers set to die

By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press Writer © 2010 The Associated Press
July 20, 2010, 11:54AM

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Condemned prisoner Derrick Jackson was headed to the Texas death chamber Tuesday evening for the slayings of two opera singers nearly 22 years ago.

Jackson, 42, contends shaky and manufactured evidence persuaded a Harris County jury to convict him of the fatal beatings and slashings of Forrest Henderson and Richard Wrotenbery, two 31-year-old singers in the Houston Grand Opera chorus.

The September 1988 slayings inside Henderson's apartment went unsolved for years until a bloody fingerprint from the murder scene was matched to Jackson. By then, in 1995, Jackson already was in prison serving 12 years for aggravated robbery.

No last-day appeals were in the courts Tuesday to try to block the 15th execution this year in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected an appeal Monday, and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down a clemency request.

"It's not scary, as in fear," Jackson told The Associated Press in a recent interview from death row. "It's more a reluctance that it had to come to this. I don't want to die. but it's not like I'm scared to die.

"It's like you have terminal disease for a number of years and finally they say you're not going to be able to live with it any longer so you're going to have to get your affairs together with your family and within yourself."

Jackson was arrested in 1992 for three robberies and took a plea bargain that sent him to prison. He was there when detectives working cold cases and using new computer databases matched his fingerprint to one at the scene of the murders.

Jackson said "bad decisions" led to burglaries and robberies and ultimately the prison term, but he denies involvement in the killings.

Fingerprints on a beer can, a glass and a door knob were linked to Jackson. Stains on bathroom towels matched his DNA.

"Technology caught up with him," said Bill Hawkins, a Harris County district attorney who prosecuted the case.

Hawkins said the odds against the DNA match actually belonging to someone other than Jackson were "off the charts."

Wrotenbery also taught music at an elementary school in the Houston suburb of Deer Park. He'd been house-sitting at Henderson's apartment following a divorce until he could find a place of his own. Henderson had just returned to Houston after performing with the opera in Scotland.

The day of the slayings, Sept. 10, 1988, Wrotenbery and Henderson, both tenors, had been rehearsing for an opera production of Bizet's Carmen. Wrotenbery went to the apartment after rehearsals. Jackson hit some bars, may have met Jackson there and took him home.

Evidence showed Henderson was stabbed in the chest. Wrotenbery's throat was slashed. Both were bludgeoned with a heavy metal bar that could have been part of a weight set. Wrotenbery may have been asleep when he was killed.

"It's not something I look forward to," Carl Wrotenbery, 80, who's only son was murdered, said of the execution he planned to witness. "I feel a personal obligation. I feel this is something I need to see through.

"As father of a 31-year-old, a man expects in his old age for his children to take care of him. This was just a total shock to lose someone at that age... It was all for nothing. There was nothing accomplished by a crime like this."

Jackson said from prison he realized "two people lost their lives and I feel for their families."

"I saw the pictures. It was a savage scene," he said, adding that he understood jurors had to "do something when two guys were killed like that."

But when they found him guilty, "It kind of blew me away," he said. "I didn't do it."

The men's wallets were taken along with Henderson's car. A Houston traffic officer tried to pull over the car for speeding, but the driver fled, leading police on a chase until the car crashed. The driver managed to run off and escape.

An administrator from the school district where Wrotenbery taught called the apartment manager when the teacher didn't show up for work. The manager found the bloody scene.

At least three other condemned killers in Texas have execution dates in the coming months.

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