Hitman to die in Huntsville on Wednesday

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – After telling a grand jury about a drive-by shooting he witnessed, 17-year-old Mario Stubblefield never was able to repeat his testimony in court.

A friend of the gunman in the drive-by case showed up at Stubblefield’s Houston home, lured him outside into the front yard and then shot him in the head and neck, killing him.

That gunman, Donell Jackson, was set for lethal injection Wednesday evening.

“Basically, it was a murder for hire, a situation where the defendant admitted a friend paid him to kill,” said Denise Nassar, a Harris County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Jackson.

Jackson, 33, would be the 23rd convicted killer executed this year in Texas and the first of three scheduled to die this month.

“It’s my fault I’m here,” Jackson said on an Internet Web site where inmates seek pen pals. He added that while it was sad what his life had been reduced to, “The bottom line is I’m not an animal.”

Jackson’s lawyer asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the punishment, arguing the high court did not have enough time to consider a petition to review Jackson’s case and also questioning language in instructions the trial court gave to jurors who decided he should be given a death sentence.

“I’m hopeful but realistic,” lawyer Jani Maselli said.

Jackson, then 20, showed up at Stubblefield’s Houston home Aug. 31, 1993, under the guise of being the friend of a relative and asked to speak with him outside. Once outside the house, authorities said Jackson pulled out a gun and fatally shot Stubblefield.

Witnesses identified another man waiting outside by a car as David Smith, who was fingered as the gunman in the earlier drive-by shooting Stubblefield witnessed. Smith later was convicted of paying Jackson $200 to shoot Stubblefield and was sentenced to life in prison.

In a statement to police, Jackson admitted accepting payment but at his trial denied receiving any money.

The case remained open for some two years before police got a break while investigating the original drive-by shooting involving Smith.

Jackson, from death row, said he agreed to confront Stubblefield at the request of Smith, his best friend.

“I just chose my friend over him,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

Earlier appeals focused on Jackson’s claim he wasn’t paid, with lawyers arguing the lack of payment would lessen the charge against Jackson from capital murder and remove the possibilty of the death penalty.

“Whether or not he got paid is not important,” said Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, who was an assistant prosecutor when he helped try the case in 1995. “He was solicited for the money. He testified and he said he was just supposed to scare Stubblefield and no money was mentioned. He said he didn’t mean to kill him.”

Evidence at his trial showed Jackson was found to be delinquent as a juvenile for being indecent with a child, had been expelled from school for excessive absences after disclipinary problems and also had shot another high school student in the face.

Rosenthal said he recalled Stubblefield had been taking care of his invalid father, who died not long after his son was killed.

“He just kind of gave up,” Rosenthal said. “That was awfully sad.”

Another condemned prisoner from Harris County is set to die next week. Willie Marcel Shannon, 33, has a Nov. 8 execution date for a 1992 fatal carjacking in Houston. Unknown to Shannon, his shooting victim had been in the witness protection program after testifying a decade earlier at drug trials in the Rio Grande Valley.

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