Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Monday, February 28, 2000



AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Odell Barnes Jr. who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m., Wednesday, March 1st.


On Nov. 29, 1989, Helen Bass returned to her home in Wichita Falls, Texas, at approximately 11:30 p.m. The next day, Mary Barnes, a friend of Bass's, went to Bass's home to pick her up for work. No one answered the door. After arriving at work, Mary Barnes became concerned and telephoned Sharon Mergerson, Bass's neighbor and ex-sister-in-law, to check on her. Mergerson immediately went to Bass's home. Upon arrival, she noticed a back door had been forcibly kicked in. Subsequently she found Bass's body inside the home. Mergerson telephoned the police.

Bass's bedroom was found in disarray. Dresser drawers had been moved and some pulled out. The contents of two purses had been dumped out onto the bed. Bass' checkbook was on the floor. A coin purse was found open. A jewelry box was open and appeared to have been gone through. An identification card and personal papers belonging to Bass were found outside her home near her chain-link fence. Approximately $200 cash was found in the home.

Bass was found naked, bloodied, and beaten in her bedroom. She died from a .32-caliber gunshot wound to the head. Time of death was estimated to be in the early morning hours of Nov. 30th. Bass was 44 years old at the time of her death. Aside from the gunshot wound, Bass had been stabbed twice, struck with a .22-caliber rifle, and struck in the head with a blunt object. A knife covered with blood was discovered in Bass's kitchen. A bloody lamp with a dent in the base was found in Bass's bedroom, along with a .22-caliber rifle that had been broken in half.

Willie Bass Jr., Bass's son, had purchased a .32-caliber handgun for Bass in April 1988. The purchase receipt for the gun lists the serial number as NB003602. Malrie Wilson, a friend of Bass's, saw the gun in Bass's possession on the morning of Nov. 29th. Wilson had shown Bass how to load the weapon and was attempting to familiarize her with it on Monday, Nov. 27th, and Wednesday, Nov. 29th. The gun was fully loaded at that time. Wilson had suggested Bass keep the gun in her bedroom. The gun was not found at the scene of the murder.

Johnny Ray Humphrey was a co-worker of Odell Barnes Jr. (hereafter "Barnes"). Barnes is one of Mary Barnes's sons. Humphrey had been with Barnes at approximately 10:00 p.m. on Nov. 29th, when he dropped Barnes off near his home. At approximately 10:30 p.m., Roger Brooks, a neighbor, saw Barnes in Bass's yard. Barnes hurdled Bass's wooden fence, fell down, and rolled into the street. Barnes then got up and went back over Bass's chain-link fence. Bass had both a wooden and a chain-link fence on different parts of her property. Brooks testified that Barnes was wearing dark green or blue coveralls and a stocking cap. Later, between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. on Nov. 30th, Patrick Williams saw Barnes with a gun and wearing coveralls at an apartment complex located near Bass's home.

After work on Nov. 30th, Humphrey, Barnes, and Joseph Barnes (Barnes's brother), stopped by the Barnes's home. Barnes stated he had "confiscated" a gun from his father and wished to sell it. Barnes went to his bedroom, retrieved the gun from under his bed, and gave it to Humphrey. Humphrey later sold the gun to Williams. When he learned of the murder, Williams returned the gun to Humphrey's sister, Deborah Ann. Deborah Ann then turned the gun over to the police. The gun bears the same serial number as that purchased by Willie Bass for his mother in April 1988. Humphrey identified this gun as the same one he had obtained from Barnes, and Williams also identified the gun as the same one he had bought from Humphrey on the afternoon of Nov. 30th and the same one he had seen Barnes with earlier the same day. Williams further stated that a bullet was missing from the gun when he purchased it.

The police recovered dark green coveralls from Joseph Barnes's car. Joseph told the officers that the coveralls belonged to Barnes. Joseph testified that he believed the coveralls actually belonged to his father, but that Barnes "wore them all the time." Humphrey testified that the coveralls were the same coveralls he had seen Barnes wearing on the evening of Nov. 29th. Blood stains on the coveralls were determined to be type O blood, which was the same as Bass's. Barnes has type A blood. The blood on the coveralls had additional genetic markers consistent with Bass's blood.

Larry Fletcher, a firearms examiner, testified the bullet removed from Bass's head was the same type that would be fired from the .32-caliber revolver recovered by the police. When comparing the fatal bullet to a test bullet fired from the revolver, Fletcher could not make a positive determination whether or not the fatal bullet was fired from this exact pistol due to the damage that the fatal bullet had sustained on impact with Bass. However, there were consistencies between the test bullet and the one removed from Bass.

Dr. Jeffrey Barnard, Chief Medical Examiner of Dallas County, performed the autopsy. Barnard testified that Bass's injuries were consistent with having been caused by the handgun, lamp, broken rifle, and knife recovered by the police. A rape examination was also performed. Sperm was found, but the quantity was insufficient to determine the characteristics of the donor.

James Cron, a fingerprint and footprint expert, testified that Barnes's fingerprint appeared on the lamp. Further, he stated that the shoeprint pattern found on the back of Bass' checkbook matched the shoe pattern on Barnes' shoes. Cron admitted, however, that millions of shoes with that pattern have been produced.

During federal court proceedings in 1998, the State conducted DNA testing of the State's evidence, including a washcloth found at the crime scene and the vaginal swab taken from the victim. The frequency of the genetic typing excluded 54 billion persons as having the DNA qualities as samples obtained from Barnes, the washcloth, and the vaginal swab, with each sample having the same characteristics.


In Jan. 1990, Barnes was indicted in Wichita County, Texas, for the capital murder of Helen Bass. In Mar. 1991, a re-indictment was returned in Wichita County, Texas, charging Barnes with the capital offense of the murder of Helen Bass while in the course of committing and attempting to commit the offenses of burglary of a habitation, robbery, and aggravated sexual assault. Barnes was tried on a change of venue in Lubbock County, Texas, where he entered a plea of not guilty to a jury. On May 6, 1991, the jury found him guilty of capital murder. After a separate hearing on punishment, the jury returned affirmative answers to the punishment issues submitted and in accordance with state law, the trial court assessed punishment at death.

Because Barnes was sentenced to death, appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence on Feb. 9, 1994. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on Oct. 3, 1994. Barnes then filed an application for habeas corpus relief with the convicting court on April 15, 1997. The trial court recommended that relief be denied, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed on Nov. 26, 1997.

On Dec. 18, 1997, Barnes filed a petition for federal habeas corpus relief in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Wichita Falls Division. The case was transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Lubbock Division, and that court denied relief on June 15, 1998. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Barnes permission to appeal on June 15, 1999, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on Nov. 1, 1999.

On Jan. 24, 2000, Barnes filed a second application for state writ of habeas corpus with the convicting court. On Feb. 16, 2000, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed that application under state law as an abuse of the writ. A clemency petition is pending with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.


At the punishment phase of trial, the State introduced evidence of various extraneous offenses that Barnes had committed. Barnes was convicted of the following: (1) in Feb. 1987, Barnes broke into a home, hit the female resident over the head with an iron, threatened her with a gun, threatened to kill her daughter, sexually assaulted her, robbed her, and stole her car; (2) on May 18, 1987, Barnes, using a gun to threaten the employees, robbed a Golden Fried Chicken restaurant; (3) three days later on May 21, 1987, Barnes, again using a gun, robbed a McDonald's restaurant; and (4) on Jan. 20, 1988, while on probation for the previous offenses, Barnes kicked in the back door of a Domino's Pizza then, using what was later determined to be a toy gun, robbed, threatened, and tied up store employees. In each of these instances, Barnes threatened to kill his victims if they did not cooperate with him. On Nov. 15, 1989, in an unadjudicated offense, Barnes attempted to choke and sexually assault an acquaintance who was nine months pregnant at the time. Barnes threatened to kill her if she would not stop screaming. The woman managed to get away.


No evidence was presented at trial demonstrating that drug or alcohol use was connected with the instant offense.

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)
05/23/2000 James Davis Richardson (Navarro County)
06/12/2000 Thomas Wayne Mason (Smith County)
06/28/2000 Joe Lee Guy (Hale County)
07/19/2000 Oliver David Cruz (Bexar County)
06/28/2000 Joe Lee Guy (Hale County)
07/19/2000 Oliver David Cruz (Bexar County)


If this execution is carried out, it will be the 209th execution since executions resumed in Texas in December 1982 and the 45th since General Cornyn took office.

- 30 -

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