Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Wednesday, January 30, 2002


Randall Wayne Hafdahl Scheduled to be Executed

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on Randall Wayne Hafdahl, who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002.

On April 5, 1986, Randall Wayne Hafdahl was sentenced to death for the capital murder of peace officer James Delbert Mitchell, Jr., during the lawful discharge of his duties, in Amarillo, Texas, on November 11, 1985. A summary of the evidence presented at trial follows.


Shortly after 4:00 p.m. on November 11, 1985, Amarillo Police Sergeant James Mitchell was driving home from work when he witnessed an accident. Randall Hafdahl, who was driving across Texas with two friends, Shawn Terry and Daniel Helgren, was driving recklessly and lost control of his car. Hafdahl's car left the highway, crossed a frontage road, crashed through a wooden fence, and came to rest in the back yard of a private residence. Although he was off-duty, Officer Mitchell--who was still dressed in his police uniform and wearing an unzipped windbreaker with "Amarillo City Police" and a badge insignia emblazoned on it-- stopped to render assistance.

Hafdahl-- who admitted that he had consumed alcohol and hallucinogenic mushrooms earlier in the day--unsuccessfully tried to restart the car. Hafdahl then exited the car and hid a loaded 9 mm pistol under a jacket he was carrying and attempted to flee through a gate. Hafdahl admitted that he first saw Officer Mitchell as he entered the yard through the downed fence. The evidence shows that Hafdahl turned from Mitchell and tried to escape through a gate which he could not unlatch. Mitchell, who had drawn his gun, pursued Hafdahl through the yard. According to one eyewitness, Mitchell identified himself as a police officer and ordered Hafdahl to stop. When Mitchell was approximately six feet away from Hafdahl, Hafdahl turned and fired four shots, hitting Mitchell each time. Two of the four wounds were mandatorily fatal, perforating Mitchell's heart and lung. Mitchell never returned fire.

Hafdahl testified at trial that he was not trying to flee but, rather, trying to hide the gun. He knew the police would arrive shortly and would discover that he was a convicted felon in Texas who had stopped reporting to his probation officer. Hafdahl also testified that although he intentionally shot Officer Mitchell, he was acting in self-defense and did not realize Mitchell was a police officer. Hafdahl believed Mitchell was "an angry motorist" whom Hafdahl had run off the road. Hafdahl blames this misperception on the drugs and alcohol, as well as the rapidity with which the accident and the shooting occurred.

At least nine eyewitnesses to the events immediately before and after Officer Mitchell's murder testified that the backyard was visible from the highway, and they could tell Officer Mitchell was a uniformed police officer. The two passengers in Hafdahl's car were also able to identify Mitchell as a police officer. One passenger stated that he knew without a doubt that Mitchell was an officer the second he saw him. "[H]e had his blue uniform, and his gun, so I knew he was a police officer, just by looking." At least four of the witnesses, including one of the passengers in Hafdahl's car, saw Hafdahl turn and look at Officer Mitchell before firing. One witness in the yard heard Mitchell identify himself by saying, "Hey halt, halt, stop, police." The evidence established that at least one of the bullets that hit Mitchell was shot at a maximum of six feet and could have been closer.

The State presented the testimony of two police officers, one from Rockwall and the other from Grand Prairie, Texas, who testified that they had arrested Hafdahl on a warrant for aggravated kidnapping, but had released him pending investigation by the FBI. Hafdahl was never officially charged by the FBI on these charges; however, the implication from the evidence was that Hafdahl believed he was wanted on these outstanding charges and killed the officer to avoid arrest. Also, one of Hafdahl's companions testified that in the days before the murder, Hafdahl admitted that he had "jumped bond" in Dallas, and had begun using an alias and had dyed his hair.

During the punishment phase of trial, the State presented evidence that Hafdahl had been arrested on Aug. 11, 1980, in Richardson, Texas, and charged with unlawful carrying of a weapon and felony theft. The police had been conducting surveillance of Hafdahl's house on suspicion that the occupants were involved in a burglary ring. Hafdahl and another man left the house and got into a van, which the police subsequently stopped for a traffic violation. During the stop, Hafdahl was caught trying to shove a .38-caliber gun under the seat. When the police conducted a search of the house, they discovered stolen property and narcotics.

Five law enforcement officers from both Texas and Colorado testified that they knew Hafdahl to have a bad reputation for being peaceful and law abiding, and reputation for being dangerous and violent.

During cross examination of one of these officers, defense counsel elicited details of the kidnapping investigation for which Hafdahl was arrested in 1982. Hafdahl was charged with aggravated kidnapping, but he was never indicted. The officer stated that the alleged kidnapping victim was forcibly taken from Grand Prairie, Texas, by Hafdahl and two others, and transported first to Colorado, then Wyoming, and eventually returned to Texas, where she escaped. During that time, the victim claimed she was beaten, gagged and her life threatened. Hafdahl was not named as one of the two men who originally kidnapped her from the parking lot, but the victim's statement listed him as one of nine people who participated in the course of the abduction.

While in Colorado, Hafdahl worked at a place called the "Bates Farm." The Bates Farm manufactured methamphetamines and traded stolen guns and illegal weapons. Hafdahl was known as the "right-hand-man" and the "enforcer" for the Bates Farm. He oversaw the entire drug operation, including selling drugs and collecting debts or money for the sale of drugs. Hafdahl was known to carry a weapon on a daily basis.

On the night Hafdahl was arrested in Amarillo, he was arrogant, showed no remorse and claimed to not know why he was being arrested. During a search of the wrecked car, the police recovered a gin bottle and beer cans and several pieces of identification with at least three different names.

In response, Hafdahl presented several witnesses and family members who testified that they had never seen him do anything violent, even when provoked. However, on cross-examination, one relative admitted she had not seen him in the six or seven years prior to his arrest.

Officer Mitchell had been a police officer for 20 years, 16 of which were spent with the Amarillo Police Department. At the time of his death, Officer Mitchell was 43 years old. He is survived by his wife; three children aged, 20, nine, and eight; and a six-month-old grandson.


November 29, 1985 - Hafdahl was indicted in the 181st District Court of Randal County, Texas, for the capital murder of James Mitchell, a peace officer acting in the course of his official duty, on November 11, 1985.

April 4, 1986 - A jury found Hafdahl guilty of capital murder.

April 5, 1986 - Following a separate punishment hearing, the court assessed Hafdahl's punishment at death.

June 13, 1990 - Hafdahl's conviction and sentence were automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed in a published opinion.

December 17, 1990 - The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied rehearing.

May 28, 1991 - The United States Supreme Court denied Hafdahl's petition for certiorari review.

July 30, 1991 - Hafdahl filed an application for state writ of habeas corpus followed by two supplemental applications.

June 1, 1994 - After the trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending that habeas relief be denied, the application was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals in an unpublished order.

May 22, 1995 - Hafdahl filed a third supplemental state habeas application, presenting additional grounds for relief which was also denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals. In the interim, the trial court scheduled Hafdahl's execution for July 5, 1995.

May 25, 1995 - Hafdahl filed a petition for federal writ of habeas corpus in the district court along with a motion for stay of execution. The motion for stay was unopposed and was granted by the court.

November 17, 1995 - The Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division filed a motion for summary judgment.

April 22, 1997 - Hafdahl filed an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus.

March 26, 1998 - The district court denied without prejudice, the Director's November 17, 1995 motion for summary judgment because discovery was still ongoing.

August 3, 1998 - The Director filed a response and motion for summary judgment.

August 18, 1998 - Hafdahl filed a motion to strike the Director's response or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement.

January 12, 1999 - The district court granted in part, Hafdahl's motion for a more definite statement.

April 7, 1999 - The Director filed the amended response.

May 4, 1999 - Hafdahl filed another motion to strike the respondent's answer.

July 7, 1999 - Hafdahl filed a motion to expedite the proceedings.

November 23, 1999 - Hafdahl filed another motion to take discovery.

December 17, 1999 - The district court granted the Director's motion for summary judgment, finding there were no grounds for habeas corpus relief, and also denied Hafdahl's pending motions for discovery and an evidentiary hearing.

January 3, 2000 - Hafdahl filed a motion to amend or reopen the judgement.

February 7, 2000 - The district court allowed Hafdahl to expand the record to include the transcripts of the depositions taken during discovery.

February 14, 2000 - The district court entered an order denying Hafdahl's request to alter, amend or reopen judgment, and lifting the stay of execution, finding that the depositions filed on February 7 showed no grounds for habeas relief, and, in fact, rebutted certain allegations made by Hafdahl, and further supported the court's denial of relief.

March 14, 2000 - Hafdahl filed a motion for certificate of probable cause which was denied by the district court.

August 23, 2000 - The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted Hafdahl certificate of appealability.

May 15, 2001 - After briefing and oral argument, the Fifth Circuit denied Hafdahl's requested relief in a published opinion.

June 20, 2001 - The Fifth Circuit denied rehearing.

September 18, 2001- Hafdahl filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United

States Supreme Court.

November 26, 2001- The United States Supreme Court denied Hafdahl's petition for writ of certiorari.


Hafdahl was arrested on charges of aggravated kidnapping and spent seven days in jail in Grand Prairie, Texas. Hafdahl was never convicted on these charges. In 1970, Hafdahl was arrested on charges of misdemeanor theft and shoplifting, in Houston, Texas. In 1975, in Tarrant County, Texas, Hafdahl received a probated sentence of 10 years for the delivery of LSD. In 1980, in Richardson, Texas, Hafdahl was arrested for unlawful carrying of a weapon. According to the arresting officer, the charges were dismissed because Hafdahl could not be found.


For additional information and statistics, please log on to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website,

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