Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Friday, February 11, 2000



AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Betty Lou Beets who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Thursday, February 24th.


On Aug. 6, 1983, Betty Lou Beets reported her husband, retired Dallas fireman Jimmy Don Beets, missing from their home near Cedar Creek Lake, in Henderson County, Texas. Beets's son, Robert Branson, later told authorities his mother informed him that evening she intended to kill Jimmy Don; instructing him to leave the residence while she did so. Branson said that he returned approximately two hours later to find Jimmy Don dead from two gunshot wounds and that he helped Beets conceal the body in an ornamental "wishing well" in the front yard of their house. Beets then called the police.

Branson said that the next day, Beets placed some of Jimmy Don's heart medication in his boat while he removed the propeller. The two then abandoned the boat in Cedar Creek Lake. Later that day, the search for Jimmy Don commenced. Members of the Henderson County Sheriff's Department, Texas Parks and Wildlife agents and numerous fire department employees searched unsuccessfully for three weeks. However, Jimmy Don's boat was found drifting near the Redwood Beach Marina on Cedar Creek Lake on Aug. 12, 1983. In the boat authorities found Jimmy Don's fishing license, his nitroglycerine tablets and a life jacket. Beets was summoned to the marina where she identified the boat and its contents as the property of her husband. Jimmy Don's body was not found.

Almost two years passed before the Henderson County Sheriff's Department received information from a credible confidential informant that indicated Jimmy Don's death may have resulted from foul play. The investigation resumed in the spring of 1985, culminating when Rick Rose, an investigator for the sheriff's department, obtained an arrest warrant for Beets. Beets was apprehended by officers of the Mansfield Police Department on June 8, 1985, and booked into the Henderson County jail. While Beets was in custody, Rose secured an evidentiary search warrant for the Beets residence and its premises. Jimmy Don's remains were found buried in the front yard, under the "wishing well." Additionally, the remains of Doyle Wayne Barker, another former husband of Beets, were found buried under a storage shed in the back yard. Two bullets were found in Jimmy Don's remains, and three bullets were found in Barker's remains. All five bullets were identified as .38 caliber projectiles; the same caliber as a pistol seized from the Beets residence during an unrelated incident.

Both Branson and his sister, Shirley Stegner, revealed to investigators that Beets had confided to them at the time of the murder her plan to kill Jimmy Don. In addition, Stegner told detectives that she had assisted her mother in burying the body of Barker in Oct. 1981, after Beets had shot and killed him. Various other witnesses testified at trial concerning Beet's attempts to collect life insurance and pension benefits after Jimmy Don's death, as well as her successful sale of Jimmy Don's boat almost a year after his death.


On July 11, 1985, Betty Lou Beets was indicted for the capital offense of the murder of Jimmy Don Beets for remuneration and the promise of remuneration. Beets was tried in the 173rd District Court of Henderson County before a jury upon a plea of not guilty. On Oct. 11, 1985, the jury found Beets guilty of the capital offense. At a separate punishment hearing on Oct. 14, 1985, the trial court sentenced Beets to death.

Beets's conviction and sentence were automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In its original opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Beets's conviction for capital murder, finding that murder committed for the purpose of obtaining insurance and pension benefits did not constitute murder for remuneration, as defined by the Texas Penal Code. On Sept. 21, 1988, after the State requested a rehearing of the case, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Beets's conviction and sentence. The United States Supreme Court denied her petition for writ of certiorari on June 26, 1989.

The trial court then scheduled Beets's execution for Nov. 8, 1989. On Oct. 16, 1989, Beets filed a motion for a stay of execution to allow her time to prepare and file a state habeas corpus application. On Nov. 1, she filed a state habeas petition and the trial court stayed her execution to permit adequate time to consider the claims raised. On June 27, 1990, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied habeas relief.

On Sept. 20, 1990, the trial court scheduled Beets's execution for Dec. 6, 1990. On Sept. 25, 1990, Beets filed a second petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied certiorari on Nov. 26, 1990.

On Dec. 3, 1990, less than three days before her scheduled execution, Beets filed her federal petition for writ of habeas corpus and an application for stay of execution in federal district court. The federal district court granted a stay of execution on Dec. 4, 1990. On Jan. 22 and 23, 1991, and April 1, 1991, the court conducted an evidentiary hearing and, on May 9, 1991, entered final judgment granting relief on one of Beets's claims, and denying all others. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Beet's claims, but reversed the judgment of the district court on the one claim granted relief on March 18, 1993, and remanded the case to the federal district court. On remand, Beets's one remaining claim was addressed by the district court, and on Sept. 2, 1998, habeas corpus relief was denied. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of relief on June 28, 1999. Beets's motions for panel rehearing and rehearing by the en banc court were denied on Aug. 18, 1999. The Supreme Court denied Beets's petition for certiorari review on Jan. 18, 2000.


Betty Lou Beets admitted that she previously had been convicted of public lewdness, which apparently occurred when she was in Charlie's Angels Bar, a Dallas bar, where she was then employed but was not working when the incident occurred. Beets testified that she "auditioned" that night, without specifying what type of audition it was for: "Well, it's a topless place but I wasn't topless." Beets also admitted on cross-examination that she had been convicted of another misdemeanor offense that resulted when she shot another former husband, Bill Lane, in the side of the stomach.


There was no evidence of drug or alcohol use connected with the instant offense.


02/23/2000 Cornelius Alan Goss (Dallas County)
02/24/2000 Betty Lou Beets (Henderson County)
03/01/2000 Odell Barnes, Jr. (Wichita County)
03/14/2000 Ponchai Wilkerson (Harris County)
03/15/2000 Timothy Lane Gribble (Galveston County)
03/22/2000 Dennis Bagwell (Atascosa County)
04/12/2000 Orien Cecil Joiner (Lubbock County)
04/18/2000 Victor Hugo Saldano (Collin County)
04/26/2000 Robert Earl Carter (Bastrop County)
04/27/2000 Robert J. Neville, Jr. (Tarrant County)
04/27/2000 Ricky Nolen McGinn (Brown County)
05/03/2000 Caruthers Alexander (Bexar County)
05/09/2000 William Joseph Kitchens (Taylor County)


If this execution is carried out, and if Cornelius Alan Goss is executed on Feb. 23, it will be the 208th execution since executions resumed in Texas in Dec. 1982 and the 44th since General Cornyn took office. The federal court litigation in this case has been handled by Assistant Attorney General Erik Cary of the Attorney General's Capital Litigation Division.

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Contact Mark Heckmann, Heather Browne, or Tom Kelley at (512) 463-2050