Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Wednesday, April 10, 2002


William Kendrick Burns Scheduled to be Executed

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn offers the following information on William Kendrick Burns, who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, 2002.

On Dec. 6, 2001, William Kendrick Burns was sentenced to death for the capital murder of Johnny Lynn Hamlett, in Texarkana, Texas, on March 28, 1981. A summary of the evidence presented at trial follows.


William Kendrick Burns, his brother Victor, and Danny Ray Harris, were accused of the March 28, 1981, robbery and murder of 18-year-old Johnny Lynn Hamlett in Texarkana, Texas. Hamlett, a high school senior who was working the late shift at an East Texas creosote plant, was found dead in the plant's boiler room with 14 gunshot wounds in his neck, chest and head.

The record reflects that Burns previously worked at the plant as a nighttime boiler operator, which is what Hamlett was doing the night he was killed. Burns had been fired from his job there two months prior to the murder. The record also reflects that after he was fired, Burns left the president of the company a note saying that Burns would get even with him or that the president would be sorry.

During their investigation, authorities determined that money and a wallet were taken from Johnny Hamlett. After a tip led to Burns, Burns directed authorities to a discarded coffee can on an uninhabited dirt road. The coffee can contained a drivers license, social security card and school identification card belonging to Hamlett. In addition to the items belonging to Hamlett, the coffee can contained a highway patrol ticket issued to Burns. When Burns was arrested, he was in possession of a wallet later identified as belonging to Hamlett. The wallet, in turn, contained a newspaper clipping concerning the police investigation of Hamlett's murder.

Burns gave a written statement to the police after he was arrested and the statement was read to the jury:

"I am giving this statement to Detective Jim Reed who has identified himself as a police officer with the Texarkana, Texas Police Department. This statement is in reference to the shooting of Jimmy Hamlett at the Texarkana Wood Preserving Plant. . .When me and Drew [Danny Ray Harris] and Victor walked down the railroad track to the creosote plant. I was carrying the rifle. I also had the pistol, a 22[,] stuck down my pants. The others didn't know I had the pistol my shirt tail was covering it up. We approached this big tin building that they call the treating room. I peeped through this crack in the tin and I saw this guy throwing wood in the burner. I told the others to be quiet because there was someone in there. Danny told me to shoot with the rifle, he didn't know I had the pistol. He kept saying shoot, so I gave the rifle to him. Danny took the rifle and stepped around on the side were the conveyor belt goes in. There is a big opening there. I took the pistol out and shot through the crack. There were only two bullets there. I took the pistol out and I shot through the crack. There were only two bullets in the pistol and I shot them. Then I heard the rifle start popping off. Sounded like about ten or eleven shots. I heard the guy start hollering. I went around and went in the building. The guy was laying over a machine. You could see the guys [sic] billfold sticking out of his back pocket on the right hand side. Danny reached and got the wallet. We went out the door on the other side between the two buildings. Vic was standing outside by the wood piles. Vic said that the guy probably got paid today. Danny opened up the wallet. It looked like there might be eighty or ninety dollars in the wallet. Vic pulled the money out and started to throw the billfold away and I said that I didn't have a billfold and that I wanted that one. I kept the billfold. I took all the stuff out of the billfold and put it in a coffee can and carried it down around Domino and put it out beside the road. This was on the next day that I did it."

After his arrest, Burns directed police to the location of a .22-caliber Winchester rifle, which was found in the attic of an open carport at Burns' mother's residence. Ballistics testing confirmed that the rifle fired at least seven of the 11 bullets recovered from Hamlett's body. Also, eight .22-caliber spent shell casings were recovered from the murder scene which had been fired from the rifle. In addition, a .22-caliber bullet was found in the pocket of Burns' jacket which he had with him when he was arrested. Two other bullets recovered from Hamlett's body were identified as having not been fired from the rifle. Burns told police a .22-caliber pistol could be found under his mattress but despite police searching the residence, the second weapon was never recovered.


On May 11, 1981, William Burns and his brother Victor were jointly indicted for capital murder, whereas Danny Ray Harris was indicted separately. Both brothers were tried, convicted and sentenced to death in September 1981 in a joint trial. The convictions were overturned in 1985 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals based on error in the jury charge.

Prior to retrial, the Burns brothers moved for severance and the trial court granted the request in July 1986. That same month, William Burns was retried, convicted and sentenced to death; however, his conviction was later reversed based on improperly excluded mitigating evidence.

In the second retrial, the court's charge instructed the jury that it could find Burns guilty of capital murder either as a principal or as a party. On Aug. 24, 1989, Burns was found guilty and, the following day, was sentenced to death for a third time. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Burns' conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review on Oct. 4, 1993.

Burns filed his first state writ petition in Dec. 1984. The writ was dismissed in April 1985 because direct appeal was pending. Burns filed his second state habeas application on April 21,1997, and then filed a supplemental petition on July 31, 1998. After the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied habeas relief in an unpublished order on Jan. 27, 1998.

On Jan. 29, 1999, Burns filed a federal petition for habeas corpus relief and, on Jan. 31, 2000, filed an amended writ petition. Magistrate Judge Caroline Malone (now Craven) issued findings and conclusions that were later adopted by the district court with one exception in its Dec. 18, 2000, order denying habeas relief. The district court denied a certificate of appealability ("COA") on Jan. 31, 2001. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied COA in an unpublished opinion April 27, 2001, and then denied rehearing on November 9, 2001.

By order dated Dec. 6, 2002, the 202nd Judicial District Court of Bowie County, Texas, scheduled Burns' execution for Thursday, April 11, 2002. On Jan. 8, 2002, Burns petitioned to the United States Supreme Court for certiorari review; however, the request was denied on April 1, 2002.


No evidence of prior criminal convictions was presented to the jury at the punishment phase of trial. However, the jury heard testimony that William Burns and his brother Victor were responsible for the shooting death of Leon Calahan at a nightclub on Feb. 23, 1980, and for the kidnapping of Bryan Keith Sanders that same night, during which both Burns brothers threatened to kill Sanders. According to Sanders, who testified at Burns' retrial, William Burns drove from the nightclub and headed toward a lake, but stopped the car about two miles away in order to kill Sanders by the side of the road. Although a fight ensued outside the car, it was interrupted when a Department of Public Safety vehicle arrived. The D.P.S. trooper and two Texarkana police officers testified for the State regarding the Calahan murder, the retrieval of a .22-caliber revolver from the scene, and the arrest of William and Victor Burns.


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

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