Texas inmate who used smuggled phone loses appeal
By MICHAEL GRACZYK / Associated Press
A Texas death row inmate whose threatening calls to a state senator a year ago prompted a lockdown of state prisons and crackdown on contraband throughout the nation's second-largest corrections system lost an appeal of his conviction and death sentence for the slayings of two men in 2004.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday rejected six claims from Richard Lee Tabler that he was improperly convicted and sentenced to die for gunning down Mohammed-Amine Rahmouni, 28, and Haitham Zayed, 25, at a remote area in Killeen, not far from Fort Hood, on Thanksgiving weekend five years ago.
Evidence showed Rahmouni was manager of a strip club who had banned Tabler from his place. Zayed was a friend of Rahmouni.
Tabler, 40, also has acknowledged killing two dancers from the club.
In his mandatory appeal to the state's highest criminal appeals court, Tabler raised six claims from his April 2007 trial in Killeen. The challenges, all rejected by the court, including claims that his death sentence was unconstitutional because he is mentally ill, that the prosecutor's closing argument at the trial's punishment phase were improper and his lawyer was deficient in not objecting to the arguments and that the trial judge mistakenly refused to allow the jury to consider the shootings were in self-defense. The appeals court also rejected a claim that Tabler's statements to police about details of the slayings were the result of an illegal arrest and the trial judge should have barred them.
Evidence showed Tabler lured Rahmouni, a native of Morocco, and Zayed to a dead-end street near an entrance to Fort Hood under the guise of buying stolen property and killed them. The men were found dead in their cars.
According to testimony, Tabler shot both men while an accomplice, former Fort Hood soldier Timothy Payne, held a camera and videotaped the shootings. Tabler told them Payne helped him look for money and other valuables on the bodies. Payne gave a similar statement, police said.
Tabler then lured two dancers — Tiffany Loraine Dotson, 18, and Amanda Benefield, 16 — to a rural area with the promise of crack cocaine, then killed both with multiple gunshots to the head and body, police said.
He has not been tried for their slayings.
Payne, from Neosho, Mo., was tried separately after Tabler and received a life prison term. Bell County prosecutors did not seek death in his case.
At his trial, Payne's attorneys described Tabler as a criminal mastermind who planned every element of the murders and tried to pin them on Payne.
Last October, Tabler was caught in his death row cell at a prison near Livingston using a smuggled phone. Records showed he and nine other inmates used the phone to make 2,800 calls over 30 days. Among the calls from Tabler were some to Texas Sen. John Whitmire, telling him he knew the names and ages of Whitmire's daughters and where they lived. Whitmire is chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
The subsequent lockdown of the state's 111 prisons and search of the cells of some 155,000 prisoners turned up dozens of contraband phones, tobacco products, weapons and money.
Tabler also has been the focus of an investigation after an Internet posting from him on a Web site dedicated to death row inmates and their cases again threatened Whitmire and his family.